Published on 26 Apr 2019
Vegan may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Japan, but as Sofia Santos discovered there’s not much that the Japanese can’t turn their hands to, including vegan food.
It was August at the peak of summer and the sun was shining. The cicadas were proudly singing and there were dragonflies gracefully flying around me. I could feel a light, momentary breeze in the air, warmed by the sunrise. Summer here smelt and felt strangely familiar. My skin was tingling and telling me that this was a special place. Welcome to Japan.
Japan is a fascinating place for many westerners. Its rich culture, musical language and interesting lifestyle will make you fall in love with this country and it’s as easy to lose yourself in a busy neon shiny street as it is in its countryside. The big question I had was how easy is it to find good vegan food in a place so well known for its seafood? I was about to find out.
Everything about Tokyo is iconic. From traditional buildings like the Imperial Palace, and the Sensō-ji temple, to the quirky stores of Harajuku and the modern Skytree, there’s a lot to explore. You can easily spend weeks in Tokyo without running out of things to do, and it’s a city as beautiful at night as it is at sunrise. You may visit many beautiful and peaceful parks and shrines spread across the city during the day before visiting the famous, busy Shinjuku district and Shibuya crossing at night. You will experience the unique feeling of being surrounded by bright lights and immense crowds, like you are an extra in Lost in Translation.
Origami Restaurant: I found this gem while walking around Asakusa and was wonderfully surprised by the experience. The staff were very nice and my four course meal included fresh tofu and a kuzuriki – a traditional summer dessert – all (self) prepared at our table.
In the mountains north of Tokyo, lies this small Japanese city full of breath-taking wonders. Nikko’s many shrines and temples shine through their golden architecture and outstanding beauty. There are over 100 wonderfully ornamented religious buildings making this city a must visit and a great one-day trip from Tokyo.
Food: Yasai Cafe Meguri is a good stop for vegan food in Nikko. Here you can find delicious, fresh, traditional plant-based food.
This is one of the favourite weekend spots for Tokyo locals. Situated about 50 miles from the capital, Hakone is a city famous for its natural hot springs (onsen) and amazing views to the iconic Mount Fuji. If you are an anime fan, you’ll also recognise the spectacular scenery of Lake Ashi from Evangelion. There you can take a sightseeing ride on a pirate boat, pose in front of the partially submerged red torii gate or take the ropeway to visit the active volcanic valley of Owakudani.
Food: For the full experience, we highly recommend staying at a ryokan (traditional Japanese guesthouse) and trying their fresh food menu after a nice, relaxing hot springs bath (ask for vegan options in advance).
No matter how high your expectations are you will be fascinated by Kyoto. With only a sixth of Tokyo’s population, Japan’s previous capital is a city that magically links the traditional and contemporary. With its numerous temples, palaces, and traditional streets with wooden houses, perfect for geisha spotting, Kyoto will give you a feeling of feudal Japan with a modern atmosphere. Kyoto is also known for its famous Bamboo Forest and the magnificent Fushimi Inari, a spiritual, peaceful site filled with over 10,000 torii gates that will greet you as you walk up the mountain.
Food: Despite its modern Mediterranean look and European food options, Morpho Cafe is a vegan-friendly restaurant that also offers delicious ramen, vegan cutlets and traditional set meals.
Japan’s third largest city, Osaka is well known for its street food, lively nightlife and modern architecture. The city is home to the flashy Tsutenkaku tower, to one of the country’s most beautiful castles and to the famous Dōtonbori district, where you’ll find the Glico Man sign. Osaka has a similar, but more relaxed, vibe in comparison to Tokyo, and there you can find some of the coolest and carefree people in Japan.
Food: I highly recommend going to the incredible Rocca: a small, family-owned vegan restaurant with homegrown vegetables, delicious food and remarkable owners.
With its enchanted gardens, hundreds of deer and one of the largest Buddha statues in Japan, Nara is one of the most beautiful cities I had the pleasure of visiting. Less than an hour away from Osaka or Kyoto, this city was established in 710 AD and was a capital of Japan. According to local legend, the deer you find in Nara Park are sacred and divine due to a visit from a god riding a white deer. They will bow to you expecting to be rewarded with a cracker or two.
Food: There aren’t many vegan-friendly choices in Nara Park, but the small restaurant Mizutani Chaya does offer a couple of vegan options with a traditional set meal.
While Hiroshima is mostly recognised for being victim to the first atomic blast in world history, you’ll find that there’s much more to this city than its tragic past. At its heart you can find the Peace Memorial Park, with its many monuments built around ground zero, as well as the symbolic Genbaku Dome nearby. After paying your respects, take a traditional old tram to one of the lively shopping districts and food markets or visit the charming Hiroshima Castle.
Food: Vegimo was one of the best restaurants I visited in Japan. The food was delicious and meticulously presented, while the minimalist design transpired a modern, contemporary vibe. I can highly recommend to you their vegan pancakes.
In the middle of Hiroshima Bay, this island is a natural beauty. With peaceful beaches located by the iconic large red Torii gate and beautiful shrines partially submerged by the high tide, Miyajima is full of epic photo opportunities. Here you can also bond with the local deer, visit numerous temples and climb Mount Misen to enjoy a beautiful sunset that you’ll never forget.
Food: There isn’t a dedicated vegan restaurant, but you can find a few places with vegan options, like Yamaichi Bekkan. The island’s convenience stores will sell vegan options as well.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Japan is not only a wonderful place to visit but also a vegan-friendly country. Despite having a small number of plant-based restaurants, the fact that you can find amazing convenience stores and vending machines everywhere is a good example that Japan will offer an answer for every demand, no matter what kind of diet you follow.
Sofia works at a Marketing Agency when she’s not blogging about one of her passions: vegan food. Since becoming vegan, she’s been interested in sustainability and an environmentally conscious lifestyle. She likes travelling the world and finding vegan gems in unexpected places. You can read more about her adventures in her blog at www.portuguesegoesvegan.com
This article contains affiliate links.