plantbased diet in japan
- vocabulary of animal products
- unique japanese ingredients
- finding restaurants
- soy milk
- general tips
There are many ways to communicate your dietary restrictions while in Japan, one of them would be to simply say that you only eat plants, but because this is a foreign concept to many Japanese people, they will assume that you still consume fish, or eggs. We compiled a cheat sheet to help when ordering food or translating labels.
This list is long and the kanji are hard, but the more you translate the more you'll learn to recognize them. An obvious, but good way to avoid animal products is to not buy processed food and cook your own meals. When traveling, we realize that's not always possible so here goes:
There are many words to explain your diet to Japanese people. The first, is 完全菜食主義者 (kanzen saishoku shugisha), then there's ヴィーガン (viigan) and finally there's ビーガン biigan. Vegetarian is 菜食主義者 (saishoku shugisha) and/or ベジタリアン (bejitarian).
The one we found to be most useful to describe our diet was:
精進料理 (shoujin ryouri), or buddhist-style food.
Japanese people understood this term the most.
- やさい (yasai) vegetables
- 乳豆 (tounyuu) soy milk
- 大豆 (daizu) soybean
- 昆布だし (konbu dashi) seaweed stock
- 精進料理 (shoujin ryouri) buddhist style food
- 豆タンパク (mame tanpaku) bean protein
- 植物 (shokubutsu) plant
- 完全菜食 (kanzensaishoku) plant-based diet
vocabulary of animal products
- 乳製品 (nyuuseihin) dairy products
- 乳 'nyuu', if used alone, is cow's milk
- 乳脂肪 (nyuushibo) butter fat
- 牛乳 (gyuunyuu) cow's milk
- 粉乳 (funnyuu) powdered milk
- 全粉乳 (zenfunnyuu) whole milk powder
- 乳頭 (nyuutou) milk sugar, lactose
- 練乳 (ren’nyuu) condensed milk
- バタ (bata) butter
- 乳酪, 牛酪 (nyuuraku) butter
- ミルク (miruku) milk
- チーズ (chiizu) cheese
- ゼラチン (zerachin) gelatin
- マヨ (mayo) mayonnaise
- 卵 (tamago) egg
- 卵白 (ranpaku) egg white
- 白身 (shiromi) egg white
- 黄身 (kimi) egg yolk
- 乳脂 (chichiabura) milk fat
- 肉 (niku) meat
- ほんだし (hondashi) bonito fish stock
- 削り節 (kezuribushi) flaked bonito
- 練り物 (nerimono) fish paste
- 鮭,サーモン (sake, saamon) salmon
- 魚 (sakana) fish
- はちみつ (hachimitsu) honey
- ほたて (hotate) scallop
- 貝 (kai) shellfish
- 烏賊墨 (ikasumi) squid ink
- 烏賊 (ika) squid
- 海老 (ebi) shrimp
- 蟹 (kani) crab
- 鰻, ウナギ (unagi) eel
- 鮪, マグロ (maguro) tuna
- 鰯, イワシ (iwashi) sardine
Without fish, meat, eggs and milk please. 魚、肉、卵とミルク無しおねがいいします。 さかな、にく、たまご と ミルク なし おねがいします sSkana, niku, tamago to miruku nashi onegaishimasu Vegetables only please 野菜だけおねがいいします。 やさい だけ おねがいします。 Yasai dake onegaishimasu. Is there any egg in this これには、卵は、はいっていますか。 これ に は、たまご は、はいっています か。 Kore ni wa, tamago wa, haitteimasu ka? Is there anything on the menu that doesn't have meat メニューの中に、お肉が入っていないものは、ありますか。 メニューのなかに、お にく が はいっていない もの は、あります か。 Menyuu no naka ni niku ga haittenai mono wa, arimasu ka. I only eat plants 植物 だけ 食べます。 Shokubutsu dake tabemasu. I don't eat meat. 肉食をべません。 にく を たべません。 Niku wo tabemassen.
Onigiri free of animal products exist in Japan, it's only a question of reading the tags and identifying them properly. Here is a list of the ones to look for:
- 梅 or うめ (ume) pickled plum.
- こんぶ or 昆布 (konbu) seaweed.
- 塩むすび (omusubi) plain rice, salted.
- 焼きむすび (yakimusubi) grilled onigiri with soy sauce.
- 赤飯 (sekihan) red bean.
We have two recommendations of plant-based ramen places in Tokyo:
unique japanese ingredients
This tuber is a good egg alternative when baking both sweet and savory dishes. When grated, it becomes slimy and thick. The resulting texture makes it ideal as a binding agent (like eggs). Nagaimo imparts little flavor. It is perfect for okonomiyaki.
