It’s been a few years since I’ve lived in Japan, and though a lot has changed in my life, I feel Japan hasn’t changed much. In the past 3 years, I’ve become vegan, and am taking steps towards a Zero-Waste lifestyle. Both of these things don’t really bode well for culture raised on pork bones and plastic-wrapped sanitation. Veganism in Japan is on the rise, but make no mistake: it’s not easy to be Vegan in Tokyo.. If you want to avoid eating exclusively bread, here are a few tricks for you:
Veganism in Tokyo
Unlike a lot of the more rural areas in Japan, there are a ton of dine-in options for vegans, vegetarians, and even those that are gluten free. It might be a bit harder to locate these types of foods outside of the metropolitan area. Don’t be alarmed! There are ways to get around the heavy beef- and pork- broth laden ramen that saturates the diet here.
Pro Tip: Even if you don’t speak Japanese, you can simply pull up a google translation on your phone explaining your dietary preferences to show to the chef/wait staff when ordering. Just to make sure that your soup broth doesn’t contain bones, or you don’t accidentally get an egg/omelet in your meal.
The literal translation for “vegan” in Japanese is “vegan”, pronounced “bee-gan”. If you would like to practice your Japanese, simply say”:
すみません. ビーガンです. 肉や卵を食べません.
Sumimasen. Bigan desu. Niku ya Tamago o tabemasen.
(sue-me-ma-sen) (bee-gan deh-ss).(nee-ku yah tah-mah-go oh tah-bay-mah-sen).
Excuse me. I am Vegan. I don’t eat meat or eggs.
Watch Out for Dashi and Bonito Flakes
Dashi!! This clear broth is sometimes vegan, sometimes not. Bonito Flakes are dried seaweed and fish flakes that come on top of a lot of dishes. Bot are better to avoid entirely, unless at a strictly vegan restaurant. Dashi broth can be made with kelp, or shaved, dried fish. Check out this link here for more information
Vegan Dishes You Must Try
Eating vegan ramen in tokyo can be surprisingly hard! Often, the soup broth is made from pork and covered in dashi, which is made from dried fish. Try these vegan ramen shops:
Specializing in plant-based broths and animal-free additions, T’s Tantan Ramen Shop in Maronouchi is the perfect starting place to grab a noodle bowl and slurp to your hearts desire.
There are tons of other vegan and vegetarian ramen options as well around the Tokyo area:
- Sora No Iro (Asakasa)
- Sora No Iro (Tokyo Station)
- Afuri (Shinjuku)
- Kyushu Jangara (Harajuku)
- Dotonburi Kamakura (Shibuya)
- Eat More Greens (Minato)
Vegetarian Tempura, Yakitori, and Kushikatsu
Heres for my junk-food vegans out there that are sick of all the healthy options. If you’re interested in fried goodness, look no further:
Battered and fried veggies galore! You can add these on top of your soba noodles, your soups, or just have them by themselves!
Though “Yaki-tori” literally means “meat-stick”, there are quite a few vegan options available in certain locations. Check out this article about Torishin restaurant, and neighboring Torihiro Restaurant that served grilled eggplant skewers (nazu), grilled pepper skewers (piman) and yaki-onigiri (grilled rice balls).
Another food on a stick! This cuisine is all….yes, all….deep fried. There are tons of vegan options available. Lotus root, asparagus, onion, tomatoes, pickled ginger, chest nuts, bananas.
Kushikatsu is traditionally late night food, so prep your stomach with a few ice cold asahis and head on over.
Noodles and Soups
Udon, buckwheat noodles, sobas, ramen….the list of noodles is a mile long. There are tons of options for vegans. Try out cold noodles, hot noodles (make sure its not in Dashi broth!) or pan-fried noodles with veggies (yaki-soba)
There are also great options for vegan at the hot-pot places, known as shabu-shabu. You pay for a bowl of broth (again, with the dashi!) and fill it with your choice of veggies and tofus. Most come with meats, so simply ask for niku-nashi (no meat) and go veggie-crazy. Eat until they must roll you out of the place. I’m pretty sure that’s a requirement.
Non-traditional Vegan Cuisine
There are plentiful Vegan-specific cuisines all around the Tokyo area. Here’s a list of non-traditional Japanese restaurants that are either 100% vegan or vegetarian:
- Seriously one of my favs. I loved the lotus-root soup here
- Loving Hut
- Commune 2nd
- A food-court style area with vegan options. Also….THEY HAVE SANGRIA!
- Rainbow Raw
- Ain Soph (a few different locations! …this is the ginza location that I ate at)
- Nagi Shokudo
Buddhist Temple Cuisine (Shojin ryori)
This temple food is 100% vegetarian and sometimes even vegan due to the Dharmic concept of ahimsa (non-violence)! Occasionally you might find a meal with milk or eggs, so be sure to ask about a dairy-free option. Traditionally, Zen buddhist monks ate entirely vegetarian meals in to find balance in body and mind. Here is a link to all of the Shojin Ryori restaurants in the Tokyo area.
My personal favorite temple-food experience is actually in Kamakura, the temple destination close to Tokyo.
Vegan “Sushi” Options
If you happen to be traveling with a non-vegan, (or you see a conveyor belt restaurant and want an easy meal!) don’t be afraid to step into a sushi bar. Here are your options:
- Miso soup
- Agadashi Tofu
- Shiitaki (Mushroom Sushi)
- Nasu (Eggplant)
- Kappa Maki (Cucumber Roll)
- Gunkan Maki (Seaweed Roll)
- Natto Temaki (Fermented Seaweed handroll)
- Inari Zushi (Fried Tofu wrapped around sweeted rice)
- Shinko Maki/ Takuan Maki (Pickled radish roll)
- Kampyo Maki (Pickled Gord)
- Ume (Pickled Plum)
Vegan options at the Convenience Stores
The Zero-Waster in me cringes when I see the convenience stores, where literally everything, including fresh produce (whhhyyyyyyy….?) is wrapped in plastic. But in a pinch, there are plenty of options for the traveling vegan in Tokyo. Familiarize yourself with these snack foods:
Ume Onigiri and Mushroom Onegiri
Ume, or pickled plum, is made into alcoholic beverages, and wrapped into rice balls. These delicious little packages are perfect to pack for a quick snack in the park, and to keep you from getting hangry between meals. You can purchase mushroom and ume rice balls (unforunately wrapped in plastic) at every major convenience store. I also believe that there are natto options, but most convenience stores won’t have the rice ball options without meat or cream.
Natto Maki Rolls
Fermented Soybeans wrapped in seaweed and rice. These 100% vegan snacks can also be found in any convenient stores and are a great little protein packed snack.
Nuts and junk food snacks
Be careful when choosing a pack of potato chips, because a lot of them are flavored with shrimp. There are also “Happy Dates” which are plant-based snack bars made with chocolate, dates and nuts.
I hope you find all the vegan food your heart desires! It’s by no means easy to be vegan in Japan, but I’ve found Tokyo to be friendly-ish in comparison to other cities. Keep an eye out- I’m making a Kyoto Vegan guide soon!