Japan is filled with streets lined with restaurants specialising in horse-meat, all-you-can-eat grilled meat, all-you-can-eat fatty beef in hotpots, standing steak and even more all-you-can meat.
When seeing so many signs that feature meat in it, it makes finding food that a vegetarian can eat seem very challenging. However, it is definitely not impossible! Here are 6 ways you can enjoy food as a vegetarian in Japan.
1. Ramen can be meatless…
Look out for vegetarian ramen around Japan. Instead of using meat or fish-based broths, some restaurants offer completely vegetarian soup noodles with plant-based soups. These include, soy milk, konbu (seaweed) base, and so forth. To replace the big slices of chashu and meat in ramen, you can expect delicious vegetables instead.
For example, Chabuton is a ramen store with branches in Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo. Whilst Chabuton sells ramen with meat in it, there is a completely vegetarian ramen option, as well as a vegetarian gyoza (dumplings) to choose from. They even have a seasonal vegetarian ramen.
2. Devour Mouth-watering Japanese Curry
Many Japanese curry restaurants make curry from roux with meat in it, and they usually add a big piece of katsu pork or chicken. However, there are establishments around Japan that do offer curry that is totally free from meat-derived products. Seven Eleven also offers a vegetarian curry packet that you can prepare by yourself at home (not the pre-made meals).
A lot of Curry House CoCo Ichibanya restaurants also have a special vegetarian friendly menu, so you can enjoy the characteristic curry of Japan. You can choose your toppings from the standard vegetable medley to mushrooms to even okra and asparagus.
3. Find Vegetarian Food from Conbini & Suupaa
Walking into a Japanese convenience store (conbini) and supermarket (suupaa) might be really daunting. With a great selection of products packaged in a completely different language, it’s quite the task to figure out what you can and can’t eat…
So to make life easier in Japan, familiarise yourself with Japanese food lingo. At the back of the food packaging, look out for these keywords:
- ミルク miruku / 乳 nyuu – milk
- ミルク miruku / 牛乳 gyuu-nyuu – cow’s milk ⇔ 豆乳 tou-nyuu – soy milk
- 乳製品 nyuuseihin – dairy product
- 牛肉 gyuu-niku – beef
- 豚肉 buta-niku – pork
- 鶏肉 tori-niku – chicken
- 卵 tamago – egg
- えび ebi – prawn
- 魚 sakana – fish
- ゼラチン zerachin – gelatine
Using these words, you can even suss out whether or not something is vegetarian at a Japanese restaurant. How handy! 😉
Unfortunately kimchi will almost always include fish products, such as prawn and other shellfish.
4. Indulge on Sushi as a Vegetarian
As a vegetarian, you can still enjoy the art of sushi in Japan! Kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurants make is especially easy to find vegetarian options.
Some vegetarian-friendly sushi dish options include:
- 納豆巻き nattou-maki – natto / fermented soybeans
- かっぱ巻き kappa-maki – cucumber roll
- うめしそ巻き umeshiso-maki – pickled plum roll
- アボカドまき abokado-maki – avocado roll (usually has wasabi in it)
- オクラ okura – okra (sometimes the soy sauce may have fish in it)
(but NOT いかオクラ ika-okura – okra and squid)
- かんぴょう巻き kanpyou-maki – kanpyou (dried gourd shavings) roll
- 新香巻き shinko-maki – pickled radish roll
- ナス握り nasu-nigiri – eggplant nigiri
- いなり寿司 inari-zushi – rice wrapped in sheet of fried bean curd
Many sushi restaurants also make hand rolls, so you can request hand rolls with no fish like natto hand roll.
But be aware! The tamago-yaki (egg omelette) that you can find in sushi shops and restaurants around Japan will most likely have dashi (fish stock) and meat products added in. Chawanmushi (egg custard dish) normally has dashi and shellfish mixed in too.
5. Dine at Vegetarian-friendly Restaurants
There are many vegetarian and vegan friendly restaurants around Japan, especially in Tokyo (like Shinjuku and Shibuya). Many of these restaurants only serving meatless dishes for hungry customers. With these restaurants popping up around Japan, a vegetarian lifestyle doesn’t seem so difficult anymore. 🙂
For example, Loving Hut in Jimbocho, Tokyo is 100% vegan-friendly, and even has vegan sushi and a vegan-friendly kabayaki (eel) rice bowl dish.
6. Snack on traditional Japanese sweets.
A lot of traditional Japanese sweets are meat-free! For example, savour on scrumptious sticky mochi (Japanese glutinous rice cake) and crispy senbei (rice crackers).
My utmost favourite Japanese dessert is called warabi-mochi, and I believe that Kyoto does it best. Warabi-mochi, a popular sweet most commonly found in the Kansai area, is dusted with either roasted soybean powder (kinako), green tea powder (matcha), etc.! Usually eaten during the summer, it has a refreshing and cool taste. The best thing about it is that it’s completely vegan. 🙂
Not eating meat products won’t limit you with the amount of traditional Japanese sweets you can consume!
BONUS – This doesn’t count: Eat a burger?!
If you’re on a diet and want to do a so-called diet “detox”, I recommend trying the MOS Natsumi Soy Patty Burger 500%. The soy patty, slice of tomato and greens (including lettuce) are clamped in an abundance of lettuce and… more lettuce.
Rather eating a burger, it’s more like eating a small salad with your hands. Maybe the Vegetable Rice Burger at MOS Burger may suit your stomach needs more…
If you are a vegetarian hoping to visit Japan, we hope you will be able to find delicious food to crave on. 🙂
See you next time!
Important Note: Many people in Japan perceive vegetarianism as pescatarianism – meaning that vegetarians can eat fish but not meats like beef, chicken, and pork. So if you are trying to explain to the restaurant staff about your dietary requirements, I recommend also informing them that you don’t eat fish as well.
Related articles to read:
Muslim heading to Japan? Finding halal food doesn’t have to be difficult! Read all about it here: Halal in Tokyo
Discover the tasty glory of warabi-mochi in this article: Warabi mochi – The casual looking but extremely delicious Japanese sweet
Many of the vegetarian places mentioned here can be found in Shimokitazawa, Tokyo! Read about the neighbourhood here: Shimokitazawa: Tokyo’s Vintage Clothing Kingdom
Check out things to do in Japan >> Activities