Plant-Based Japan Travel – Tokyo 1

Tokyo, being the world’s largest city, is often the backdrop of various literature. My favourite manga, Akira, was set here. Tokyo excites the senses – sometimes to an extreme. Towering buildings, endless crowds and maze-like train stations can make one feel like an insignificant ant.

The best thing about a megacity is that it absorbs new ideas fast. Thus Tokyo has the most places in Japan that offers veg*n food. It was also incredibly easy to get made-in-Japan vegan dairy alternatives compared to other cities. So, your taste buds are in for a treat!

From Tokyo City View.

Notes:

  • Veg*n is a shortened, inclusive term to refer to vegans and vegetarians.
  • This article is solely based on my experiences and research, thus may not represent the whole of Tokyo.
  • Accuracy of information cannot be guaranteed as there may be changes to the eatery’s operations

Lists of food spots in Tokyo:

I recommend using HappyCow and the official Vege Japan map to cross check as those are likely the most updated. You can use our google maps to get directions on the go or make a copy to edit.

This list is written based on train stations as trains are the main mode of transport. How far you can walk from the stations depends on the weather. During our trip there was a heat wave then typhoon, so we kept our activities near the stations.

 

Narita Airport

On the airport’s website there’s a section indicating which restaurant offers what veg*n-friendly dish, plus Halal info. If you need a lot of food, get from Terminal 1 before the passport control – that area has the most vegan options. I had the not very amazing sandwich from Terminal 2. Review.

You can also get ready to eat foods like edamame, certain onigiris (check for fish sauce even if it looks vegan), macrobiotic cookies, hot sesame buns, soy milk (Marusan is my fav brand) and juice from airport konbinis like 7-11 or Lawsons. Starbucks offers soymilk option (drink quality is way better than Singapore’s but none of the food is vegan). I believe Soup Stock also has veg*n options.

 

Tokyo Station

Organised mess is one phrase to describe Tokyo Station. If you’re somewhat directionally challenged like me, head to the information counters directly. There’s an interesting mikan soft serve there too, but I didn’t try as I was tired of going through the endless crowds.

T’s Tan Tan (vegan)

  • Alliums: One allium-free option labelled
  • Alcohol: None tasted, shop sells alcohol

The most famous vegan place in Tokyo inside the gates of Tokyo Station. In Japan, there are businesses within the fare gates of big stations. There’s two outlets in central Tokyo – another in Ueno station, so you’re likely going to pass by both. I enjoyed their breakfast menu (dashi rice), tea and ice cream more than ramen, gyoza and curry. Don’t forget to grab some of the cup ramen too! Review.

It felt familiar but extremely salty. The shoyu ramen was 3 times saltier than Xuan Miao.

Soranoiro (non-veg)

  • Alliums: None tasted, recommend to check while ordering
  • Alcohol: None tasted, shop sells alcohol

Has one vegan ramen and one vegan soft serve. Likely the cheapest hot vegan dish in Tokyo Station. This is the only ramen I had which I felt the salt level was acceptable. Review.

Creamy carrot soup base – very creative!

Ekibenya Matsuri (non-veg, has one vegan bento)

  • Alliums: Contains onions
  • Alcohol: Shop sells alcohol, none inside the bento

The only vegan train bento, sold at this shop between the entrances to platforms 6 and 7. Be prepared for a huge crowd and factor in more time to buy this bento. Review.

Got this mainly for the experience – ekibens are part of Japan’s train culture!

Harajuku Station

Famous for crazy teenage street fashion (although we didn’t see any). Also the station where you get off for Meiji Shrine.

Kyushu Jangara Ramen (non-veg)

  • Alliums: Can be done without, request when ordering
  • Alcohol: None tasted, shop sells alcohol

A short walk across the street from the station. Tasty, quick and affordable. Loved the bustling open kitchen atmosphere. Review.

Still salty but more acceptable than T’s Tan Tan’s version.

