Being a vegan or vegetarian in Japan is definitely not easy at times. I knew that fish featured highly in Japanese cusine, but it amazed me just how much food contained meat and fish. Often, it was small amounts put into sauces or condiments, which meant you must be extra vigilant.

I’ve visited Japan multiple times now. On the first visits, I was vegetarian. The last couple of times, I was vegan (my last visit was just a few months ago).

My first time in Japan was a real culture shock. And the added complication of being vegetarian (or later plant-based) left me overwhelmed as I tried to navigate the unusual Japanese foods that were often impossible to identify……is that a plant or a fish?!

This was made more complicated by the fact that few people speak English. So, translating your deitry requirements or finding out what is in your food can be difficult.

HOWEVER!!!! Don’t be put off. With a bit of planning (thanks, I hope, to my helpful vegan and vegetarian in Japan guide below) your trip to Japan doesn’t have to be stressful. In fact, you’ll discover a growing underground scene of incredible mear free, plant-based Japanese food.

It amazed me this year how many new vegan and vegetarian restaurants have cropped up in recent years in Japanese cities. It’s refreshing exciting and meant I got to experience all sorts of incredible delicious vegan freindly Japanese cuisine.

ALSO CHECK OUT MY:

2 Week Itenerary and Budget for Japan

vegan in japan

13 Top Tips for Vegans and Vegetarians in Japan

Follow these top tips to ensure your stay in Japan goes as smoothly as it can:

1. Print an Equal Eats card

This handy little hack will save you a LOT of hassle and time. Simply head to Equal Eats and print off the relevant card in Japanease explaining that you are either vegan or vegetarian. You can also include any allergies. Before ordering or buying food, you simply need to show the member of staff your card.

This really does work a treat!

2. Book restaurants before you leave

It is well worth booking a few restaurants in Japan before arriving or at least jotting down the name of a couple in the area of your hotel.

Doing this meant we had a break from constantly searching for options and also meant that we were guaranteed not to miss out on different types of Japanese cuisine.

Check out some of my recommendations below. I’d also highly recommend downloading the Happy Cow app. This will show you good vegan and vegetarian restaurants in all the places you visit – along with lists of items you can order in non-vegetarian restaurants in Japan.

3. Supermarkets are good for snacks and food

For a few lunches, we went to a supermarket, picked up a few snacky bits and ate them either in the park under a cherry blossom or on the train if it was a travel day. There are lots of familiar foods such as rolls, cheese, crisps, fruit and veg as well as some more usual foods, such as seaweed crisps.

Vegetarian in Japan

4. Give your hotel some warning

All the hotels we stayed in where breakfast was included were able to accommodate vegetarians and vegans. Almost all of them needed advance warning so when you book make sure you let them know – it is better to email as quite often wires got crossed on the phone.

If you are staying in a Ryokan that offers dinners, you can also request dinner.

From our experience, the Ryokan dinners were some of the best we tried (Especially Shirouma So in Hakuba).

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5. Visit temples with restaurants – they’re vegan!

Monks don’t touch animal products and the vegan meals they serve, shojin ryori, are amazing. Full of textures, colours and tastes that are like nothing I have ever had before. We stayed at a temple called Fudion, in Koya San which included a phenomenal breakfast and dinner. I can really recommend this place. There are lots of temples that serve food in Japan so you should be able to experience a shojin ryori meal even if you don’t have an opportunity to stay overnight.

6. Learn to love rice balls

In all of the stations and supermarkets, you can pick up Samgak-kimbap (sushi triangles) – a traditional Japanese snack on the go. The pickled plum ones are vegan and the egg ones are vegetarian.

7. And noodles and okonomiyaki

As both these dishes are made fresh and are available everywhere, particularly as street food, it was a great choice for veggies. Soba noodles are a good option for vegans as they don’t use eggs.

Okonomiyaki is like a pancake made with flour, cabbage, eggs and vegetables covered in a sauce and mayonnaise – it usually comes with meat (although not always), so make sure you ask for it without.

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8. For strict veggies and vegans, always check for Dashi

A lot of the liquid-based food (such as miso soup, noodles and ramen) that looks vegetarian actually isn’t, as they use fish stock called dashi. If you are a strict veggie, make sure you check there is no dashi.

