food

Vegan in Japan: 5 tips for keeping to a plant-based diet

15 Comments
By Chiara Terzuolo

With dishes such as sushi, ramen and Kobe beef representing Japanese cuisine to the world, it’s easy to get the impression that Japan is not a very vegetarian-friendly country. Add to that a lack of English label, and the worry of accidentally eating something animal-based goes through the roof! But don’t let appearances deceive you: there are an increasing number of vegan (as well as halal and gluten-free) friendly restaurants in major cities — and some great options for meals on the go.

1. Vegan-friendly convenience stores

While for the moment it’s limited to the Kanto area, Natural Lawson is my go-to for quick meals and snacks during the workweek. With over 142 stores — most in popular areas of Tokyo with a couple in Yokohama, Chiba and Saitama — this fancified version of the common Lawson convenience store chain is apparently aimed at the health-conscious salary woman with plenty of disposable income. Although available products can change without notice, this is a great spot for finding veggie-only, unusual onigiri (rice balls) labeled in English, along with a choice of veggie-friendly goodies. A few of my favorites are T’s TanTan vegan cup noodles, almond milk-espresso from 137 Degrees (as well as other nut milks, including pistachio), Happy Date bars and Biokura cookies. Gluten-free bread from Maisen is also available at many branches.

For those in Shizuoka, Kobe, Osaka and Kyoto, check out Natural House (Japanese) instead. While it is pricey, there are usually some good vegan and macrobiotic options to be found.

Click here to read more.

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15 Comments
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Thanks again Maria. We ordered the cheese and I'm looking forward to trying it. Vegan Gyoza sounds interesting too. Thanks for all the sites.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My pleasure. The non-dairy spread is really soft, not like butter, and I am embarrassed to say that I at first forgot what it was, used it as a soft cheese spread, and slathered it on... Not a good idea, though I did eat it. Good on toast and pasta and all that.

You may know about this website already, attached to an actual store, which sells all manner of things __-free, veggie, and vegan. They even sell Provamel puddings, which I am partial to. I was really happy to find that they have vegan gyoza, too.

http://www.karuna.co.jp/index.html

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Awesome, thanks for the link since there aren't any Aeons or other very many good supermarkets close to me. It seems reasonably priced too. This could be a game changer :) Thanks!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Vegan cheese and spread here, and, as I said, They say they are available in some stores:

http://www.marinfood-onlineshop.com/SHOP/141161/list.html

Buttery coconut oil, which I buy online but just the other day saw in a shop here for about 1800 yen:

https://jp.iherb.com/pr/Nutiva-Organic-Coconut-Oil-Buttery-Flavor-14-fl-oz-414-ml/68678

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Maria

Thanks for the tips, I'll have to check out coconut oil since I mainly use butter for cooking. I'm sure it's alot healthier. My cheese consumption is mostly in pizza form so the issue I've always had with non-dairy/vegan cheese is that it doesn't melt as well, but I'll have to give it another try. I wasn't even aware it was available in Japan, thanks.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My posts have been Typo Central with a grammar dead-end recently. tsk.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@M3M3M3,

Yes, cheese and yoghurt were the last ones for me too. I found that coconut oil, especially one called Buttery, do the job for cooking, and Marin Foods (online and in some AEON stores) sell a non-dairy spread and shredded cheese, which fill the gap.

COYO sell a really good coconut yoghurt, in Tokyo stores and online. (I am not in Tokyo, but I get whispers about the treasures they have there.

Learning that Minute Maid juices, and my then-preferred breath mints, use gelatin, was a huge irritation. Luckily, things are progressing in leaps and bounds, and the vegan festivals held in several cities are a great source of information.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Maria

Yes, the fish question is the one I always get in Japan, along with the odd idea that only beef is 'meat' for some reason. I always end up saying: if it had a face or might have turned into something with a face (eggs) I don't eat it. I don't drink milk but cheese and butter are my guilty pleasures. I recently found my fav mints (Wilhelmina Peppermints) contain gelatin and I stopped eating them. It was a bit of a shock.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Even medicines (pill capsules) and breath mints usually contain gelatin which vegans can't consume.

Very easy to find breath fresheners without, and surprisingly easy to get meds without, if you ask. You can't avoid them being animal-tested though.

But indeed, avoiding processed sugars is a problem - or makes life easier, since you automatically avoid processed foods and drinks, and go for the more natural option.

There are hurdles everywhere though - it is ridiculous how many foods contain animal products / by-products: juices, sweets, soy yoghurts... Natto, for example - they use animal products when making it.

There is, simply put, far less understanding of veg''ism, which leads to confusion. "Even fish?" they ask, and in the same breath, "How about rice?".

Lack of food labelling on shelves and on plates causes extra kerfuffle. Don't assume that because a burger (for example) sold as a soy burger, will not contain meat, dairy, and/or egg, because they probably will, unless clearly specified. Always ask.

And don't assume that because a dish in a restaurant doesn't say there is meat, that there isn't any in it. Always ask and ask again and be specific.

If you look on Facebook for vegan, vegetarian, animal rights, and animal advocacy groups in Japan, where you'll get a lot of pointers.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@that person

Yes, thankfully I'm not a vegan, only a vegetarian. I know a few vegans in my home country and it's definitely not an easy lifestyle. You basically have to be an expert in modern industrial food processing if you want to buy anything pre-made at the supermarket. Even medicines (pill capsules) and breath mints usually contain gelatin which vegans can't consume.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

For example, the refined sugar you buy at the supermarket is often bleached by using animal bone char. This wouldn't be vegan sugar.

Jeesh, it's already difficult enough to find a vegetarian meals in Japan. If you're going to take it that far, good luck! Wonder how you'd find that kind of information in a society which doesn't even fully understand anaphylactic allergies. I hope your level of Japanese is through the roof.

Give yourself a chance man, take it easy!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@Divine Wind

But all products mentioned are vegan, what do you mean?

They might be, but you would have to look closely at ever single ingredient to be sure that it's truly vegan as opposed to just vegetarian. To be vegan is to be skeptical of everything you read on a label or put in your mouth. For example, the refined sugar you buy at the supermarket is often bleached by using animal bone char. This wouldn't be vegan sugar.

Are the cookies in the article made with white refined sugar or natural sugar cane? Unless you look into the kitchen you won't know for sure.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I think there is still a difference between vegan and vegetarian. I am vegetarian thou not vegan.

But all products mentioned are vegan, what do you mean?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A few of my favorites are T’s TanTan vegan cup noodles, almond milk-espresso from 137 Degrees (as well as other nut milks, including pistachio), Happy Date bars and Biokura cookies. Gluten-free bread from Maisen is also available at many branches.

I think there is still a difference between vegan and vegetarian. I am vegetarian thou not vegan.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Useful if you are in Tokyo for a few days, this article is.

However, being a vegan and following a plant-based diet, are not the same thing,

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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