A Vegan Yogi in Japan
こんにちは Kon'nichiwa Hello, Howdy, Aloha, Hola, Bonjour and so on....
What springs to mind when you think of Japan? Perhaps Temples, shrines, Buddha, well-mannered people, kimono, sumo, sushi, robots, blade runner. I could go on and on and on! There is no doubt, Japan is a fantastic place,so vast, so unique, so many beautiful places to see, it is a wonder to behold. I feel like I only just scratched the service on a recent trip to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Fuji and Okuhida (Alps).
So what springs to mind if I asked you about veggie food in Japan? Tofu, maybe?! It’s the land of the Soya bean right? There must be tofu everywhere, Why people are probably having tofu for breakfast, lunch dinner and evening snack, they are probably bathing in silken tofu while using extra firm tofu as soap!! Well think again….. Vegan in Japan is tough. Very, very tough. Despite it being indeed the land of rice and Soya bean, it is also very much the land of fish and meat and also a culture where unfortunately Animal rights is still very much way behind in comparison to other countries such as the UK, which is currently going through something of a Vegan revolution. (Do you hear the people sing, singing for the angry Animals…. I do apologize).
Okay, enough messing with Les Miserables lyrics and lets get on with Vegan in Japan, Do not despair, I said it was very, very tough and I am not lying, but it is not impossible to eat all Vegan in Japan and manage to stay on your feet for 15 hours to have a jolly good time too! So, if you are planning a trip there soon or know someone who is, or are just darn curious, read on!
Up in the air
Lets start with the flight, shall we. So we (me and my handsome male love interest) flew with KLM, not Japanese I know, but as they fly to Japan then why not include them eh? Plus they were good, really good. So I think that deserves a mention. We were served up quite early in to the whopping ten and a half hour flight from the Capital of the Netherlands, and being the lucky special vegans that we are, got served among the first, as is custom on airlines (Yay, we are humane and get our tummies fed first, double bonus). They served us up a nice warm veggie dish with tomato sauce and grains, along with a side salad and dessert. The gave us food 2 times on the way to Tokyo and the same on the way back and all was a similar affair. For air plane food, you could’t really ask for much better. I do recommend should you ever so happen to fly long haul with the airline that has the tallest (I mean huuuuggge) women in the world working for them!
Tokyo & surrounding
On our arrival as zombies to Tokyo, we wanted to stay on Japanese time, so we wandered around like Dawn of the Dead characters and looked up a Vegan place on Happy Cow. At this stage, I was already paranoid about eating anywhere just ‘veg friendly’ for fear of getting a chicken carcass in my veggie broth (we have all heard the stories) so we opted for a Happy cow find of all vegan shōjin ryōri (Buddhist, temple food). It consisted of tofu, rice and a few small veg sides. It was welcome as were very hungry and needed to feed our zombie selves to as not to be tempted by the flesh of man (because us vegans will resort to cannibalism before eating an animal). It was little bland if truth be told, but we were happy to be sustained until we went to bed at around 5 in the afternoon.
The next day we took a trip to Kamakura, which is about an hour or so away form Tokyo and a City in it’s own right. Before getting the train we got some fruit for breakfast and took a quick trip to Natural House store near Tokyo station to see if we could get some vegan snacks for lunch. The store was quite small and we could only really find a few snack bars and nuts that were obviously vegan. The rest was too hard to decipher and we didn’t want to risk death by accidental animal product consumption so thought best to stick with the known. Due to an early morning start and the snacks being consumed during our ten million steps around shrines, temples etc we were rather hungry so looked on the trusty old Happy Cow app once more and found a gem of a place called Vegetable cafe. https://www.happycow.net/reviews/vegetable-cafe-kamakura-51157. This was one of the best food experiences of the whole trip, a full review can be found on the link. The next day we spent in Tokyo as we had a Samurai sword fighting workshop, which thankfully did not involve any lost limbs. Although that was probably due to the lack of a sharp blade than to any ability. We got up late and again only had a few snacks so by the time we had finished in late afternoon, we were starvvvving. And of course as the fates would have it, during our food deprived state, we got lost when looking for another all Vegan Happy cow find Ain Soph Ripple https://www.happycow.net/reviews/ain-soph-ripple-tokyo-67695. Needless to say it was a very enjoyable soy ‘chicken’ style burger, fries and ginger beer!
