For vegan and vegetarian travelers it can sometimes be a challenge while exploring in Japan to find something to eat. This can be even hard for those who do not read or understand Japanese as it can be challenging to understand food labels and menus. While Japan has many vegan and vegetarian-friendly options, it can be much easier for vegan and vegetarian travelers to follow a few helpful tricks. Here are tips for vegans and vegetarians traveling in Japan.
Get to know a few Japanese expressions
Understanding just a few keywords can make a world of difference for vegan and vegetarian travelers in Japan. If learning the words is not an option, printing out the words or even simply taking screenshots on a cellphone of words that denote vegan or vegetarian can be helpful in shops and restaurants.
The most recommended phrase that is clear and explanatory for vegan travelers is:
I am a vegan. I do not eat any meat, poultry, fish or seafood or any animal products including all dairy products, eggs, and honey.
Check online in advance
There are many vegan-friendly restaurants in Japan, but finding them can take some finesse. Preparing in advance can make it easier to plan accordingly. There is a large online community of sites that offer lists of vegan restaurants. Happycow is one of the best and has many options for restaurants that are either entirely vegan or vegetarian or at least offer vegan options.
Pack vegan snacks ahead
When exploring throughout Japan, days can be long filled with sightseeing and traveling so it can be very helpful to pack a few vegan snacks along instead of worrying about purchasing on the spot. For day trips outside of Tokyo, or a day spent exploring Asakusa or a hike of Mount Fuji or to even more remote parts of Japan where vegan restaurants are less common, it can be very helpful to pack a few handy snacks many of which can be purchased in convenience stores.
Make the most out of convenience stores
There are many vegan-friendly snacks that can be found in convenience stores in Japan, it just takes knowing how to find them. Here is a list of some vegan snacks to look out for:
- Onigiri – sometimes referred to as rice balls, they are actually a triangular shape. Onigiri can be made with a variety of ingredients including fish but vegan ones exist. Options include Red rice (Sekihan), Pickled plum (Umeboshi), seaweed and plain rice (shio)
- Imo Kenpi – sweet potato sticks that look somewhat like fries. A simple snack that can be enjoyed any time of day
Tsukemono – pickled side dishes. Surprisingly, many Tsukemono can be found in convenience stores and although they are side dishes, they work well as quick snacks that happen to be vegan. Items such as cabbage, cucumber, radish and daikon are often pickled.
- Happy Turn – Japanese rice cracker. These delectable crackers are both sweet and salty and can be enjoyed on their own or with other spreads/dips. They pack well for day trips and can be found all over Japan
- Bento Boxes – Oftentimes Bento boxes can be found without fish and made to order vegetarian or even vegan. Additionally, prepacked salads are often a good choice for vegans to pick up from the convenience store or grocery store in Japan
- Edamame – soybeans. Edamame can be eaten fresh or dried out as a snack. They make for an ideal vegan snack as they are packed with protein
- Nuts – a universal vegan snack ideal for packing on long trips, all types of nut varieties can be found in Japan and are good to keep handy
- Soy Milk – Soy milk is also quite common in Japan and can be found in a variety of beverages and even in ice cream.
- Egg Salad – a perfect choice for vegetarian travelers in Japan, Japanese egg salad can be found both in convenience stores and in bakeries.
Be aware of Dashi
Many soup stocks, sauces, and traditional Japanese dishes contain dashi which is made from fish. Although some things may be listed on menus as just vegetables, it is important to keep an eye out for dashi. Even miso soup which can be a vegan or vegetarian-friendly option is often made with dashi. Knowing to look out for dashi and avoiding it can be a helpful tip for vegans and vegetarians traveling in Japan.