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Where to find vegetarian food in Japan?

Vegetarian Survival Guide

If you do not know, I am a vegetarian. To be specific, I do not eat chicken, meat, beef, fish (any seafood), pork, etc. I eat dairy products like cheese, though. Japan is (in)famous for not having many options for vegetarian tourists. When I was planning for my two-week backpacking trip, I was apprehensive about not being able to find vegetarian food. Especially when I do not know and speak the Japanese language at all and not everyone in Japan speaks or understand English. In fact, most Japanese people I met did not understand any English or could barely understand few words. Many Japanese people consider seafood to be vegetarian so we need to explicitly specify it.

As a backup strategy, I was carrying couple packs of Instant Noodles, and a good amount of energy bars and Granola. But after spending two weeks in Japan I can say, I could have survived without backup also. I will not say it was fairly easy but if you are flexible enough you can just do fine. I will list down various options for finding vegetarian food in Japan and my experiences eating at these places.

  • Street Food

If you love eating like me, you will definitely love those small, (shabby?) local, eating out joints at the corner of a street. Street food may not have the finesse of a luxurious dining place but has that lip smacking taste. Unfortunately, there are not much options for vegetarians in Japan as most of the street food contains seafood. But that could not stop me from trying a few options.

Fried Dango Or Rice dumplings, wrapped in Nori. Nori is a kind of seaweed and is totally vehetarian.

Fried Dango Or Rice dumplings, wrapped in Nori. Nori is a kind of seaweed and is totally vegetarian.

Cream puffs (contains egg), can be found in most places as well (Place: Kyoto)

Cream puffs (contains egg), can be found in most places as well (Place: Kyoto)

Potato fries in form of a tornado are a great option too for killing the hunger pangs. (Place: Kyoto)

Potato fries in form of a tornado are a great option too for killing the hunger pangs. (Place: Kyoto)

Dango (In Japanese) or Rice Dumplings are made from rice flour. They are served in skewers and dipped in soy sauce (Place: Nara)

Dango (In Japanese) or Rice Dumplings are made from rice flour. They are served on skewers and dipped in soy sauce (Place: Nara)

  • Indian Restaurants

Indian are everywhere and so are Indian restaurants. Indian restaurants can be found in every corner of Japan in my opinion. I ate at Indian/Asian restaurants in Kyoto, Nikko, Tokyo, Lake Kawaguchiko. Especially in Tokyo you can find many restaurants serving Nepalese food. Nepalese food is very close to Indian food but a bit spicy. I also found an Indian restaurant (next to Sensoji Temple) where a Japanese chef was preparing food. In Kawaguchiko area I ate at a restaurant run by Pakistani brothers. They also put an Indian flag outside, to attract Indian customers.

But my dinner experience in Matsumoto was worth remembering. After a tiring day, I was looking for some Indian bread. A quick search on Facebook pointed me out to Doon Shokudo Indoyama restaurant. I was trying to find the location using iPhone maps. Unfortunately, it took me to the wrong restaurant. A humble Japanese lady who was having dinner here dropped me to the restaurant I was looking for. Doon Shokudo is so small that it can host only 6-8 people on 2 tables at once. But I totally loved the concept of a homely kitchen. Ashish (person in yellow Tshirt), the owner of this restaurant, is from Indian city, Dehradoon. I met a few of his folks and his wife and had an amazing time talking about local culture and life in a small city (Matsumoto). If you go to Matsumoto, I will recommend this place very highly.

Folks at Doon shokudo Indoyama (Place: Matsumoto)

Folks at Doon shokudo Indoyama (Place: Matsumoto)

Asian Restaurant run by an Indian also prepares great food (Place: Nikko)

Asian Restaurant run by an Indian prepares great food (Place: Nikko)

One of many Indian restaurants in Tokyo

One of many Indian restaurants in Kyoto and Tokyo

Indo Restaurant, run by Pakistani brothers, serves amazing Indian vegetarian dishes and bread (Place: Lake Kawaguchiko)

Indo Restaurant, run by Pakistani brothers, serves amazing Indian vegetarian dishes and bread (Place: Lake Kawaguchiko)

Unfortunately eating at Indian restaurants is not a budget option. They charge 800-2000Y for a set lunch/dinner.