On another day trip from Tokyo to the beautiful Nikko we opted for taking cous cous with us for lunch that we had brought with us from the UK. We also found a nice little fruit shop and stocked up on some fruit and snacks. Seven eleven and Family Mart stores basically sponsor Japan, they lack on the fresh fruit side of things (especially without heaps of plastic packaging) but are good for nuts, onigiri (which my other half had lots and lots and lots and lots of as a go to snack). https://isitveganjapan.com/food-on-the-go/507-2/ here is a handy guide on identifying the vegan friendly options. There is some conflicting information online about stores’ stockists and the fact that some may or may not be vegan if the main supplier has not been checked out. I was a lot more cautious than my partner, this is individual choice and up to each of us really on how far (or hungry) we want to go with it. There are also a few snack bar options to choose from, which are also available in drug stores. There is a brand called Happy bar which are date based, they helpfully state Vegan on the packaging. Soy Joy crispy bars are vegan friendly, however not the regular (ones that do not say crispy). They taste okay, they are probably not something I would buy at home, but when in Japan Vegans can’t be choosers! Also unfortunately Oreos are not Vegan in Japan as they contain diary there, so if you do eat those (I don’t due to Palm oil) then you might want to bring your own. Here is another handy guide for all those snack bars and convenience store foods https://isitveganjapan.com/food-products/chocolate/
One more all Vegan place we ate in twice on our first few days and then once again on our return to Tokyo was T’s Tan Tan in Tokyo main train station. https://www.happycow.net/reviews/ts-tantan-tokyo-29533 this is a great little place and very conveniently located and we enjoyed it immensely. Be prepared for a tight space with lots of Ramen slurping, never have I enjoyed being squeezed right next to someone’s shoulder as they noisily sucked up noodles from their chopsticks! There was a good choice of Ramen dishes, a few side options and desserts, drinks etc. T’s is reasonably priced also, and they sell their own little noodle pots, which we stocked up on to go to our next location to the Alps. **There is another T’s branch at Ueno station, but we didn’t go there, there is also one in Narita airport Terminal 2 (before security).
So on to the Alps for what was the hardest bit of the eating journey. We took a train via Takayama which has a few veg friendly places listed on Happy Cow. That handsome love interest I have referred to wanted to walk in the lashing rain to get noodles so off we went to try Ebisu Soba https://www.happycow.net/reviews/ebisu-soba-takayama-71025. I will admit, I was not a fan. The lady working there did seem to understand vegan, which was a plus, but there was a lot of mushroom options. Being a non-lover of the famous edible fungi (I know, shock horror, a vegan that hates mushroom) I asked for what I could have instead. I was referred to an Udon noodle bowl with a clear type broth, which in all honesty if it had any flavour, it was closer to feet flavour than anything else. It probably didn’t help that I was cold and wet so most of it was eaten by my other half, who did say he liked his mushroom Udon dish and mine, but to be fair, he usually eats anything as long as it didn’t used to breathe. But don’t let me put you off, some of the reviews are quite good, so don’t knock it until you try it and all that! We then went off into the mountain area proper to stay in our Onsen, because it wasn’t summer and not yet ski season, we were the only foreigners int he village. We had looked in advance and knew we wouldn’t be able to get Plant food, so brought t’s noodles as mentioned before and some more fruit and snacks that we stocked up on in Takayama. We probably should have brought a little more knowing that we wouldn’t get anything but trying to see all the sights and get to health shops that weren’t in the areas that we visited was harder than expected. If you get particularly ‘hangry’, I would recommend trying to buy more in Tokyo if you know you are heading somewhere rural or bringing supplies in your suitcase for these occasions. Anyway, we had an awesome time and as it was off peak had the entire onsen to ourselves, that is worth celebrating with an extra noodle pot!
Kyoto and Arashiyama
Wow what can I say, after 2.5 days with not much sustenance Kyoto did not disappoint! I had read before jetting off that Osaka was ‘vegan heaven’ but for me Kyoto was the easiest place to stumble by vegan food. I had drooled long and hard over some yummy looking pictures of food on Happy Cow on the train from the Alps, so could not wait to get there! First stop was a 10 minute walk from our hotel and main train station Veg out https://www.happycow.net/reviews/veg-out-kyoto-63991 This is a lovely little cafe with gorgeous views as it sits right on the river, a full review can be found on Happy cow under my name as claremveg. This place has mixed reviews as the price is on the upper end, but the food was lovely, and the cafe is just divine. I am sure the rents are very high to be there, and I personally would much rather pay to keep them in Business when you have McDonalds at the other side of the bridge that are able to be cheap. I guess if you are on a very tight budget, it would be best to give it a miss.