You might also want to avoid bread as this sometimes contains animal lard.

9. “No meat, no fish” or “vegetable only”

A lot of the locals didn’t understand the word vegetarian, and there is no direct translation to Japanese. The most commonly used phrase is “no meat, no fish” or “vegetable only” which was repeated back to us often when we were trying to explain our diet.

Once we started using these phrases ourselves, it became much easier.

The Japanese make a cross sign using their arms to indicate no, so use this as well.

Vegetarian in Japan

10. Sweet stuff is usually vegen

There are sweet counters everywhere, and lots of the food we brought that we thought was savoury turned out to be sweet, such as potato bites that turned out to be caramelised in sugar or a roll which was actually stuffed with sweet beans.

If you have a sweet tooth, you will be fine in Japan!

It was too sweet for me but it is worth trying a few of the weird and wonderful foods on offer.

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11. Visit Aiko for Her Famous Vegan Sushi Class

Aiko is a wonderful lady in Kanazawa who runs vegan sushi workshops. You can find out more details here.

This workshop really was one of the highlights of visiting Japan and the sushi and food we created was both beautiful and delicious. Kanazawa is also a great city with a beautiful garden worth visiting.

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11. Bakeries have lots of vegetarian options

There are bakeries everywhere, particularly in the stations. They were great for providing breakfast and snacks like croissants and cheesy rolls, with good vegetarian options.

Just double-check before you buy anything, as a lot of the bread and pastries have hidden meat or fish.

12. Egg mayo sarnies are a good vegetarain fall-back

If you can find a place selling sandwiches, they almost always do an egg mayo one. Always without the crusts?!

Starbucks proved useful for veggie sandwiches and in some of the branches, offered a roasted vegetable panini.

If you can stomach it there are also strawberry and cream sandwiches widely available.

guide to being Vegetarian in Japan

13. If you get really stuck…

If you get really stuck (we got hungry and desperate in Osaka!!) try and find a Western-style restaurant such as a pizzeria or American diner. Or…..the absolute best option……INDIAN!!!!

Curry houses were our saviours!

They are always full of really delicious vegan options, so in every city or town we visited, I’d always make a note if there was a local Indian.

We also got really desperate in one of the theme parks after only finding french fries as an option. We went to a burger bar, ordered a burger that came with an egg, cheese and salad and asked for it without the meat for a vegetarian meal. The people serving looked shocked and took a lot of convincing but it actually turned out to be a very nice egg sarnie.

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Still need travel insurance for Japan?

For insurance, we used World Nomads. They covered us for our full Japan trip including for adventurous activities (hiking and skiing).

Recommended vegetarian restaurants in Japan

TOKYO: Tamana Shokudo
An amazing little place that serves a variety of Japanese vegan meals. It is very central, near to Omote-Sando Station, with lots of sightseeing sights within walking distance. I had the best tofu I have ever had here. The meal was delicious.

MIYAJIMA: Yamaichi Bekkan
There aren’t many veggie options at all on the island of Miyajima, so I would fully recommend going to Yamaichi Bekkan for dinner or lunch. The restaurant is just opposite the ferry port and is run by a very eccentric woman who loves cats and feeding the local deer who make a regular appearance at the front door. They do a set vegetarian menu which includes miso soup, tempura and sushi rolls.

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KYOTO: Shigetsu
Served in the temple, this restaurant serves shojin ryori set meals, which are all meat free and vegan. The food is really bizzare but it was an amazing experience and I ate everything. It is a little pricey but we are in off a traditional Japanease floor table. It had a relaxing view of the garden so I would say it was worth it.

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KOYA SAN: Bon On Shya International Cafe
A cute little cafe and gallery, run by a Japanese/French couple which serves a set vegetarian meal for a very reasonable price. It’s also very vegan friendly with lots of options on the menu.

Japan vegetarian guide
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I hope you found these top tips and guides to being vegan in Japan or vegetarian in Japan helpful.

You can follow me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Or you can subscribe to my YouTube channel. I give all my advice out for free on my website. If you want to say thanks, you can buy me a coffee!

*Any women reading this?* I founded a women’s adventure community called Love Her Wild. Check out our private Facebook page and see what adventures we have coming up.

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