Daikanyama Station

Dubbed Tokyo’s little Brooklyn, this quaint and modern neighbourhood is one of the more peaceful neighbourhoods we visited. Has a lovely bookstore and interesting indie designer shops.

Vege Holic (non-veg)

  • Alliums: Unsure, please check
  • Alcohol: Sells alcohol

Didn’t eat here but passed by and spotted this signboard. Right in front of the station. The other option in this neighbourhood is Blu Jam Cafe serving Mexican food.

1000yen for lunch is quite cheap for a cafe in central Tokyo.

Ikebukuro Station

We came here mainly to check out Sunshine City, known for its Pokemon Centre and other character shops for official Sanrio, Rilakkuma and Studio Ghibli merch.

Ain Soph Soar (vegan)

  • Alliums: Present, check while ordering
  • Alcohol: Some dishes have wine, shop sells alcohol

Another popular vegan spot, 5 minutes walk from the station. After eating here and the outlet in Kyoto, I think they do sweets and desserts much better than savoury foods. My favourites were the tiramisu, snowball cookies, gluten-free pancakes and deep fried soy meat (karaage). Review.

Best vegan pancakes ever!

Shibuya Station

We stayed in an Airbnb here. Shibuya is very well connected but it doesn’t have a lot of affordable veg*n food spots. That wasn’t an issue as we cooked 1 or 2 meals per day to stay within budget. We got groceries from Tokyu Food Show, Mega Donki and the many konbinis around.

Cocoichibanya (non-veg)

  • Alliums: Curry sauce contains it
  • Alcohol: None tasted, sells alcohol

About 5 minutes walk from station. One of the outlets that have vegetarian menu. Other outlets with veg menu here. Quick, tasty and affordable. Beside this outlet is a Thai restaurant that advertised that they have vegetarian dishes. As Singapore has good vegan Thai food, I didn’t pay much notice to what they offered. Review.

Curry sauce also for sale!

BIO Cafe Shibuya (non-veg)

  • Alliums: Contains, check when ordering
  • Alcohol: None tasted, shop sells alcohol

10 minutes walk from station. Vegan options clearly labelled. We had dinner and it was too expensive for the tiny portions, although the dishes were creative and tasty. They have different menu for lunch and dinner, with lunch being cheaper – a common practice in Japan. Breads are excellent, so grab some for breakfast. Review.

Maybe good for special occasions.

Tokyu Food Show (non-veg)

A large department grocery shop connected to Tokyo Station. Tricky to find (as with everything in Tokyo Station) so ask the train conductors beside ticket gates for directions. Carries Beyond Tofu vegan cheese. The bakery Andersen inside also have breads with allergens labelled. Review.

Tokyo has lots of dairy alternatives made with soy!

Hiroo Station

Trendy expat neighbourhood. One stop away from Roppongi station, so we dined here before heading to Roppongi. It’s not that Roppongi has no veg*n places – there’s a lot. But most spots there serve dishes that can be found in Singapore, with the exception of Afuri that does a vegan ramen.

Vegan cafe (vegan)

  • Alliums: Present, check while ordering
  • Alcohol: None

A 3-minute walk from Hiroo Station. Cute interior with a very hospitable lady boss who chatted with us (she worked in Singapore for 6 months!). My favourites were the locomocodon (Hawaiian dish with Japanese twist) and french toast. Different menu for lunch and dinner. Review.

There’s no vegan french toast sold in Singapore – I was so happy!

Beside this cafe is National Azabu, a chain grocery store selling imported foods. We spotted Sheese and Japan-made vegan margarine, plus many other labelled vegan packaged foods.

No idea what “fermented margarine” means..

Omote-sando Station

Omote-sando is an expensive, high-end neighbourhood, almost like Ginza. Lots of veg*n spots near this station.

