How to Live as a Vegan in Japan

I went vegan in February 2016 while I was living in Tokyo. I found that the rumours of how difficult it was to be vegan or even vegetarian in Japan stopped many people (online and some of my university friends) from seriously trying to do it. So I wrote this post to combat those rumours. It’s not as difficult as everyone makes it out to be. It can be quite easy indeed.

Living as a vegan in Japan long term has many benefits. You can save money by buying food to cook. However, both travelling as a vegan in Japan and staying there long term can be very easy if you are prepared.

I have been gathering resources for this post since living in Japan for 11 months from September 2015 to August 2016. I have divided the information I have collected into three parts. Feel free to comment with anything you would like to add. I will also make edits to this post if I find anything in the future.

1) Grocery shopping

2) Community

3) Restaurants

1) Grocery shopping. But first! Meal ideas. After all, what you shop for depends on what you decide to make. The meals I tended to make in Japan were as follows:

Breakfast- A variety of fruit, oats, or a mixture of both.

Lunch/Dinner- Rice served as a base for my main meals. Sometimes I had different types of rice. Brown, mixed grain, jasmine or basmati. I added stir fried tofu and veggies (changing up the veggies each time) which were cooked in garlic/ginger paste and soy sauce. Sometimes I would replace the rice with udon noodles or soba. Sometimes I would make a curry sauce for the veggies instead of stir frying them. There are many variations you can do. Like curry udon, sushi rolls, miso flavoured stuff… and spinach on everything!

Another staple is pasta! Boil some pasta and mix it with vegetables, canned crushed tomatoes and some herbs and spices. I had lots of edamame salads and chunky soups. Supermarkets sell ready baked sweet potato so I had a lot of that. Also baked mochi!! Experiment with recipes online and the ingredients you have. (yuzu koshō paste is really delicious and is good for flavouring tofu).

Try to ask local friends there where the cheapest places to get fruit and veg are. It may be a produce market or maybe a local supermarket 🙂 best to ask for advice for that based on specific location.

iHerb also deliver to Japan. So if you need emergency nutritional yeast, there’s where you get it from. 🙂 There are plenty of vegan snacks and cereal on there if you run out of anything.

Shopping for groceries. Apart from staples and fruit and veg and tofu, there are some items in a supermarket and a konbini that are suitable for vegans. By the way, for the curry, apparently S&B golden curry sauce mix is vegan. These websites are useful for searching for things to buy in your grocery shop:

This blog post has a list of common konbini items that are vegan: http://okiveg.com/konbini/okinawa-vegan-konbini/

More konbini info: https://isitveganjapan.com/food-on-the-go/507-2/

This blog post has a list of grocery stores in Tokyo that have imported goods that are sometimes vegan: https://bonvoyagevegan.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/vegan-friendly-tokyo-grocery-stores/

This blog post is good for vegan items in fast food chains in Japan: https://isitveganjapan.com/food-on-the-go/fast-food/

(More on restaurants later)

On a side note, bread in Japan almost always has eggs and milk. But if you find a bakery that does fresh bread, the French bread may be alright. Ask them if the shortening is from an animal. このパンのショートニングは動物からのものですか?ラードですか?野菜ショートニングですか?(kono pan no shortening wa doubutsu kara no mono desuka? Lard desuka? Yasai shortening desuka?).

Some dry pasta also may have egg in the ingredients. In this case, you just have to look for the kanji in the ingredients. The kanji for ingredients is 原材料名 (genzairyomei). Here is a list of kanji for animal products to look out for:

Meaning Pronunciation Kanji (kana)
Meat
Pork
Beef
Chicken
Lard
niku
butaniku or pōku or hamu
gyūniku or bīfu
tori niku or chikin
rādo
肉(にく)
豚肉(ぶたにく) or ポーク or ハム
牛肉(ぎゅうにく) or ビーフ
鶏肉(とりにく)or チキン
ラード
Fish
Fish stock
Dried fish flakes
sakana
katsuo dashi
katsuo bushi
魚(さかな)
鰹だし(かつおだし or カツオだし)
鰹節(かつおぶし)
Shrimp, prawn ebi えび or エビ
Egg tamago 卵(たまご)
Milk
Butter
Yoghurt
Whey
gyuunyuu
batā
yōguruto
vei or hoei
牛乳(ぎゅうにゅう)
バター
ヨーグルト
ウェイ or ホエイ
Gelatine zerachin ゼラチン
Honey hachimitsu 蜂蜜(はちみつ)

