Where to Eat Shojin Ryori in Kyoto

By Ryan Noble
Updated: February 23, 2024

Shojin ryori” is growing in popularity with tourists in Japan lately, referring to the cuisine that’s served by Buddhist monks in Buddhist temples across Japan. Following the philosophies of Zen Buddhism, this style of cooking is completely vegetarian, avoiding the use of meat, fish, and most animal byproducts. As a result, shojin ryori is often also vegan, making it one of the most accessible cuisines in Japan.

When it comes to translating “shojin ryori,” “ryori” is an easy one, referring to “cooking” or “cuisine,” but “shojin” has a much deeper meaning, referring to the Buddhist philosophy of striving for balance, harmony and simplicity in mind, body, and even diet.

In particular, shoji ryori is known for its elegance and simplicity, using seasonal plants and vegetables to create a meal with a variety of textures and flavors. 

But why is shojin ryori so prevalent in Kyoto? Well, Kyoto is famous for its temples — featuring over 1,600 Buddhist temples in this city alone — influenced by the time period where Kyoto was once the capital of Japan (794-1868), creating a natural concentration of temples in this area. As a result of this high concentration of Buddhist temples, Buddhist cuisine, such as shojin ryori, has become equally prevalent in this region. So, if you’re going to try shojin ryori anywhere, it has to be Kyoto!

Now that we’ve covered the basics, how about working your way through our guide of the best places to eat shojin ryori in Kyoto?

Shojin Ryori Restaurants in Kyoto

  1. Tenryuji Temple Shigetsu
  2. Kanga-an
  3. Hale (菜食 晴)
  4. Shojin Cafe Waka
  5. Tofu Restaurant Saigen-in
  6. Izusen - Daijiin shop

1. Tenryuji Temple Shigetsu

Looking out of Tenryuji Temple Shigetsu, where tourists are taking photos of the Fall leaves.

A mere 8-minute walk from the entrance to Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, you’ll find Tenryuji Temple Shigetsu, serving a variety of completely vegan soybean and plant-based set meals in Tenryuji itself. Although the ingredients change seasonally, you can usually expect a bowl of rice, soup, tofu, and a selection of fresh vegetables and fruits — all harmonized in flavor and texture, much like the harmony you’ll find when looking out onto the temple’s Japanese garden.

Their lunch set menus vary between ¥3,000 to ¥9,000, and they’re open from 11am to 2pm. 

Pro tip: There’s a separate garden admission fee of ¥500 yen and for a booking of two or more people, reservations must be made at least three days in advance.

2. Kanga-an

A close-up shot of a shojin ryori set meal, showing food in a traditional red lacquer bowl.

A short walk from Kyoto’s Kamo river, there’s the peaceful temple of Kanga-an, featuring a restaurant that pairs shojin ryori vegetarian dishes with a beautiful entryway and traditional Japanese gardens. Kanga-an is open throughout the day with a selection of set meals, offering lunch from ¥6,500 between 12-3pm (last entry at 1pm) and dinner from ¥10,000 between 5:30-9pm (last entry at 7pm), but there’s also a rumor that there’s a reservation-only bar with the best views of the garden, open until 11pm.

Pro tips: Reservations require at least two people, and guests are encouraged to avoid overly casual clothing, such as shorts and sandals.

3. Hale (菜食 晴)

Kyoto's Nishiki Market, with its multi-colored skylight and many storefronts.

Hale is ideal if you’re spending the afternoon enjoying the energy and shops of Kyoto’s famous Nishiki Market, as it’s only seconds from the hustle and bustle while still offering a peaceful atmosphere and an intimate experience. As is often the way with shojin ryori, there’s a teishoku (set meal) on offer — just the one set meal option per day, in fact — featuring a selection of hot and cold dishes, seasonal flavors, and varied textures. It’s also said that this establishment has been passed down for generations, going from grandmother to mother to daughter, so this is dining with a side of family history!

4. Shojin Cafe Waka

A top-down shot of a shojin ryori teishoku, featuring a range of tofu and vegetable dishes on red lacquerware.