Cori Vegan Food Stand (vegan)

  • Alliums: Present, check while ordering
  • Alcohol: None tasted, sells alcohol

Wanted to try 8tablish which has Japanese-Italian fushion food, but they were unexpectedly closed. So we walked about 8 minutes to Cori. Falafels and hummus were quite average (had better in Singapore’s Urban Bites), but the soy karaage (Japanese deep fried meat) was amazing! Likely the most affordable dinner option in this area. The food stand beside it that had lovely vegan karaage too. The fries stall had delicious ginger apple tea. Review.

This one is from the stall next door – try both!

Brown Rice by Neals’yard Remedies (vegan)

  • Alliums: Present, check while ordering
  • Alcohol: None tasted, shop sells alcohol

Was highly recommended by many but I felt a bit disappointed. The flavours were way too light even for me, plus it was very expensive. I’m someone who prefers to eat more affordably even if it’s less healthy while travelling. Review.

At least it was good for health! They have matcha parfait – maybe that’s worth trying.

Previous: Hokkaido . Next: Tokyo Part 2

 

Plant-Based Japan Travel – Hokkaido

Hokkaido is best known for postcard perfect winter scenery, nature and the best local produce in Japan. In summer, it has sweeping fields of wheat, flowers and lush green forests. Even though Hokkaido is overall not as veg*n-friendly as Tokyo or Kyoto, it still offers a good amount of veg*n food spots. In fact, I had the best meals of my trip here. Here’s the list of places we ate at and more we discovered along the way.

The following places are mapped here. You can also use this map to get directions, or make a copy to edit it if needed. Highly recommend renting a car, as every destination is quite far apart, especially the food places. We rented ours through HIS Singapore. They advised to avoid driving in winter or after dark.

We usually ate lunch out and cooked simple dinners in our Airbnb. Many eateries aren’t open past 5pm and eating out is more expensive. Most Japan’s Airbnbs allow cooking and will come equipped with basic kitchen supplies, like fridge, stove and microwave.

Notes:

  • Veg*n is a shortened, inclusive term to refer to vegans and vegetarians.
  • This article is solely based on my experiences and research, thus may not represent the whole of Hokkaido.
  • Muslim vegans – here’s a restaurant and hotel guide for Muslim visitors to Hokkaido – vegetarian options indicated.
  • Accuracy of information cannot be guaranteed as there may be changes to the eatery’s operations.

 

Sapporo

The capital of Hokkaido and likely the most veg*n friendly! It was my favourite city out of the 7 we visited. Sapporo seems to be designed as a walkable city (in good weather) with a North American style rectangular street system. The scale of the city feels perfect – vibrant multi-use public spaces, low buildings framing an endless blue sky that meets mountains. If you’re looking for a mild temperature, quieter place to relax in with all the amenities of a city, visit Sapporo in summer.

Here’s the Muslim-friendly map for Sapporo, but not all the places listed may have veg*n food. The Samurai Ramen is vegan too! Note that Iki Laboratory closes end September 2018.

New Chitose Airport Domestic Terminal

Ajisai (non-veg)

  • Alliums: Does not seem present, recommend to state while ordering
  • Alcohol: None tasted, shop sells alcohol

Short walk from the arrival terminal. Available in shio (salt) and soy sauce flavour, I requested no egg just in case. Although it was just veggies, mushrooms and noodles, it was tasty, hit the spot after a long flight, with a generous amount of wok-hei. Review.

Slightly salty – but that’s normal in Japan.

Near Sapporo Station

There’s a few non-veg places with vegan food (mainly sushi places) in the malls connected to Sapporo station. Sapporo Station is huge and quite confusing, so ask the station staff or information counter for directions. Simply show them the name or address in Japanese and they can tell you which way to go.

Off Grid Physical Cafe (vegan)

  • Alliums: Present, they can do allium-free if given advance notice
  • Alcohol: None tasted, shop sells alcohol

About 10min walk from Sapporo Station, and one of the rare vegan places that are open till late for dinner. A bit hard to find as it’s in a residential area and the sign is small. Located on the second floor, take the elevator up. Review.

