Are you vegan or vegetarian and plan on traveling to Japan or even living there soon? Then this post is a must-read guide to vegan foods in Japan!
In the first section I am going to explain generally which products are usually save, what ingredients to pay attention to and then show you some products I found this spring and loved while I was staying in Japan.
Check out my other posts for vegan cafés and restaurants in Tokyo and Kyoto.
By the way, if you are planning a trip to Kyoto, check out my ultimate sightseeing and vegan food guides which combine sightseeing and near-by vegan options in Kyoto!
Shio Musubi onigiri 塩結び/しおむすび
The shio musubi onigiri is made from rice and salt only and has been a life saver for me countless times! You can get them at any konbini (convenience store コンビニ). You recognize them easily as they are just plain white without seaweed wrapped around them.
Konbini also offer other save options like bananas, plain roasted nuts or dried sweet potatoes (hoshiimo 干し芋). The chain „Lawson“ in my experience has the most options.
Source of the photo: https://www.lawson.co.jp/lab/kenko/art/1289582_4665.html (09.07.2023)
Baked sweet potatoes (yakiimo 焼き芋)
At supermarkets, konbinis or even stalls alongside the street often baked sweet potatoes called yakiimo are sold and they make a great snack. They are sweet, super yummy and filling, especially during the colder months of the year. You can either eat them as they are or peel off the skin before enjoying the soft flesh.
All kinds of rice cake: mochi 餅, including daifuku 大福 and dango 団子
They are traditional Japanese sweets which come in different shapes and flavors, but usually are just made from rice flour and sugar, sometimes with tofu as well and they usually include a sweet bean paste (anko あんこ) or a sauce made from soy sauce and sugar (mitarashi みたらし). Just be careful you don’t get some with whipped cream (nama kurīmu 生クリーム) inside. If you want to be extra save check the ingredients list for milk gyūnyū 牛乳, diary nyūseibun 乳成分, or milk powder funnyū 粉乳.
If you buy the sweets at a traditional sweets shop (wagashiya 和菓子屋) they might ask you if you want koshian こし餡 or tsubuan 粒餡 for the anko. The difference is that while tsubuan has a rough texture where you can still see the azuki beans it is made from, koshian is pureed finely.
My personal favorites are:
Hanami dango 花見団子
Mitarashi dango みたらし団子
Yomogi mochi よもぎ餅/よもぎ餅
Strawberry daifuku ichigo daifuku いちご大福/苺大福
(be careful to check for whipped cream here!)
Mame daifuku 豆大福
Sakura mochi 桜餅
(they also come in pink color)
Warabi mochi わらび餅
(they consist of rice with the anko wrapped around them)
Anpan is a bread roll filled with a sweet red bean paste and in my experience it has always been vegan, at least if I bought it at bakeries. Please check the allergens for milk 牛乳 or 乳 or 乳成分 and eggs 卵 anyways to be safe.
Soba noodles そば/ 蕎麦蕎麦
Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour and often include some wheat flour as well, but that’s it. If you order them at a restaurant they are usually served with a sauce made from soy sauce and fish sauce, so please be careful there. But as the noodles themselves are vegan, you can get them at the supermarket and cook with them. Or try to persuade the restaurant staff to serve them with plain soy sauce only.
Jūwari soba 十割そば consistst of 100% buckwheat and therefore is gluten-free.
source of the photo: https://blog.goo.ne.jp/tetsuda_n/e/84c61391e4fa475d0cf5f089e44563a2 (09.07.2023)
Plain bagles or ohes with walnuts and cranberries are usually vegan.
In supermarkets and convenient stores you can find a vast amount of smoothies which are often times vegan. I love the ones by kagome, especially the green smoothie, and the soy+ berry one which tastes like strawberry milk. The are also sugar-free. Always check the ingredients lists for dairy 乳製品 and especially yoghurt ヨーグルト which can be contained even if it says „soy“ on the front of the package.
Soy Milk 豆乳
Compared to Germany, Japan has a huge variety of soy milk which, in my experience, is always vegan.
There are even a few flavored ones with fun flavors like „ice cream“, „pudding“, „sweet potato“, „soda“ and more! For these ones check for dairy just in case.
Almond Milk アーモンドミルク
Supermarkets nowadays also sell different kinds of almond milk.
Oat Milk オーツミルク
If you’re lucky, you can find oat milk as well!
You can never go wrong with tofu! Just be careful at restaurants tofu might be served with non-vegan broth or bonito flakes. If you are looking for a harder type, buy momen dōfu 木綿豆腐. It’s not as hard as the tofu you can buy in western countries though.
Sesame tofu 胡麻豆腐
Sesame tofu is a not so well known delicious kind of tofu made from sesame seeds.
source of the photo: https://www.dejima.ne.jp/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/01422ac667826b7cd26c88461cc0bd6a75785f2157.jpg (09.07.2023)
Shaved Ice かき氷
The shaved ice at small stalls is usually vegan as it is just ice and syrup. At cafés and restaurants however they often spray condensed milk (rennyū 練乳) on it, so better ask in advance if they can skip that.
