(Updated April 6, 2020) | Finding vegan options in Japan isn’t the easiest task, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the language. Nowadays with Western food infiltrating store shelves across Asia, you may find the majority of menu items all a bit “meat-heavy”.
That being said, you can be confident in knowing that it is entirely possible to eat vegan in Japan; and you don’t need to miss out on experiencing cultural cuisines when doing so.
8 Tips for Surviving as a Vegan in Japan
1. Plan Ahead
Prior to embarking on a journey to Japan, research what restaurants will be located near your hotel. Also, be mindful of what ingredients the restaurants use to make their dishes. For example, traditional ramen—a Japanese soup noodle dish—is cooked in a meat-based broth, so it is better to search vegan ramen shops in advance.
Although the term “vegetarian” is used in Japan, its meaning may be a bit looser than in other parts of the world. Fish is ubiquitous in Japenese dishes. Be sure to specify “no fish” as it is commonly referred to as a vegetarian ingredient. You will likely also need to specify “no egg” for this reason, too, particularly when ordering the ramen dishes.
2. Use Google Translate
In order to ensure you order your meals are served to you sans animal products, consider using Google Translate throughout your stay to help with making dietary requests.
Dashi (fish stock) and Bonito (fish flakes) are frequently used in Japanese cooking. They are common in non-vegetarian restaurants and are often used soups, broths, and noodles, as well as dipping sauces. However, Dashi and Bonito are rarely listed on menu descriptions, so be sure to look out for these ingredients when translating the menu.
3. Learn Some Japanese
In addition to using Google Translate throughout your stay, learning a few Japanese phrases can help make your stay much easier. Here are a handful of helpful Japanese phrases to help you ensure you order your meals sans animal products.
I’m Vegetarian (there is no Japanese word for vegan) | “Watashi wa bejitarian desu.”
I don’t eat eggs or cheese | “Tamago to cheezu ga taberaremasen.”
Does this contain meat? | “Niku ga haitte imasu ka?”
I don’t eat meat or fish | “Niku to sakana wa taberaremasen.”
I don’t eat dashi or bonito | “Dashi to katsuobushi wa taberaremasen.”
4. Indulge In Sushi
Sushi is traditionally made of raw pieces of fish that are wrapped in rice and seaweed. But don’t be scared of sushi restaurants, because they can be very accommodating to vegans!
5. Try Izakaya-Style Restaurants
Izakaya-style restaurants, also known as tachi-nomi style, are informal Japanese bars that offer food and drinks. In English, the term “izakaya” translates to “drinking while standing.”
Izakaya-style restaurants usually offer veg-friendly items, such as edamame, soba noodles (if you can get it without fish-soup), tofu, some rice dishes, fries or salads without sauce.
6. Shop Convenience Stores
In many parts of Japan, soy milk is more common than dairy milk. You can pick up cartons of soy milk in most 7-Eleven chains (Japan has many locations!) and other convenience stores.
FamilyMart, a popular Japanese convenience store, recently launched its first vegan rice bowl at a number of locations across Tokyo. The rice bowl, known as the Vegiberg-don, features a soy-based, vegan Japanese beef. It is served with cooked pumpkin, red peppers, carrot, peas, potato, corn, and smothered in gravy.
7. Download Veg-Friendly Apps
Another terrific option for researching vegan-friendly restaurants and eateries is by using apps.
Happy Cow, is a free online service that gives a helpful list of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in your area. Happy Cow is also available as an app. It can be especially helpful when planning out a hit list of veg-friendly restaurants you want to visit ahead of time. Also, if you want to know which alcohol is vegan-friendly, Barnivore offers a similar service specifically for booze.
8. Shopping On-The-Go
On-the-go foods are trickier to find and fruit is a little less abundant, so make like a scout and always be prepared! Head to the grocery store to load up on fruit, bread, peanut butter, chips, or other snack foods to keep in your bag when you’re out for the day.