The kelp soup was incredible!

Petit Caco (vegan)

  • Alliums: None
  • Alcohol: Some desserts may contain it, please check

Handmade raw vegan cakes! On the pricey side but I highly recommend trying one or two pieces because they were amazing! Hands down the best raw vegan desserts I’ve tasted. They can also do whole birthday cakes. Reveiw.

They were as good as they looked.

Maruyama Koen

A few places are concentrated around this area. There’s about 4 veg*n eateries, 1 bakery and 1 health shop near Maruyama Koen station. I’ll recommend getting an Airbnb in this area to have easy access to lunch, ready-made foods and groceries for breakfast and dinner. 

Aoi Sora (vegan)

  • Alliums: Unsure – not tasted in the food, please check.
  • Alcohol: Unsure – no tasted in the food, please check. Shop may sell alcohol.

Cozy, amazing food, friendly English-speaking staff with English menu. Serves delicious and healthy Japanese-style meals with some gluten-free bakes at the counter. Reveiw.

We waited quite a bit for this – but it was totally worth the wait.

Huluta Pan (vegan)

  • Alliums: Present in some items, please check
  • Alcohol: Likely not present, please check

Sapporo’s only pure vegan bakery with incredible breads made from natural yeast. There’s no seats inside so we stood outside to eat (eating while walking is considered rude in Japan). Reveiw.

Try their black sugar muffins!

Rarubatake (non-veg*n)

A health shop with lots of vegan groceries like soy mayo, vegan brown rice instant noodles, organic fruits and veggies. Not everything here is vegetarian. Right beside Huluta Pan.

Also bought the yummiest silken tofu from this fridge.

 

Asahikawa

Asahikawa may be Hokkaido’s second largest city, but its not known to be a tourist centre. We ended up staying here because our Airbnb country house in Biei got cancelled due to Japan’s new home sharing laws. The nearest available one was here. It turned out to be a great thing as there were plenty of good food in this city!

Here’s the Muslim-friendly map for Asahikawa, but not all the places listed may have veg*n food.

Asahikawa City Centre

Cafe 0831 (vegan)

  • Alliums: Some dishes contain it, please check
  • Alcohol: Smoothie contains amazake, please check

Incredibly friendly folks serving up healthy fusion food in a peaceful and cozy cafe. The guy, Koji, speaks fantastic English and made us feel at home! Note that it’s located at the corner of outside a building so keep your eyes peeled. We had a great value lunch set complete with smoothie, soup, rice, 4 side dishes, cookies and dandelion coffee. Reveiw.

The croquette was our favourite!

Asahikawa Station

Dapas Bakery (non-veg*n)

  • Alliums: Some breads contain it
  • Alcohol: Some bakes may contain it

Allergens clearly listed. The lady at the counter understood basic English and could recommend which drink had no dairy. Breads were crisp outside and soft inside – heavenly. Reveiw.

The Americano was bad though. Seems like they usually depend heavily on milk and sugar to flavour coffee.

Near Asahikawa Airport

Maru Soba (non-veg*n)

  • Alliums: Some dishes have, can request without
  • Alcohol: Shop sells alcohol

Homely restaurant in the owner’s house. Specialises in traditional handmade soba. Hands down the best meal I had in the whole of my Japan trip! The lime soba had only 3 ingredients but the flavours were so uplifting and memorable. Review.

Only available during summer. No it’s not too sour – Japanese lime is different from our lime.

Notable mentions

Cafe de Amahoro (vegan)

  • Alliums and alcohol: Can request without while ordering

This is not a physical cafe, but the lady lives within Asahikawa and can do vegan bentos. You can order by messaging her over Facebook. I recommend it if you’re going to somewhere without foods you can eat.

Furano

Furano is famous for seasonal flowers. In summer, lavender is in bloom, which attracts hordes of domestic and Asian tourists.

