vegan in japan

introduction

Being vegan in Japan is possible, but requires learning some basics. Below is a short list of kanji, phrases and words to remember when ordering food or translating items on packacking.

This list is long and the kanji aren't all easy to remember, but the more you translate the more you'll learn to recognize them. An obvious great way to avoid animal products is to not buy pre-packaged foods, but that is not always possible, so here goes:

useful vegan words

vocabulary of non-vegan items

phrases

Without fish, meat, eggs and milk please.

Is there any vegan food?

Vegetables only please.

Is there any egg in this?

Is there anything on the menu that doesn't have meat?

I am vegan.

I don't eat meat.

onigiri

Vegan onigiri 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:

vegan ramen

We have two recommendations of ramen places in Tokyo:

japanese vegan ingredients

Nagaimo 長芋

This tuber is a good egg alternative when baking both sweet and savoury dishes. When grated, it becomes slimy and thick and can be used as a binding agent in many recipes. Nagaimo imparts little flavour. It is perfect for okonomiyaki.

Fu 麩

Fu, wheat gluten or seitan, is widely used as a meat alternative. It has a chewy stringy texture, and is found in many forms. Fu looks like dry bread cut into small discs. It's possible to buy gluten flour to make it at home. It is also possible to extract the gluten from the flour, but it requires a lot of water and time. You can use fu to add bulk to soups, and the flour can be used to make sausages and a variety of faux-meats.

Konnyaku こんにゃく

A potato that is processed into a jelly-like substance, it can be used to make faux-sashimi and is delicious with soy sauce and wasabi. It's low calorie, and high in fiber.

Kanten かんてん

Kanten, or agar agar, is made from red edible seaweed and can be used instead of gelatin in jelly-desserts. It can also be used to make faux-cheese.

finding vegan restaurants

japanese vegan kombini

As of Dec 3 2019, a vegan kombini called Vegan Store ヴィーガンストア opened in Tokyo’s Asakusa neighborhood. It offers a variety of vegan food products, but with a Japanese twist.

Where is Vegan Store?

Read an article about it on Japan Today.

coffee

In most cafes, even in 2020, cow's milk is more prevalent. You'd think that in Japan soymilk would be widely adopted as a drink, but primarily used in cooking. Some cafes offer soymilk, but like in other countries they'll charge you extra for it.

If you walk up to a vending machine that sells canned coffee, you'll see many varieties but almost all have milk in them, all, except coffee labelled as 'black' like 'Boss black coffee'. Drinking black coffee is always a safe bet.

general tips

Black chocolate isn't true black chocolate, as it always has milk powder in it. I've yet to find a Japanese brand that doesn't.

When buying pre-packaged granola or cereal, be careful because they often contain milk products (even if isn't clearly visible). Some convenience stores sell snacks and have little illustrations on the front that tell you which allergy-prone item is present. Most have milk in them, but sweets like karintou do not.

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.