By Elizabeth Emery, Epicure & Culture Contributor.
Is it easy to be vegan in Japan?
While it is possible to find vegan food in Tokyo, plant-based travel in Japan isn’t exactly easy.
Now, to say Japan is a little disorienting to a Westerner is, in my opinion, a slight understatement.
It’s a place where sensory overload is the norm; where bright lights, technology and loud music blare from every corner and the rush of people never stops.
Contrast this with the strange abundance of beautiful ancient temples and shrines that hark back to the old days of imperial rule, and it’s no wonder that ‘overwhelm’ is the standard feeling for most tourists.
Add trying to maintain a vegan diet into the mix — or even a vegetarian one — and many travelers give up; not unreasonably, as it’s just too much to deal with.
I traveled to Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, and Kanazawa in March last year, and while it certainly wasn’t the easiest country to travel as a vegan, it was by no means impossible.
It just required a little planning and preparation.
Below are my top tips for traveling in Japan as a vegan.
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1. Want A Vegan Or Vegetarian Restaurant In Tokyo Or Elsewhere? Plan Ahead
Unless you can read Japanese, it’s unlikely you’ll stumble across a vegan or vegetarian restaurant by chance when you’re out exploring.
Many commercial buildings in Japan have multiple floors and units, and restaurants are often several floors up and not necessarily visible from the street.
Research vegan food options and restaurants in advance and plan where you’re going to eat that day.
However, did you know that eating soba noodles in Japan typically offers a vegan experience, while ramen does not?Vegan dishes in #Japan aren't always as obvious as miso soup. Here's how to find plant-based meals in #Tokyo & beyond. Click To Tweet
Even following this rule, I found I often spent upwards of 30 minutes trying to find the restaurant I was going to. Bear in mind that signs often won’t be in English.
2. Make Being Vegan In Japan Easier With The Happy Cow App
If you do only one thing to prepare for your trip, download the Happy Cow mobile app.
This app has been helping hungry vegans and vegetarians find food all over the world for years and contains restaurant listings with details of prices, cuisine and hours.
Listings are constantly updated with reviews by other travelers.
This is really helpful when you want to confirm that a restaurant is still current and open for business, as sometimes they close very quietly but their listings don’t get removed from the app.
Particularly useful is the map pinpointing exactly where restaurants are located.
3. Know How To Order Vegan Food In Japan
The concept of being plant-based hasn’t hit Japan yet as fully as it has other parts of the world, and as such dishes containing meat broths and dashi — a fish-based seasoning — are often considered vegan by many Japanese.
Be sure to check whether the dishes you’re ordering contain any animal derivatives and have a translation of a phrase that explains your dietary requirements to hand.
A translation of the following would work well:
“I do not eat any meat, fish, seafood or its extracts, such as soup stocks and fats. I also do not eat dairy, eggs, or honey.”
4. Temple Stays In Japan Feature Vegan Menus
Booking a stay at a Buddhist temple while you’re in Japan offers a great way to explore Japanese culture — while also eating veggie-friendly.
Shojin food is naturally vegetarian and contains no animal products, emphasizing foods like tofu and vegetables instead.
It’s also a great way to experience the monastic way of life, as many temples will expect you to join them for morning prayers and meditations.
5. Eat Vegan At Japan’s Convenience Stores
These handy little convenience stores are everywhere in Japan, and, surprisingly, you’ll find vegan Japanese snacks inside.
The above video shows every conbini (convenience food) item that’s suitable for vegans.Awesome! 🙂 The video in this post shows you all the #veganfood you can buy in a #Japan convenience store. Click To Tweet
They aren’t the most exciting — think rice balls with beans, edamame etc.
That being said, they do make plant-based travel in Japan easier. And when you’re hungry, you’ll be glad for them.
6. It’s Easier To Find Vegan Restaurants In Tokyo Than Small Towns
While not impossible, it can be challenging to find vegan food options in some smaller towns in Japan, as the plant-based eating craze just hasn’t hit the majority of the population yet.
Try to travel to larger cities with younger demographics.
For instance, it’s easier to find vegan food in Kyoto where there is a larger array of dining options than in, say, the tiny village of Shirakawa. When traveling Uji, a smaller city, you may find some options for eating vegetarian in Japan, but it’ll still be somewhat limited.
That’s not to say don’t visit smaller towns — because they’re truly incredible and contain some real hidden gems — but make sure you’ve stocked up on snacks and vegan conbini from the 7-Eleven before you go.
7. Make Eating Vegan In Japan Easier With Phone Data
The final tip sounds like a no-brainer but, given that you’ll be spending a lot of your time researching food options, you’ll save yourself a major headache if you ensure you have a good data roaming package on your cell phone.Traveling #Japan as a #vegan? These 7 essential tips will make a plant-based visit MUCH easier. Click To Tweet
You can also rent a personal pocket Wi-Fi device in Japan, which is another good option.
Generally, free Wi-Fi can be sporadic in Japan — and not every café/store has it — so being able to use the Happy Cow app and look up restaurant addresses when you’re out and about is priceless.
What is your favorite vegan food in Tokyo? Any plant-based travel tips for Japan to add?
Enjoyed this post? Pin it for later!
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