  • Japanese Restaurants

Eating out at a Japanese restaurant is very economical. Each meal I had at Japanese place set me back by 500-800Y. But it is a bit difficult as making the front desk person understand that you want a vegetarian food is tough. Thankfully most of the Japanese restaurants display a replica of an actual dish in front shop. So it’s best to read the description and contents and order the dish. As a vegetarian, I could mostly get fried vegetable, plain rice, fried rice, noodles, and soup. I had an unfortunate incident in one of the Japanese restaurant in Tokyo. They served me pork when I clearly asked them not to add any non-vegetarian item in the meal. A portion of noodles in vegetarian broth was sufficient for me, though. So better be watchful if ordering in a Japanese place.

Most Japanese place have a showcase having replica of actual dish

Most Japanese places have a showcase having replica of actual dish

Set meal of fried vegetables, rice and soup (Place: Tokyo)

Set meal of fried vegetables, rice, and soup. Price 550Y (Place: Tokyo)

A small Japanese eating place serving rice and fried vegetables (Place : Kyoto)

A small Japanese eating place serving rice and fried vegetables (Place : Kyoto)

I was served Pork even after multiple attempts of explaining that I need vegetarian food (Place: Tokyo)

I was served Pork even after multiple attempts of explaining that I need vegetarian food. Price 650Y (Place: Tokyo)

Had this amazing vegetarian buffet serving multiple dishes made of Soy milk (Place: Arashiyama)

Had this amazing vegetarian buffet serving multiple dishes made of Soy milk (Place: Arashiyama)

Vegetarian menu

Vegetarian menu

  • Local convenience stores

At times we need to eat on the go. I could found a few vegetarian options in Local convenience stores like 7Eleven , Lawson and Family Mart. Local convenience stores are present everywhere in Japan. Every street has one or more stores.

These stores also sell food including snacks and sweets, such as onigiri (rice balls), sandwiches, bread, chips, candy, instant noodles(ramen). All stores have a provision of heating the food through a microwave.

The stores also sell all kind of beverages like energy drinks, beer, water, juice etc.

Stuffed Onigiri (Rice balls) (Place: kawaghuchiko Train station)

Stuffed Onigiri (Rice balls) (Place: kawaghuchiko Train station)

Nothing beats a meal of fruits for a vegetarian. How about a pack of Strawberries, or apple etc from local stores.

Nothing beats a meal of fruits for a vegetarian. How about a pack of Strawberries, or apple etc from local stores. Price per pack 398Y (Place: Tokyo)

Onigiri (Rice Balls) bought from lawson (Place: Kawaguchiko)

Onigiri (Rice Balls) bought from lawson. Each pack costs 150Y-250Y(Place: Kawaguchiko)

Salted nuts, serve as filling snack most of the time for me

Salted nuts serve as filling snack most of the time for me. I keep munching nuts when I travel to keep me filled.

  • Coffee Shops

Coffee shops or cafes are also a great place to have some vegetarian food while avoiding a proper meal. If nothing is available, coffee shops can come to rescue. I ate at multiple cafes in my entire trip so can highly recommend to try them.

How about a large burger filled with vegetables and red beans. Along with coffee. (Place: Kurobe Alpine route)

How about a large burger filled with vegetables and red beans. Along with coffee. All for 800Y. (Place: Kurobe Alpine route)

French bread with coffee or tea is also a great snack. (Place : Osaka)

French bread with coffee or tea is also a great snack. All for 500Y (Place : Osaka)

Updated 4 October :

For reference I took a screen shot of these Japanese language in my phone. These came in pretty handy while asking expilictly for vegetarian food or ordering a custom dish from local Japanese food joints. Some japanese people consider sea food to be vegetarian so its better to be explicit. Also broth for ramen is mostly contains fish so better avoid it!