Farm Tomita

Navo (vegan)

  • Alliums: Unsure
  • Alcohol: Sells alcohol

We attempted to go there after visiting Farm Tomita as it was the nearest (about 10 mins drive). We reached at 1.30pm and was surprised to see it’s closed, even though their Facebook indicated open. The lady there was very apologetic that lunch was sold out. A local vegan later told me that their opening hours are quite irregular despite serving good food. Still an option in this area, but recommend to PM them over Facebook before visiting.

Ramen Restaurant Shojikimura (non-veg*n)

  • Alliums: Unsure
  • Alcohol: Seems to sell alcohol

Didn’t go here but it’s highly recommended by a nice local vegan lady we met. Has at least one vegan ramen. Also within Furano, walking distance from Navo.

Mamedetassha (vegan)

  • Alliums: Some dishes contain it, request without while ordering
  • Alcohol: None

Slightly outside Furano. After visiting Navo only to find it’s closed, we drove 20mins here – and had the best curry and corn dishes! A homely cafe in a wooden house, run by a couple. Has an English menu and the friendly guy who cooks can speak basic English. Review.

I had the simple set – was quite filling, fresh and great value for money!

 

TOmamu ski resort

The only major hiccup in our travel plan happened here. Contrary to my expectations, this popular ski resort is not vegan-friendly, despite hosting many foreign visitors (which is why I advise to carry backup energy bars when travelling). But if you are lacto-ovo-veg, Afuri can make a vegetarian ramen (noodles have egg). Party Deli Green Package had some Italian-style side dishes that seemed vegan but they were served cold. Altezza Tomamu is an Italian restaurant so they might have vegan dishes, but it’s expensive. We came here mainly to see Tadao Ando’s Chapel on the Water, but it was closed for a wedding – only then we found out that it’s open during dark hours, which are not good times to drive. We had a light lunch of Hokkaido potatoes and melon from some small stalls on the resort grounds. Although not the most substantial, we enjoyed it as it was the first time we had fresh local produce.

Hokkaido melon is as sweet as legend says!

Previous: Preparation . Next: Tokyo Part 1

 

Plant-Based Travel in Japan – Preparation

Japan is not as friendly to vegans and vegetarians, compared to other developed countries. Despite that, we never went hungry! I’m sharing my experience as a vegan visiting Japan + what I’ve learnt in my 28 days trip, and the places where we had incredible food!

Notes:

  • Veg*n is a shortened, inclusive term to refer to vegans and vegetarians.
  • We visited Sapporo, Asahikawa, Tokyo, Yokohama, Kamakura, Kyoto and Osaka. These articles are solely based on my own experiences and research, thus may not represent the whole of Japan.

 

Problems you may FACE in Japan:

Lack of idea ABOUT what vegan/vegetarian is

Japan is full of Buddhist temples, but don’t expect to find Buddhist vegetarian food as easily as in Singapore. In large cities, there’s better understanding due to a more international population, but you still can’t expect every place to have veg*n dishes. A quick browse in all the vegan/vegetarian Japan facebook groups shows that most of the members are expats or tourists. Veg*nism seem to be a new concept to most local Japanese.

There’s also no vegetarian or vegan labelling for packaged foods, and most of them are in Japanese. Slightly easier if you can read Chinese. But if you can’t, join the Is It Vegan Japan, Vegan Supermarket Finds in Japan and Vegan Japan Facebook groups to familiarise yourself with how the vegan foods look like.

The Chinese word for vegetarian does not carry the same meaning in Japan! This is shellfish stock.

Fish is a common seasoning

Since Japan traditionally depended greatly on the sea for sustenance, fish as a basic seasoning is already ingrained in society. Fish is in certain soy sauces, miso pastes, soup stock and other seasonings. Sometimes dried fish flakes (bonito) are used on a topping even in vegetable dishes. Fish parts are also used to make dashi, a traditional soup stock used in many dishes. It’s so common and invisible that even servers who may know what veg*n means may still forget about the little bit of fish in sauces. Which is why being specific helps more instead of saying “vegetarian”.