Shojin Cafe Waka, which also goes by Otera House — ”Temple House” — is located by Daizen-In Temple, open from 11am to 5pm (last orders at 4:30pm). It offers a traditional shojin ryori lunch set, including a combination of four seasonal vegetables, rice, and soup — perfect for pairing with their organic coffee and tea, or a hot cup of hojicha (roasted green tea). There’s also a takeaway lunch box if you’d like to enjoy your shojin ryori from the comfort of a nearby park or at your accommodation.

This small cafe is only a 15-minute walk from Kenninji, a historic Buddhist temple with a traditional Zen garden and tea ceremonies.

5. Tofu Restaurant Saigen-in

Ryoanji's Zen rock garden, with islands of rocks and moss dotted around the garden.

On the grounds of Ryoanji, a 15th-century temple with a Zen rock garden and views out over the scenic Ryoanji Kyoyochi Pond, there’s a yudofu (tofu simmered in a broth) restaurant. Born from shojin ryori, yudofu adds a new element to this list, cooking creamy silken tofu in a broth of water and kelp for a simple, warming dish that’s often served with a light soy sauce-based dipping sauce and a selection of side dishes.

Once you’re suitably satisfied, take a 20-minute walk to Ninnaji, a Buddhist temple with gardens and a 5-story pagoda (founded in 886), or take a 25-minute walk in the other direction to Kinkakuji, the must-see Kyoto temple with a gold-leaf facade and landscaped gardens.

Pro tip: If someone tries to tell you that yudofu stands for “boiled tofu,” amaze them with the fact that it’s actually cooked below boiling to avoid breaking apart the extremely fragile silken tofu!

6. Izusen - Daijiin shop

The Buddhist temple of Daitokuji, standing tall behind trees.

There are actually two Izusen restaurants in Kyoto, both offering traditional shojin ryori set meals. However, even though they’re both in the northern part of Kyoto, only Izusen’s Daijiin shop is set in the serene sub-temple of Daijiin, connected to the main Buddhist temple of Daitokuji. Open from 11am to 4pm, Izusen’s setting and set menus offer all the elegance and simplicity of Zen Buddhism, featuring three options that change with the season.

You’re also only a 20-minute walk from Kinkakuji, or a 20-minute journey by bus to Kyoto Botanical Gardens. 

Still searching for your moment of zen? Clear your mind and take a look through our shojin ryori food experiences, or bring the Buddhist way of cuisine back to Tokyo with you by reading our guide to shojin ryori in Tokyo.

Shojin Ryori FAQs

What is Shojin ryori?

To put it simply, “shojin ryori” refers to a style of Buddhist cuisine that focuses on simplicity, harmony, and balance, using no meat, fish, or animal byproducts (mostly). “Ryori” means “cooking,” while “shojin” refers to the Buddhist philosophy itself.

What are the rules for shojin ryori?

Shojin ryori must be plant-based, excluding meat and fish in favor of soybeans and seasonal vegetables and fruits. It must avoid ingredients with a strong flavor, such as garlic or onion, as it is believed that this could cause the monks to desire more extravagant cuisine and even interrupt their meditation.

Shojin ryori also follows the “rule of five”:

Five colors: green, yellow, red, black, and white.

Five flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.

Five preparation methods: raw, stewed, boiled, roasted, and steamed.

Five elements: temperature, ingredients, portions, techniques, and heart.

Five senses: taste, sight, touch, smell, and sound.

What is shojin ryori made of?

A typical shojin ryori meal may contain soybean-based foods, such as tofu, along with seasonal vegetables and wild mountain plants, believed to help monks align the body, mind, and spirit. As such, shojin ryori is often very healthy, prepared fresh and packed with vitamins and nutrients.

Is shojin ryori vegan?

Shojin ryori is always vegetarian and often vegan, mostly made without the use of meat, fish or any animal products. However, certain dishes — such as miso soup, which sometimes uses a fish-derived soup stock — may contain animal byproducts, so it’s worth checking before you order.

We strive to be as accurate as possible and keep up with the changing landscape of Japan's food and travel industries. If you spot any inaccuracies, please send a report.
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Ryan Noble
Ryan’s love for Japan may have begun with Naruto — something he refuses to hide — but it only grew once he truly understood the beauty of this country’s language, culture, and people. He hopes to use that passion to bridge the gap between Japan and the rest of the world, shining the spotlight on its hidden gems and supporting the revitalization of rural regions.
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