English Japanese 日本
Vegetarian Bejitarian ベジタリアン
No Pork Īe butanikumasen いいえ豚肉ません
No Fish Īe fisshu arimasen いいえフィッシュありません
No Meat Īe niku arimasen いいえ肉ありません
No chicken Īe niwatorimasen いいえ鶏ません
No Lard Īe rādo arimasen いいえラードありません
No Egg Īe tamagomasen いいえ卵ません
   

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14 thoughts on “Where to find vegetarian food in Japan?

    1. Ankur Post author

      Thanks for suggesting me to document this topic Rajiv. Hope it helps any vegetarians like to me plan thing better. If I can survive two weeks in Japan, any vegetarian can 😉

  1. Kata

    how could you order/choose at the “japanese restaurants”?
    or how could you find out which food is actually vegetarian? (I ve herad they re using fish sauce in almost everything)

    1. Ankur Post author

      Hello Kata,
      It is true that most of the Japanese dishes like Ramen contain Seafood and Pork.
      Most Japanese shops have all dishes in Display in a showcase. These are plastic models of the actual dish. So You should be easily able to strike out Chicken/meat/pork items if they are displayed.
      To be safe , I carried a snapshot of few common translations in Japanese. I have added the same snapshot to post now. You can conveniently take a picture of this or print this. This can come handy in tricky situations.

      Also, most vendors in Tokyo would know some English. Especially food vendors know what is Vegetarian food.

      Cheers,
      Ankur

  2. arv!

    I always found that asking for vegetarian food is always a problem in a society which loves to eats non-veg in all forms. sometimes you may get vegetarian food but you can’t be 100% sure of cooking medium, at times the smell of non veg puts you off. This is more so in South east Asia and Asia Pacific. In Europe, you ask for vegetarian food, you are likely to get boiled potato and rice!

    Great write up!

    1. Ankur Post author

      Thanks for dropping by Arv. I cant agree more to what you have mentioned. In countries like Japan, China, Taiwan , Korea etc where language barrier is present it is hard to get vegetarian food. Further some Japanese people consider sea food to be vegetarian so it makes it even more difficult.

  3. A

    Absolutely superb post!! Thank you very much for documenting so nicely.
    My Mom who is a Senior and I plan to see Japan and we are both Vegetarians. I feel more confident now, after reading your post, that we will surely be able to find reasonable Vegeterian food in Japan during our visit.
    Regards,
    A

    1. Ankur Post author

      Hello Atul, I am glad you liked this post. I am pretty confident you will have no problems finding vegetarian food in Japan. If you stick to popular tourist places, you can as well get Indian vegetarian food easily. Tokyo and Kyoto have Indian restaurants in abundance.

      Regards,
      Ankur

  4. Divya

    Thank you Ankur for documenting this. This will help me in a trip I am planning to Japan. Was dreading having to carry ready-made food and not be able to enjoy authentic cuisine.

    Please let us know if they understood Buddhism as a way to get vegetarian food.

    1. Ankur Post author

      Hi Divya, I am glad you found my post helpful.
      Japan has a significant Buddhist population but finding vegetarian food using Buddhism may be difficult in cities like Tokyo. If you plan to visit places like Nara, Kamakura etc (where Buddhist temples exist) you may be well off. You may have to struggle explaining vendors about what you need but Japanese people are patient and helpful. As far as I have observed at least one guy in a restaurant could speak/understand broken English 😉
      Do you any plans to visit Koyasan? Temple Lodging in Koyasan server local vegetarian food (shojin ryori) to residents.
      May I suggest carrying some instant snacks (like nuts etc) and energy/Oatmeal bars for times when finding vegetarian food is difficult.

      Cheers

  5. Diana Schuster

    Thank you so much for this review, I’m vegan and I’m planning to go to Japan soon. I’m kinda worried about what I’m gonna eat, but with these tips I can survive! Thank you!

    1. Ankur Post author

      Hi Diana, I am glad you liked my post and it helped. As a vegan, you can easily survive in Japan. I survived for more than two weeks 😉

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