Miso soup can often contain fish sauce or stock, so it was one dish that I ate only at veg*n places.

Communication

The level of English varies between age groups – generally younger Japanese people seem to have better English. 90% of Japanese people I met understood basic to moderate English; the other 10% of the time I used gestures, Google Translate or pictures (I highly recommend getting a good connection on your phone). So that wasn’t a major issue through my trip. The main issue is that most people don’t understand “vegan” and many still think fish sauce is okay for veg*ns.

VEGETABLE-BASED doesn’t mean veg*n

Japan loves veggies (yasai). Even the convenience stores stock fresh produce. Cafes proudly advertise that they use a large variety of veggies. Just because something looks like only veggies and tofu doesn’t mean it’s automatically vegan. It’s likely to be cooked in meat or fish stock, with small bits of meat. Common dishes like “vegetable curry” or “vegetable soup” from a non-veg place, very likely have pork or fish in the soup base.

“Summer Veggie Bento” that has chicken, egg and milk listed in the allergens.

Alliums

Japanese use a lot of alliums in cooking to give the umami and pungency. The good thing is that awareness of allium-free diets seems quite common in the veg*n places. “Oriental vegetarian/vegan” is the term used locally to describe this requirement. I realised it’s quite common for servers at veg*n places to double check if you can take alliums, or have labelling of such information in the menu. Many places also can do allium-free meals if given advance notice.

The words for each type of allium to help you in a pinch:

  • Onion = 葱, ねぎ (negi)
  • Garlic = ニンニク (ninniku)
  • Leek = ネギ, ねぎ (also negi)
  • Chives = ニラ (nira)
  • Asafoetida = アサフェティダ (not commonly used in Japanese cooking)
  • Without = なし (nashi)

Alcohol

90% of eateries serve alcohol like beer or sake. Japanese use a lot of alcohol ingredients like sake, mirin, sake lees and amazake in food. Also, fermented foods like miso have small amounts of alcohol which is a result of the natural fermentation process. So what you can eat depends on how strict you need to be. I’ve also seen alcohol used in packaged foods too. The kanji surely means alcohol is present. For my list, I will try my best to indicate if alcohol is present.

Some common alcohol ingredients:

  • 酒 = sake, generic word for alcohol
  • 味醂, みりん = mirin (a type of rice cooking wine)
  • 甘酒 = Amazake (low alcohol content fermented rice drink)
  • 酒粕 = sake lees (pulp left from sake production)

Note for vegan Muslim friends: I’ve not seen halal certifications displayed in Japan. Thus if you visit a non-veg place, there’s high chance of cross contamination with pork, since such ingredients are very commonly used in foods there. Halal Media has a guide for Muslims visiting Japan, but note that most of the eateries listed may not have veg*n food.

getting easy to be veg*n in Japan!

Japan is full of wonderful experiences which you can enjoy regardless of what your diet is. Awareness of veg*nism is spreading thanks to:

2020 Tokyo Olympics

The Olympics will bring even more veg*n tourists to Japan. NGOs like Tokyo Smile Veggies and Japan Vege Project are campaigning for more local restaurants to offer veg*n dishes. The Tokyo government is actively pushing for locals to learn English. Pretty sure if you visit closer to 2020, there’ll be more options available with less communication barriers.

Vege Project is now actively helping veg*ns live easier in Japan.

Allergen information

Japan takes food allergies seriously and is very transparent in regards to allergen information. Allergens are clearly labelled in almost all food places and on food products. The allergens that are required to be declared include egg, dairy, certain seafood and meats. Thanks to this, it’s pretty easy to spot the veg*n option. Note that some Japanese may not know the English word for allergens, so use “arerugi アレルギー” if needed. This helped me once while searching for vegan breads on a supermarket shelf. The store assistant only understood “arerugi information” and even helped read out the ingredients!

Allergies = アレルギー (arerugi)

Very common to see food allergens listed, like this vegan bento from Tokyo Station.