Because of our near starvation in the mountains (as if I don’t have enough fat stocks to hibernate for the Winter) we wanted to eat again only a few hours later to whizzed off to Ain Soph Journey (Sister of aforementioned Ain Soph Ripple in Tokyo) The chain has different menus in all their branches and this one did not disappoint. I opted for a vegan omelette as it was small, and I had eaten a curry for lunch. My handsome love interest (have I mentioned him yet) opted for Pasta and was impressed. I also had a nice mulled wine which I was delighted with as I love this in Winter and none other than a VEGAN CREME BRULEE - Yes you read that correctly, it was very sweet, but I enjoyed every tooth decaying second.
The next day in Kyoto after visiting the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine, we were planning a trip to the castle and had a chop stick making course booked for the afternoon (great fun by the way, highly recommended) In fact everything I mention (apart from foot broth noodles in Takayama) on this blog is worth a visit. Anyway as we were in a rush we were going to jump on a train the look up deets on Happy Cow once more (yes I do adore the purple cow, it is a life saver, if you haven’t got it already you should immediately stop reading this, download it and then come back to read on). However, as luck would have it, we spotted a sign for vegan soup in the grounds of the shrine (left hand side, as you are walking back down to leave). it was roasted cauliflower with a side of bread and tasted very nice. My other half, he has a name by the way, it’s Peter. Peter got a matcha green tea with soya milk as by this time his matcha addiction was in the development stages. So, after the chopstick making course we stumbled upon yet another place, Alpenrose https://www.happycow.net/reviews/alpenrose-kyoto-96479 a vegan friendly bakery just round the corner and a short walk from the castle. They had non-vegan items too, but all was clearly labelled. We got a tasty sweet potato paste bread and also some salted sour dough type bread to have the next morning for brekkie. so as you can tell, we were already much better fed on this part of the trip. Alpenrose https://www.happycow.net/reviews/alpenrose-kyoto-96479. Later in the evening we chose a good Choice, no really that’s the name. https://www.happycow.net/reviews/choice-kyoto-42327 and boy were we in for a treat! Choice make their own fermented cheese in house and they put a lot of emphasis on it, with good reason. I had the pasta with tomato and ‘mozzarella, Peter had a burger and we shared a cheese board. It was simply delicious; the cheese board was one of the best Vegan cheeses I have tasted. This is another place that has mixed reviews due to price, but again unless you are on a very strict budget or come from a Country were food is always cheap then this is reasonably priced for the quality and effort put in to making their own cheese, not just throwing a few leaves together, it’s simply grate! Get it? Oh, never mind… So on our last day in Kyoto we went for lunch in little a Taiwanese place called Ren https://www.happycow.net/reviews/ren-kyoto-114731 This was a nice little café tucked away on the second floor – directions on link in Happy Cow. The service was friendly and although we kind of guessed at what we were getting, it was a good choice It was a fried rice, bento style meal with plenty of fresh veg, a side of soup and a choice of teas after the food was consumed. Again, full review under claremveg, it’s worth a look and definitely cannot be classed as expensive.
Then we were in for THE BEST FOOD EXPERIENCE EVER in Arashiyama (home of the famous bamboo forest) after a magical afternoon on the river, we enjoyed a stroll across a bridge to a little pace called Arashiyama-kan. Wow, wow wow. The café is set up in the front of what you can tell is the owner’s home. There was nobody else in the café, the lovely host was very friendly and immediately seated us, gave us a menu and started to translate info into an apple iPad. He had large laminated maps and while waiting for the food to cook he translates the nearby attractions for us (focusing on the non-commercial temples) then the bento box arrived and WOW it was incredibly tasty and very large! We got one each but did not regret it, delicious. My only disappointment is not getting to meet the lady who made this dish! They advertised cooking classes, unfortunately we wouldn't have had time so didn't enquire, but I can only imagine how good this would be! This is a Kyoto must, whether you are vegan or not. https://www.happycow.net/reviews/arashiyama-kan-kyoto-73845
On to Osaka….
So, the first stop was a little gem called Paprika Shokudo Vegan, located not far from the ‘American village’ area we both opted for Terraykayi tempeh and rice and for the first and only time during the trip, got to try soya based traditional Japanese soft ice cream. Yummy! We spent a good few hours in here just enjoying the ambience. https://www.happycow.net/reviews/paprika-shokudo-vegan-osaka-45738
Later in the evening, we went to a café called Megumi. This was a good place and we were the only people there, apart from the one lady host who was cooking all by herself at the small kitchen behind a bench area that we sat at to eat. We ordered a little too much as were expecting smaller portions (greed, greed), but all the food was really tasty and traditional- Find out more here: https://www.happycow.net/reviews/megumi-osaka-83651
Nara – A day trip the next day in Nara saw us again with some fruit and bars as snacks for breakfast. In the late afternoon we decided to look on Happy Cow as the lady in Megumi the night before told us there was place. There were actually a few to choose from and we opted for one closest. We were very hungry after the deer ate all our crackers… what do you mean that was deer food?? I’m sure you must be mistaken! Onwa was a great find https://www.happycow.net/reviews/onwa-nara-109696 tucked in a quiet side street, the elderly lady owner was charming and her food was scrumptious. We ordered a lunch menu that consisted of burgers, almost falafel style with salad, miso soup, rice and side salad and loved every bite. That made up for the deer’s eating all my food!
