Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan or keep kosher, or your family and/or partner on your trip to Japan meets one of these criteria, you’ll definitely know that sometimes it’s not easy. Meals suitable for the menu we eat aren’t available everywhere, and sometimes we’ve got to search and organize the whole route so that we can eat and buy food in a place where there’s food suitable for us.
In Japan it gets even more complicated: “innocent” foods like bread and potato chips can contain dairy (most breads in Japan contain dairy), seafood, pork, and all sorts of other things. You see, when it comes to ingredients that can be added for flavor, the Japanese love to “indulge” in as many ingredients as possible (typically animal products).
I must confess, when I’d just moved to Japan, I found it difficult, extremely difficult. There aren’t too many international brands, and a few times I bought food only to realize later that I had to throw it away because it contained a certain ingredient that I don’t eat. Fortunately for me, I had a few good friends who were able to give me excellent advice and helped me to identify exactly what I can and can’t eat.
I’ve gathered all of this advice together in the following post, which will make your search for vegan, vegetarian or kosher food in Japan much easier, wherever you go.
Note that at the end of the post I’ve attached an important note for anyone traveling to Japan – it’ll be a real lifesaver!
Don’t close the post before getting your hands on it.
Tip #1: Sites and apps worth checking when you eat at restaurants
Happy Cow – On this site you can find vegan/vegetarian food (you can filter) near you. You can download the app – the paid version is easier to use. Of course, vegan food can be suitable for some kosher eaters (depending on how strict you are).
Vege Project Japan – A website entirely dedicated to finding vegan places across Japan. On it you can find places with vegan options and places that are completely vegan (which are also suitable for kosher eaters). The site is in both English and Japanese.
Vegewel – Another site which lists vegan/vegan-friendly/vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Japan, and not just that: you’ll also find articles which will help you to find vegan food in izakaya and convenience stores.
Tip #2: Sites for finding out what’s in food
Is It Vegan – Japan – If you feel like a snack and don’t know if it contains meat/dairy/eggs or anything that isn’t vegan, you can find out on the “Is It Vegan – Japan” website (of course, if it is vegan, it will be suitable for vegetarians too and some kosher eaters). The site has tons of lists of vegan foods (and pics of them), as well as foods that look vegan – but aren’t, which you should therefore avoid buying. Over and above this, they have a Facebook group where you can post a question with a picture of some food item you saw and aren’t sure about. Take a photo of the ingredients list (which is written in Japanese), and they’ll respond pretty quickly whether it’s vegan, vegetarian or neither.
This site does a great, thorough job, and will definitely provide you with answers about any product you want to buy.
Tip #3: Stay in an apartment hotel
Or anywhere with a kitchen. Japan has amazing fresh tofu, lovely vegetables, loads of baked goods, a wide variety of noodles and many other kinds of food suitable for anyone who doesn’t want to consume animal products or certain ingredients.
I really don’t believe you need to eat three meals a day outside when you’re traveling. As someone who really loves eating (as anyone who spends time around me can confirm), it seems a pity to spend so much of the trip at restaurants. There’s so much to see!
Tip #4: Supermarkets you need to know about
Here are a few supermarkets where it should be relatively easy to find vegan products, international brands, or at least a list of ingredients in English. Simply google the supermarket’s name, and it’ll show you the closest outlet:
Aeon – A giant chain throughout Japan. Aeon has both malls and supermarkets, and so you should make sure you’re going to a supermarket. Some of the products have a vegan-friendly label so you can be certain they don’t contain any problematic ingredients.
Kaldi – A dry ingredients store with quite a few international brands (and excellent coffee). There you’ll find snacks like biscuits, crackers, granola, chocolate etc.
Gyomu – A supermarket with tons of ingredients you can’t find in just any supermarket in Japan: oats, nuts, frozen fruits, various types of plant milk, fruit and vegetables. If you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen and have a Gyomu nearby, your life will be a lot easier.
Meidi-ya – A supermarket found in some of Japan’s key cities. There you’ll also find products for cooking with, but mostly international brands and snacks. Some of the products are marked “vegan”.
Tip #5: Products worth cooking with
Tofu – forget the days when tofu was a tasteless lump. You’re in Japan! Here there are all kinds of tofu, and if you buy it at a store that specializes in tofu – it’ll be as fresh and tasty as can be. Of course you need to add seasoning (depending on the type of tofu) or cook the harder types with spices.
Yuba – another product made from soybeans. I’ve written about yuba in this post about the Nishiki Market. Just like tofu, yuba doesn’t have a strong flavor, so it’s best eaten with soy sauce or in a soup. If you’re already in Japan, I highly recommend giving it a try!
Ofu – this is actually gluten that comes in different shapes and textures. You can fry it, add it to soup, or invent your own original recipes with it.
Miso – when miso soup is eaten in a restaurant, fish stock is normally added, but it doesn’t mean you’ve got to add it too. Apart from that, miso soup is just one option. In Japan there’s a variety of kinds of miso, and it can be added as a sauce to eggplants, fried onigiri, and loads of other recipes.
Noodles – Japan has a wide variety of noodles: ramen, soba, sōmen, udon, and all of them can be bought at any supermarket. You can make a soup for them to your own taste, or try local recipes.
Shichimi – this is the official spice of Japan, which consists of seven kinds of spices. It’s normally added to soup with noodles, but hey – who’s to say you can’t try out other ways of eating it?
Tip #6: Vegan foods at convenience stores
If you want food to keep you going until the next meal, you can always snack on these on the road:
- Plain onigiri
- Natural fruit juices
Also, convenience stores often sell various types of Wagashi (Japanese sweets) which are mostly vegan.
Tip #7: Chabad houses
This section is intended primarily for those who want kosher food. Here is a list of Chabad houses in Japan and how to get to them.
Chabad house Tokyo
Chome-5-23 Takanawa, Minato City, Tokyo
Chabad house Takayama
chōme-173 Kiriumachi, Takayama, Gifu
Chabad house Kobe
Chome-12-12 Kitanocho, Chuo Ward, Kobe, Hyogo
Chabad house Kyoto
Kyoto, Ukyo Ward, Uzumasa Yasui Mitodencho
Tip #8: The most important tip! A table of food restrictions that will be a lifesaver in Japan
In order to cope with any possible food restriction, I’ve drawn up a table especially for you, dear blog readers! In this table I’ve marked all the foods you’ll probably want to avoid – you just need to put an X in the right place.
You can present the table at any hotel, restaurant or store where you want to buy food. Believe me, after endless hotels and restaurants that I sent this list – nothing is clearer than this.
To get the table directly to your email register here!
Those of you who are already registered to my newsletter will receive it in the next newsletter 🙂
(If you’re already registered, send me a message and I will make sure you’ll get the file).
Wishing you a tasty and enjoyable trip!
And if you’ve got more tips – share it in the comments so everyone can see!