It’s really quite easy – if you stick to tourist areas

In most areas where tourists or expats visit, you’ll have the least problems finding veg*n food. People there are more used to communicating in English and might have served a few veg*ns before you. But if you go outside of these areas, you have to be more prepared by packing something in advance. Note that some areas that serve mainly domestic or China tourists have very little or no veg*n food due to lack of demand. Eg: Tomamu Ski Resort in Hokkaido.

Food in Japan is SO GOOD.

Japan’s food is the best quality food I have ever had so far. Although it’s more expensive than Singapore’s, I seldom felt disappointed as the taste, freshness, service and creativity are MUCH better! This alone is worth looking forward to and doing more research on.

One of the best Japanese style meals we had from Aoi Sora Cafe.

 

To-do before GOING:

Have a list of the places to eat at

1.Happy Cow Japan’s listing

Note that Happy Cow has its limitations. They prefer to list vegan or vegetarian places to support them – which is a great initiative. But, it excludes many non-veg places that may offer veg*n dishes, and in certain situations (eg, your non-veg family want to eat seafood) that’s not the most practical. Sometimes the information (eg hours, address) listed may not be updated, as restaurants tend to prefer to update their own website or social media first, so follow the restaurant’s Facebook page for updates.

2. Facebook groups

Join the Facebook groups for more information and get the latest news on which products are vegan, events, new places opening, new menus, places closing etc. Also great way to know which packaged foods are vegan so you can buy them without worries!

3. Japan Vegemap

I think this map is constantly updated by Japan Vege Project, and is currently not fully complete. There’s places I visited in Hokkaido that aren’t listed. Thus I will share my own google maps but I recommend that you check back to this map in future. They also provide printed maps for Tokyo and Kyoto.

Plan around food

One main reason for my visit was to enjoy foods that I can’t get in Singapore! So I planned all our accommodations and schedule around veg*n places that are highly recommended by locals and expats. I had half a year to plan, so I found plenty of places to explore. In fact I only visited 60% of my to-eat list in the end.

If you don’t have control over your schedule and place to stay, don’t worry too much. Most convenience shops (konbinis) in cities have good and cheap options, such as rice balls, sushi, salads, snacks and ready-to-eat tofu. As usual, be careful of hidden animal ingredients in seemingly vegan foods. Konbinis are everywhere (sometimes 4 together in a spot) and literally do everything for you, including heating the meal for free. Here’s the most complete list of vegan finds at konbinis. Here’s a video of vegan food in 7-11.

 Budget more for food

Eating out is generally pricier in Japan compared to most Asian countries, and pure veg*n places are usually more expensive. Veg*n cuisine is seen as healthy and organic food with Western influences. This is the main reason I booked Airbnbs so that we could cook. An average meal for one in Tokyo can be $10-$20, while $20 groceries can make about 2-3 meals for one person. We could also do laundry without additional costs.

If you really don’t wish to cook (although I’d recommend it if you’re on a budget), you can depend more on konbini foods, or dine at the chain eateries which offer veg*n dishes.

Some places that serve meals below 1000Y:

  • Cocoichibanya (some outlets have vegetarian menu),
  • Chabuton (all outlets have vegan ramen and gyoza, soy sauce at the table has fish)
  • Soup Stock Tokyo (at least 1 vegan soup)
  • Kyushu Jangara Ramen (all outlets have a vegan ramen that can be done without alliums)
  • Afuri (Only Tokyo outlets have seasonal vegan ramen)
  • Sushi belt places (Often have veggie sushi. Bring your own soy sauce – usually provided ones have fish. Some konbinis and supermarkets have this mini soy sauce!)

Learn Basic food-related lingo

Here’s some handy language card. If you have to go to a non-veg place and may face communication issues, flash this.

Printable vegan card.