Here is a more detailed list of words: https://isitveganjapan.com/dictionary/

2) Community. In my opinion, community is one of the most important factors in keeping you vegan. It’s a lot easier being vegan with friends than it is being vegan alone. In Tokyo there is no problem, there’s a huge vegan community there. Kyoto too 😃 and there are multiple vegan festivals in Tokyo and in the kansai region every year. Green Food Festa, Vegan Gourmet Festival and Tokyo Vegefood Festa are the ones in Tokyo. I think the Vegan Gourmet Festival happens in some other regions too.

The way you find your community is through:
meetup.com
-Facebook groups
-Instagram
-YouTube

-These are the vegan meetups I know of:

Tokyo Vegan Meetup:
https://www.meetup.com/vegan-389/

Kansai meetup:
https://www.meetup.com/vegan-kansai/

Kyoto:
https://www.meetup.com/kyoto-vegan/

Sapporo:
https://www.meetup.com/Sapporo-Vegan-Meetup/

-These are the Facebook groups I know of:

EDIT: As of March 2018, there is a new group dedicated to the labelling of vegan products in Japan: https://www.facebook.com/groups/243681819509264

Vegan Japan:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/26787874309/?fref=nf

Vegan vegetarian Tokyo:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/vegtokyo/

Tokyo vegan meetup.com’s fb group:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/589238411216069/

Kansai vegan and vegetarian:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/KansaiVegan/

Kyoto vegan and vegetarian:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/kyotoveg/

Nagoya vegan and vegetarian:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1587069484955712/

Vegan supermarket finds in Japan:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/596816857146654/

Vegan vegetarian Fukuoka
https://www.facebook.com/groups/586629481485957/

I didn’t find a group for vegans in Sapporo but there is this post on the first vegan group in this list about someone going to Sapporo. Perhaps there is someone in the comments that has some connections:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/26787874309/permalink/10154984488444310/

-Instagram community:

Use the #ビーガン tag and location tags on Instagram and explore posts and talk to people in the comments. Then once you become friends you can arrange to meet up. I made some of my best friends through Instagram. The following instagram accounts are also good to follow for random things you can eat that are vegan in Japan.

@veganjapan
@vegansofnagoya
@veganjapanshare
@vegantokyo

If all else fails with finding a community in the city you live in, remember, you will always have the vegan community online 🙂 You are never truly alone.

-There are some helpful YouTube videos that I’d like to share as well.

This channel of a vegan couple living in Japan. I’m linking their channel because eall of their videos are super useful:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGY7OMXN8N2gAJHXiyJY9Lw

My friend Regan answering questions about living as a vegan in Japan:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7X-0znHMAA

Regan goes to a Vegfest in the kansai area:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pzC-xuHYTg

Vegan options at the konbini family mart:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0e8O0LPj_QQ

Vegan options at the konbini 711:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVVFUcotlCA

Common vegan snacks:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTcMMnKPxJ0

More snacks:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LlupuAFtew

Vegan grocery hauls from a few different people:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQsoFeuUyw8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFM9TrDB7iI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxKPsPJpQH0

3) Restaurants! There are two family restaurant chains in Japan that I know that have vegan options. Those are your places to go if you’re trying to save money but need to eat out.

The first one is saizeriya! (サイゼリヤ) This chain serves italian food. The mushroom pizza without cheese is vegan. (so is the cheese and tomato one, but that will end up being just tomato sauce and bread). And the peperoncino (ペペロンチーノ) pasta is also vegan.