The next day had us visiting yet another nice place! As you have noticed, we had to search for all the places we wanted to eat, apart from those few in Kyoto, but they are all worth looking up, getting to and enjoying them. The places we visited were nearly all great, we averaged one main meal a day most days with snacks but that really is enough if you eat a good-sized portion plus it’s a few pounds off the body and a few more pounds in the purse! So this next one is called Café atl https://www.happycow.net/reviews/cafe-atl-osaka-25368. We chose a nice light creamy based veg soup with side salad and hummus with bread. It was very tasty, fresh and a much-needed change in meal options. Try not to take a window seat if you are sensitive to animal welfare, there is a pet shop directly facing and the little dogs and cats are kept in glass display cases that are really tiny and some were pawing at the glass in distress, not a nice thing to watch ☹ That evening in Osaka we were in the Dontbori district and it was very meaty smelling due to lots of street food, bit hard to handle really. We went for a walk to find a bar to relax in until the opening of a video game café that we wanted to visit and so had a naughty couple of bowls of chips in a British bar.
We booked a hostel in called Peace Fujikawaguchiko beside the lake and knew they had some veg friendly options. Apparently, there is usually a stall outside the premises that sells vegan falafels, but as it was off peak it wasn’t open. The restaurant bar in the hostel closed at 7pm so we made sure to have food before-hand. We asked for a ramen style dish and chips, we were assured by the owner that all were vegan friendly. The food was ok, it was enough to fill our tummies.
The next day we were sure to go to Fuji fifth station but couldn’t due to ice. We went to a nearby theme park called Fuji Highland, after again just a few snacks we were hungry in the afternoon and went for a coffee and pretzel in Aunty Anne’s. This is the one time where I believe I messed up big time and ate butter ☹ Bad vegan! I had thought that the original was okay, and Peter tried to be nice and convince me and probably himself it was oil. After over five years of not eating butter, I kind of forget the taste, but I am guessing it was. Slap on the wrist for us. That evening it was back to Tokyo and we ate in T’s Tan Tan at the station as mentioned above.
Tokyo last day
Trusty old fruit and snacks for breakfast of course. By lunch time we were hungry humans and really craving pizza and we only went and found some! In an Asics gym of all bleeding well places. https://www.happycow.net/reviews/asics-connection-tokyo-116436. Called Asics connection and located on the river near the big Ashai beer building this gym/café space has a great menu. The only thing not vegan is a couple of their ice cream flavours as they have honey. We both ordered a pizza that came with vegan cheese, avocado and salad. It really was yummy. We also ordered herbed potatoes, chai tea and VEGAN CHOCOLATE DONOUTS. So after Pizza and Donuts we were all Homer Simpson style satisfied. Absolute great find for our last meal in Tokyo.
So that sums up our plant powered experiences in Japan. No, we didn’t get a carcass in our food, no we did not have to resort to eating a raw block of tofu over a sink (yep, apparently so). Yes, there were times we were hungry and frustrated at not being able to just get something easy. Large supermarkets are hard to come by and convenience stores are small and don’t hold much fresh fruit and veg so it’s tough to make salads or anything. Prepare well, look up a list of places near your hotels and your planned locations to visit and mark them well on a map. Tokyo and Osaka are huge, so it’s easy to get lost. If you know you are going to locations that don’t have veg friendly listings, don’t expect there to happen to be one that just isn’t listed. Even all miso soups in regular restaurants have a fish-based sauce.
Another tip is to look out for the words shojin ryori, Buddhist temple food mentioned earlier under Tokyo and Macro biotic as these both tend to lend themselves to a veganism lifestyle and are more common in Japan.
Hoping this helps you to prepare well, eat good and enjoy an unforgettable experience 😊
A Vegan Yogi in Japan xxx
Resources: Happycow.org - set up a ‘trip’ and add cafes you are interested in. My reviews are listed as claremveg
Is it Vegan? (Japan)Add yourself to the Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/429306360452173/
The Vegan Society https://www.vegansociety.com/whats-new/blog/vegan-japan