You’ll likely need packaged foods during your trip. Almost all labels are written in Japanese and there’s no vegan labelling there. Here’s where you can learn useful words and phrases:

Important note for those who look like Japanese people

Most locals, at first sight, seem to automatically assume that those with East Asian features are Japanese. Sometimes, even if I spoke English to them in the first place, they still thought I’m Japanese – so they replied in fast Japanese or gave Japanese printed materials. This caused some miscommunications and awkward moments. If you’re not confident speaking their language, I suggest you speak English first and ask for English menu from the start. You can use Japanese words to assist if needed. This is so that they know that you aren’t local and adjust the service to help you better.

During your visit, please double-check information

Many veg*n restaurants are small businesses run by individuals or one family. Their opening hours may be irregular as they have less manpower compared to large chains. For example, in Hokkaido, most places only do lunch and require a reservation if you want dinner. In Tokyo, some places are only open for weekday lunch. Some can be closed for few days during public holidays. Before visiting, best to contact, or at least check their social media pages for latest updates. I used Facebook messaging to check directly if they were open. All of them could reply in English, and were very friendly and welcoming!

A message I sent to confirm opening time.

Although it seems like quite a bit of work to prepare for a holiday, these are guaranteed to make your visit in Japan incredible. You’ll be rewarded with a richer experience and your taste buds will be delighted at what Japan has to offer!

Next – Plant-Based Travel: Hokkaido

 

Vegan in China – Beijing

The capital of China, other than the air pollution, it is wonderful in many ways. Strolling through hutongs you can tell the local residents really love their pets. Perfectly groomed and well-fed, even being carried in their human parents’ arms like babies.

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In one of the hutongs near Yonghe Lama Temple, there’s a vegan gem – The Veggie Table, serving an extensive menu of mostly Western food with the best environment I’ve entered in Beijing. Maybe its the air purifier, or the occasional cats running in and out, a wonderful selection of books and potted plants lining the window sills. And gosh, they are amazingly popular and almost always fully seated, sometimes by cats. Once there was a cat napping on a sofa seat and refused to move despite coaxing from many people, so the customer just got another chair!

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Everything I ate here were excellent – even better quality than what I had from similarly priced restaurants in Singapore. Wholesome, clean, and made from scratch hence a bit of a wait but definitely worth it. Plus I really appreciate the accurate English translation in their menu!

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Safe to say these are the best hummus and baba ganoush I’ve ever had!

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They have only a few soups – pumpkin, chilli, lentil, tried them all and can’t find a single fault!

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My favorite will be their fluffy cous cous with a heaping of veggies in tomato sauce with crunchy almond bits. Being someone from a tropical country, I wasn’t quite used to the too generous portions!

I truly wish there’ll be more restaurants who really care like this in China!

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‘Stumbled’ upon a new vegetarian noodle place, Good Earth, after my friend did a check for veg places near the popular Sanlitun shopping area. It’s opened by a famous food blogger and the reviews were great so we were excited to try!

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Some dishes have egg, otherwise menu is super vegan-friendly, everything exquisitely handmade. Choose your noodle type and then the sauce or soup. In a country with food safety issues, transparency is really valued. You can look through glass panels into a clean kitchen and watch chefs making your noodles. This guy here is pulling a single strand of TEN METRES long noodle from dough!

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Yes, a single strand of 10 metres long! My friend loved it. And look how big the bowls are – specially designed so that soup and sauces won’t spill out when you slurp!

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I got a warm noodle salad with sesame sauce and my friend an eggplant and tomato soup base noodle. The nice waitress told us that the soups are stewed over many hours, so flavourful that my omni friend was suprised that it’s made purely with veggies! With everything handmade and made in-house, is there’s any need to say that taste is superb and wholesome? Plus the place had clean vibes and lovely interior that made dining very pleasant. A bit hard to find being nestled in a hutong, but a MUST try in Beijing.

I greatly enjoyed the city despite being quite sick from the air. The quality food and good service was a major comfort to my swollen throat. Highly recommend to bring a N95 mask when you visit there, and a good appetite 🙂