Like this post? Help us by sharing it!
Can you eat vegan in Japan?
As veganism becomes increasingly common in the Western world, we find more customers asking us how easy it is to eat vegan in Japan. And that makes sense: for lots of us, food is a huge part of experiencing different cultures when we travel.
So, to make sure we’re as clued in as possible when it comes to eating vegan in Japan, we sent Ali, one of our travel consultants (and a dedicated vegan herself!), on a research trip to help us find out what works and what doesn’t.
Whether you’re flexitarian, mostly veggie but enjoy vegan options, or are completely committed to veganism, we’re here to answer the question ‘but what will I be able to eat?!’
Here’s how to make sure you’re not going hungry as a vegan in Japan.
Are there vegans in Japan?
Firstly, it’s important to explain that veganism just isn’t a well-known or well-understood concept in Japan in the way it is in the West. That absolutely doesn’t mean it’s not possible for vegans to travel to Japan and eat well – but it does mean that things require a bit of planning, flexibility, and advice from people who know where to go and what to look for.
Luckily for you, that’s us!
“It was actually a magazine article called Tofu Soup for the Soul that inspired me to go to Japan for the first time many years ago – and that’s before I was even vegan”, Ali says. “I remember cutting that article out, putting it in my shoebox of dreams, and deciding that one day, I’d go and experience the lovely, nourishing, delicious concept that it promised.”
“Having now been lucky enough to live in Japan – and spending all my time at work advising other people on the absolute best parts of the country – I’ve achieved that dream, and it’s a pleasure to share my experience of eating vegan in Japan with other people.”
What can vegans expect in Japan?
“Let me be clear from the start: Japan is not a vegan destination. It’s definitely possible for vegans to eat and eat really well – but I want to manage expectations. It’s not a foodie heaven for vegans – and sometimes you’ll have to get creative.
“Some big considerations are that you might need to be more flexible than usual. You can use translation apps to scan ingredient lists, but dashi (fish stock) is used in a huge amount of Japanese food, and the allergen rules are different there, so you might not always find every ingredient listed on the back of packets.
“Most ryokans and Japanese style accommodation also won’t cater for vegans or offer a vegan option – because it’s just not a common concept there. When you stay in a ryokan, the chefs carefully craft set meals based on their expertise, and ingredients and dishes are prepared way in advance. While it’s fairly common in the Western world to be able to swap things out for vegans and veggies, it’s not something Japanese hosts are accustomed to.
“But, with a few tips and tricks, you’ll definitely be able to enjoy very tasty meals and snacks – it’s just all in the preparation.”
Are there vegan restaurants in Japan?
“When it comes to eating out as a vegan in Japan, Tokyo is your friend. Like any capital city, it’s a bit more ahead of the curve and also caters more extensively to a tourist market (which, more and more, includes vegan travellers).
“Some of my favourite vegan spots in Tokyo are the plant-based version of Komeda (a common kissaten style café chain), Komeda Is, where you’ll find tasty sweet and savoury food, as well as smoothies, iced coffees, and other beverages made using plant-based milks.
“There’s also UZU, which is a vegan ramen place just next to teamLab Planets. After a morning exploring some wacky art, it’s a good spot to sit down and find choices like green tea ramen or vegan ice cream, which is delicious.
“Kyushu Jangara is another great ramen spot that has an entirely plant-based menu, so that’s worth checking out, too.
“Outside of Tokyo, it’s definitely possible to find restaurants that offer vegan options – but they might not be advertised as so. The area around Mount Koya is a really safe bet, famous for shojin ryori, which is the entirely vegan temple cuisine that Buddhist monks prepare and eat.
“Kyoto has some good options, like CHOICE, which is a vegan and gluten-free restaurant; Renkonya, a little izakaya with hand-written paper menus; and Kyoto Arashiyama, where you’ll find a vegan speciality called saga tofu that’s very tasty.
“Finally, my go-to tip for eating out as a vegan in Japan is to use the Happy Cow app wherever you can. It’s community maintained, so it’s usually very up to date, and you’ll find things that you wouldn’t otherwise. When I was at a train station, for example, I used it to discover an underground food court that had a stall selling entirely plant-based buns with different fillings and flavours. I’d have had no idea they were vegan if I hadn’t used it.”
Tips for eating vegan in Japan
“If you’re travelling, aren’t sure that your accommodation will offer vegan options, or just want to be prepared with snacks (who could blame you?!) when you’re not eating out, there are a couple of tips and tricks I found really useful.
“Firstly, using a translation app to scan the back of packets is a helpful place to start. As I said, it might not list every single ingredient, but it should give you a good idea – and that way, you’re doing everything you can to try to inform yourself.
“Secondly, I’d recommend taking protein sachets with you. It might sound a bit over the top, but I found it reassuring to know that even if I was having to resort to just eating plain rice or chips on some days, I’d still be able to nourish my body a little bit, which is important to me.
“Finally, convenience stores and supermarkets can be absolute treasure troves for stocking up on supplies.
“You’ll find alternative milks – like soy and oat – in most convenience stores. There are usually some recognisable brands, but as a Japanese friend told me, a handy tip is to memorise the kanji for soy milk (豆乳) and then check the back of own-brand milks, which are much cheaper.
“Most days I’d go down to my hotel’s breakfast buffet with a little alternative milk, which meant I could at least enjoy my cereal without compromising or having it dry. If you’re a coffee-fiend, too, it’s worth having some on you so that you can add it yourself to any drinks you order.
“You’ll also find tofu sticks that are designed to be eaten as snacks in lots of shops, often in different flavours, and, if all else fails, you know you’ll be safe with a plain salted onigiri (rice ball)!
“Lastly, if you’re booking with a travel agent or tour operator like InsideJapan, make sure you tell them that you’re vegan as soon as possible – ideally when you first get in touch. Giving us as much notice as possible means we can plan out which accommodation options will work best and help you find places to eat and stay that give you the experience you’re really looking for, without having to compromise on your dietary requirements.”