16389440_10209988256557616_61464937_o

The second one is coco ichiban-ya (CoCo壱番屋), a Japanese curry house. Only some stores in Japan have the vegan menu. 112 branches to be precise. And you may need to ask for it, just ask for the vegetarian menu (ベジタリアンメニュー /bejitarian menyū). It’s actually vegan but it’s just called vegetarian because that’s a more common word over there. Be careful not to order from the regular menu because the curry base is either pork or beef. Here is a picture of the menu and the list of branches. Just ctrl+f +location name in kanji to see if there is a branch in your area: http://www.ichibanya.co.jp/comp/whatsnew/20160404vejitariankare-wo112tenpodehanbaikaisi.pdf

The coco-ichibanya vegan menu:
IMG_5451
IMG_5450IMG_5449

There are always items like 冷やし豆腐 (hiyashi-dōfu) with no sauce, 枝豆 (edamame) and rice if you go to pubs, which are called 居酒屋 (izakayas). Mix those sides up to make a soy sauce, tofu, edamame bowl with rice!

If you want full vegan restaurants or restaurants with vegan options in local areas… happycow.net is your best friend 😛 That website has full lists of most of the vegan, vegetarian and restaurants with veg options for every country in the world, including Japan.

There is also this sentence which you can print and show (or just show on your phone) at a normal restaurant and speak to them so they can understand that animal products should not be used in your meal. This is what I used when going to non-vegan restaurants. This is how you pronounce the following sentence: “Mōshiwake arimasen ga, watashi wa bīgan desu. Niku, toriniku,sakana (dashi wo fukumete), tamago, nyūseihin ga taberaremasen.”

申し訳あリませんが、私はビーガンです。
肉、鶏肉、魚(出汁を含めて)、卵、乳製品
が食べられません。

I am vegan. I can’t eat meat, poultry
or fish. Including dashi, eggs, or dairy.
Thank you for your understanding.

Now I am going to list some of my personal restaurant recommendations in Tokyo and Kyoto. All addresses and opening times and pics are on HappyCow pages which will be linked. All of these recommendations are fully vegan.

Tokyo:

1. Olu olu cafe near setagaya park is my absolute favourite. There’s Hawaiian and Okinawan style food. The menu goes on and on for pages and pages. It’s so cheap for Tokyo, everything under 1000 yen. And the best item on the menu is the organic taco rice. It seriously tastes like magic, I can’t describe it. My favourites are the coconut curry tofu bowl, the taco rice bowl & the acai bowl. They also have such fresh atsu-age-doufu raw spring rolls and delicious rainbow salad.

2. Ain soph ripple in Shinjuku is perfect for vegan junk food and burgers. They have cheezy fries and amazing burgers and a tiramisu to die for.

3. T’s Restaurant in Jiyuugaoka is delicious. Ramen, fried chick’n with mayo (so good) The dinner menu even has vegan lasagna!

smth

Also more in Tokyo:
6BT in Roppongi with a huge bowl of curry ramen.
King falafel in azabu juban with the best falafel sandwich ever.
Nagi Shokudo in Shibuya with garlic chive and soy sauce fried chick’n that is sooooo crunchy and perfect.
smth2

Kyoto recommendations:

1. Morpho cafe near demachiyanagi. Holy moly get the cheez and tomato and veg pizza here, it’s divine!!! It’s small but it’s the BEST pizza I’ve ever had honestly. (And I’ve tried lots of vegan pizza…)
IMG_3070

2. Vegans cafe and restaurant near fushimi inari taisha. Oooh my god this place has variety alright! Ramen and rice meals and curry pizza! Good to stop by if you’re near the famous temple 🙂

3. Veg Out near shichijo train station. A little expensive but the owner is very kind. They have excellent taco rice and curry ^^ and tofu quiche sometimes.

4) Some miscellaneous resources:
http://veganwiki.info/en/Japan (has advice for other countries too)
https://www.vegansociety.com/whats-new/blog/vegan-japan (my friend Jojo’s post on the vegan society’s website about being vegan in Japan)

This is the end of the post. Contact me on twitter if you have any questions or need further advice on being vegan in Japan, I can be reached faster through there. Remember that the suffering that the animals go through is far worse than any inconvenience we may have staying vegan in Japan or anywhere in the world. Stay strong and don’t give in!

If you know anyone else that needs information about living as a vegan in Japan, please send them this blog post.

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6 thoughts on “How to Live as a Vegan in Japan

  1. Hey Mag, you did a fine job of writing all this info. Makes me want to go to Japan. Unfortunately, I can’t. But who knows. Anyway, I just thought I’d write and that k you for taking the time and effort.

    Like

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