Mention to someone that you’re vegan in Japan, and you’re likely to be met with disbelief or sympathy – how can it be possible to stick to a plant-based diet in the land of sushi and sashimi? Fortunately however, Japan’s vegan scene is growing exponentially, and most of the major cities now have vegan or vegetarian restaurants, or at least ones with clear vegan options on the menu. Plus there are plenty of animal-free snacks to be found in convenience stores and supermarkets across the country.
This blog post is broken into two sections. The first contains our top tips and tricks for surviving as a vegan in Japan and the second features vegan restaurant guides for Tokyo, Kyoto, Kobe and Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima, and Okinawa!
Here are our top tips for maintaining a plant-based diet in Japan.
One of the great things about traveling to Japan is trying all the amazing local food on offer. Being vegan doesn’t mean you have to miss out, as there are plenty of plant-based versions of Japanese dishes available, and vegan restaurants to enjoy. However, there are a couple of ingredients to avoid that tend to show up a lot in Japanese cuisine: dashi and katsuobushi. The first is a soup stock made from fish, and the second is dried fish flakes. These are used to season all sorts of dishes – even ones that may look vegetarian or vegan – so keep an eye out and ask your server if you’re unsure. The safest bet is to eat at vegetarian or vegan restaurants where possible.
We’ve previously covered some Basic Japanese Phrases for Dining Out, but if you’re vegan in Japan there are certain other phrases that it might be useful to know – particularly if you’re planning to eat at omnivorous restaurants.
Is this vegan? これはビーガンですか？ (Kore wa beegan desu ka?)
However, you might find that servers don’t have a good understanding of what “vegan” means, so instead you can use the following phrase:
I don’t eat meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, or honey. 私は肉と魚、卵、乳製品、蜂蜜が食べられません。(Watashi wa niku to sakana, tamago, nyuuseihin, hachimitsu ga taberaremasen.)
If you’re curious about a particular dish, you could ask:
Does this contain ____? これは ____ が入っていますか？(Kore wa ____ haitteimasu ka?)
You can then fill the gap with any of the following ingredients:
You can also ask if it’s possible to have a dish without a certain ingredient, for instance:
Could I please have the ramen without egg? ラーメンは卵を抜きにしてもらえますか？(Ramen wa tamago o nuki ni shite moraemasu ka?)
If you’re vegan in Japan, one type of food you absolutely have to try is shojin ryori. This is a traditional type of Japanese Buddhist cuisine which is always vegetarian and usually vegan, adhering to the tenants of Zen Buddhism. Commonly found in temples, these days you can also enjoy shojin ryori in restaurants across Japan. It’s served in multiple small, exquisitely-presented courses, using local and seasonal ingredients. Check out some of these shojin ryori restaurants in Tokyo, or for something a little more hands-on (such as cooking classes) try one of these shojin ryori experiences in Japan. Prepare to be amazed at what they can do with tofu!
Eating out while you’re here in Japan is one thing, but if you want to be able to enjoy authentic vegan Japanese food after your trip, why not try a vegan cooking class? Have a go at hand-making soba noodles from scratch, constructing adorable character bento boxes, or crafting exquisite traditional Japanese sweets called wagashi. You could also take a vegan sushi cooking class or a vegan ramen cooking class to equip you with all the knowledge and experience you need to recreate these classic Japanese dishes at home.
Perhaps surprisingly, Japanese konbini (convenience stores) are actually great places to find vegan food. In fact, Japan recently opened its first 100% vegan convenience store in the traditional Asakusa district of Tokyo. Even regular konbini have plenty to offer though, from onigiri rice balls filled with seaweed, umeboshi (pickled plum) or natto (fermented soy beans – an acquired taste!) to Biokura macrobiotic cookies that come in a whole range of Japan-inspired flavors including sweet potato and Japanese mugwort. Mochi (rice cakes) and other traditional Japanese sweets are also often vegan. Whilst 7-Eleven, Lawson and Family Mart are all good options, if you can find a Natural Lawson store, these usually have a wider selection of vegan snacks.
Check out these thorough guides covering vegan restaurants across Japan!
Tokyo is known as heaven for foodies, and that’s also true if you’re vegan in Japan. Check out our Tokyo Vegan Guide to find the best vegan restaurants in Tokyo, from authentic ramen shops to modern burger joints. We also have a guide to some of the best Vegetarian Restaurants in Tokyo if you’re vegetarian in Japan. As well as restaurants, there are a whole host of vegan food experiences in Tokyo that you can enjoy. For example, try your hand at making vegan sushi or traditional wagashi sweets, or take a tour of one of Tokyo’s many gourmet neighborhoods.
Kyoto is one of the most vegan-friendly cities in Japan, not least because of its long history with shojin ryori. Take a look at our Kyoto Vegan Guide for our suggestions of the best places to eat here, whether you’re looking for an upmarket meal, a decadent dessert, or some delicious vegan junk food. You can also search for vegan food experiences in Kyoto, like exploring the inimitable Nishiki Market, indulging in an exquisite multi-course kaiseki meal, or sampling the very best Japanese green tea in the nearby town of Uji.
Covering two of Kansai’s other major cities, our Kobe and Osaka Vegan Guide is ideal if you’re spending some time traveling around this area on your trip to Japan. Don’t be put off by Kobe’s beef-heavy reputation – it also has plenty of restaurants where you can enjoy vegan Japanese cuisine. And as you might expect from the city known as “Japan’s Kitchen,” there are several vegan food experiences in Osaka you can take part in, including street food tours, and cooking classes where you can create your own tempura and ramen.
It may come as a surprise, but even the compact, historic city of Nara has several dining options if you’re vegan in Japan. Have a read of our Nara Vegan Guide for the lowdown on some of the best restaurants to check out, including eateries offering locally-sourced vegan Japanese food, an adorable sweet shop, and a craft beer bar serving a range of fantastic plant-based bar snacks. All of which are ideal for keeping you fueled as you explore the city’s many great sightseeing spots.
This vibrant and cosmopolitan metropolis has a selection of great vegan-friendly restaurants you can eat at during your stay if you’re plant-based in Japan. Check out our Hiroshima Vegan Guide for an overview of what’s available, whether you want Indian, Mexican, vegan desserts, or okonomiyaki, the city’s most famous local dish. There are also a number of vegan food experiences in Hiroshima to try, from food and Japanese sake tours, to tea ceremonies and classes where you can learn how to make the traditional higashi sweets that accompany them.
In addition to being a paradise for beach lovers, Okinawa is also a paradise if you’re vegan in Japan. Our Okinawa Vegan Guide outlines some of the amazing vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants on the main island, with menus ranging from traditional Japanese food and health-conscious meals, to Mexican and American-style dishes. This plant-based cuisine is the perfect addition to the prefecture’s pristine coastlines and crystal-clear waters.
Hopefully this article has given you more confidence to travel Japan as a vegan. While it may not seem easy on the face of it, Japan’s vegan scene is improving all the time and there are now a wealth of vegan restaurants and plant-based meals to enjoy here. With a little forward planning, you’ll soon be tucking in to some of the best vegan dishes you’ve ever eaten! Itadakimasu!
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