Fu is refined gluten protein. Making wheat gluten requires separating wheat flour into starch and protein by rinsing the starch away, leaving raw gluten. In Japan, the two main forms of fu are raw 生麩nama-fu, and dry-baked 焼き麩 yaki-fu.
Nama-fu 生麩 : Solid gluten mixed with glutinous rice flour and millet, steamed in large blocks. It's shaped and colored in a variety of ways. Nama-fu is ideal for confectionary, sold with sweet red bean paste fillings.
Yaki-fu 焼き麩 : Gluten leavened with baking powder and baked into long bread-like sticks. The sticks aren't sold in supermarkets, but you'll find them in cut form, hard dry discs resembling croutons or bread rusk. Yaki-fu is typically added to miso soup and sukiyaki, where it absorbs some of the broth and acquires a fine texture.
A potato processed into a jelly-like substance. Konnyaku is delicious when eaten as faux-sashimi with soy sauce and wasabi. It's low-calorie, and high in fiber.
Kanten comes from red edible seaweed and is the binding ingredient in jelly-desserts. It produces a harder jelly than agar agar.
As of Dec 3 2019, a kombini called Vegan Store ヴィーガンストア opened in Tokyo’s Asakusa neighborhood. It offers a variety of plant-based products, but with a Japanese twist.
Address: Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Nishi Asakusa 2-25-9
Read an article about it on Japan Today.
Many brands of Japanese soy milk contain added emulsifiers and flavourings that may be animal-derived. It's important to check with the manufacture for such specifications. This blog gives a list of soy milks that are confirmed to only use plant products, please check it out.
If you want to be 100% sure the soymilk is animal-free, you should look for 無調整豆乳 (mu chousei to-nyuu) non-adjusted soymilk.
In most cafes, even in 2020, cow's milk is more prevalent. You'd think that in Japan soy milk would be popular as a drink, but it is more often used in cooking. Some cafes in big cities (like Tokyo) offer soy milk, but like in other countries they'll charge extra for it. Coffee shops in districts like Shibuya are more likely to have some.
If you walk up to a vending machine selling canned coffee, you'll see many varieties but almost all of them contain milk, except coffee labelled as 'black' like 'Boss black coffee'. Drinking black coffee is always a safe bet.
Finding plant-based desserts in Japan is very easy! Here are few suggestions:
花林糖 Karintou. A sweet and deep-fried dessert, made with flour, yeast and brown sugar, usually sold into fingerling shapes.
羊羹 Yokan. A jelly dessert made from red bean paste, agar agar (seaweed) and sugar. It's often sold in individual blocks. There are 4 main types: neri yokan and 水羊羹 mizu yokan, 蒸し羊羹 mushi yokan and 栗蒸し羊羹 kuri mushi yokan. Neri yokan is made with red bean paste, agar and sugar, Mizu yokan shares these basic ingredients but has a higher water content, mushi yokan is steamed and uses kuzu (arrowroot) instead of agar and kuri mushi yokan is like mushi yokan but with added chestnuts. Yokan often has added flavourings, which ranges from green tea, to black sesame, strawberry, houjicha etc. There's even salty varieties.
饅頭, まんじゅう Manjuu. A sweet bun, with an outside made from flour, rice powder, kuzu or buckwheat, and with a filling of red bean paste. There are two types, baked manjuu and steamed manjuu. There are many regional varieties that have different fillings and shapes. Some manjuu do use eggs, look for 卵, 卵白 or 白身.
餅, もち Mochi. A rice cake made from glutinous rice, and sometimes water, sugar and cornstarch. The rice is pounded into a a paste and molded into a shape. Mochi is served with a variety of toppings, like kinako (roasted soybean flour), shiso heaf (salted cherry leaf) or green tea powder.
蕨餅 Warabimochi. A jelly-like dessert made from warabi kuzu (bracken starch) and covered or dipped in kinako (roasted soybean flour). In stores, you'll likely find versions made with other starches, like potato or tapioca starch. 本わらび粉 (honwarabiko) 100% bracken root powder is rare, as if it difficult to harvest and only a small amount of its roots becomes starch.
In Japan, 'chocolate products' are classified on a complex scale, and most contain milk, but it is possible to find some. On packaging, look for 準チョコレート生地 (jun-chokorēto kiji), which translates to 'quasi chocolate material'. Processed quasi chocolate products are made from quasi chocolate material itself or containing at least 60% quasi chocolate material.
Some convenience stores sell snacks and have little illustrations on the front that tell you which allergy-prone item is present. Many contain milk or eggs.
In some restaurants, ordering a dish called 'Yasai kare' or 'Vegetable curry' doesn't mean there won't be meat in it, they sometimes add it anyway. When ordering it's better to ask if there is meat or fish in it.
Buying bread that doesn't have added milk, egg or butter is difficult. It's possible to find, but finding them requires patience as this article attests.