Other vegan-friendly products at supermarkets, konbini, and drugstores
While you’ll have most options at organic supermarkets, it is worth checking out normal supermarkets and convenient stores, too. You might be surprised how much you can actually discover! In my experience supermarkets for foreign products, like for example Khaldi, have a really great selection, but Aeon-Supermarkets are the next best choice. I will show you some of the products I personally found.
There are different brands nowadays, including Vio cheese. But Marusan has for example this sliced cheese:
There are different kinds of vegan mayo but I personally found this one:
Kewpie, a really famous brand recently startet this vegan line:
There are a few vegan curry options which you just heat up and serve with some rice.
Options I had/saw are:
Vegan Pasta Sauce
For pasta sauce, I usually made it myself, but you can’t go wrong with a simple basil sauce or these ones made specifically for vegans:
Vegan Instant Ramen / Cup noodles
While you might already know the Korean shin ramen 辛ラーメン which is accidentally vegan, there is also Vegan Noodles by the vegan restaurant chain T´s. You can buy their cup ramen at Natural Lawson and a few big supermarket chains.
Soy Yoghurts 豆乳ヨーグルト
Not all soy yogurts are vegan, but these definitely are:
Sources of the photos:
While kimchi usually includes fish sauce or shrimp, organic supermarkets sell certified vegan options. At supermarkets I found the following options which seemed vegan as well, even thought the package doesn’t explicitly state it.
Soy Joy bars
You can find these bars at all supermarkets and convenient stores and they are great as a snack to have when out and about. While not all of them are vegan, the crispy ones (there are several flavors) are.
Glica brought out a vegan version of their popular pudding a few years ago.
It could also look like this:
Do NOT mistake it with this regular pudding which looks very similar:
Sometimes tofu stores sell pudding made from tofu which often times is vegan as well. Make sure to ask the staff though.
Vegan Ice Cream
Water ice popsicles are usually fine. For creamy ice cream I found these:
But not every ice cream that says Soy automatically is vegan, so better check the ingredients list.
Vegan Coffee Drinks
Recently there are lots of vegan lates at supermarkets and konbinis, ranging from soy milk, oat milk to almond milk. If you prefer milk tea, I saw a soy milk option.
My favorite vegan snack are these mochi rice crackers:
Other snacks include:
Some supermarkets now sell German gummies with the vegan mark on it, which is really useful.
False friends - products to be careful with
Soy meat ソイミート, 大豆ミート
This is really tricky, as soy meat is not always made from just soy but often includes eggs, milk, and sometimes even meat. The plain, granulat one is fine, but the flavored one often times isn’t. Look out for anything that has 肉 (meat) in it. Also check for 鶏 (chicken) 豚 (pork) 魚 (fish) and any kanji looking similar to them.
This kind is fine:
Soy ice cream and tofu soft cream ソイアシス/豆腐ソフト
Same with soy ice cream / soft serve or tofu soft serve, always check for dairy as it is often a ingredient as well.
Vegetable and tofu options at restaurants and izakaya 居酒屋
Even if the menu just says for example eggplant ナス, there is a chance it is gonna be served with bonito flakes, so please make sure to ask the staff if it is just plain vegetables or if there is any sauces or seasoning before ordering. Same goes for tofu which possibly is served in a non-vegan broth.
Plan-based options at cafés and restaurants
„Plant-based“ does not always automatically mean vegan, so better ask the staff for allergens. For example if a sign says a burgers patty is plant-based, it could still only be vegetarian or if it is vegan, then there’s a chance the bun is not.
Bread often includes dairy, butter and eggs, so better check the ingredient or allergen list.
Rice crackers せんべい
While rice crackers look vegan and sometimes are, checking the ingredients lists often reveals the use of galantine, fish, or other meat.
Restaurant chains and Cafés with vegan options
As at least one of these restaurant chains should always be near you, it is useful that they have at least one vegan option.
Coco Ichibanya CoCo壱番屋
The restaurant chain I went to most often is Coco Ichibanya. How the name already suggests, it sells lots of different Japanese-style curries. They have a whole page in the menu with vegan option and you can even add on deep-fried vegan soy meat (the menu states that it is fried in the same oil as meat, so if you mind this then better skip the soy meat).
They even have an English menu, so it is easier to navigate.
The ramen chain Ippudo has a vegan ramen an gyoza option on their menu which is really useful.
Chabuton as well has a vegan ramen and gyoza option.
Kyushu Jangara Ramen 九州じゃんがららああめん
Same goes for Kyushu Jangara Ramen.
Btw, in Harajuku they even have one all-vegan restaurant1
Mos Burger is a fast-food chain with a plant-based vegan green burger and as far as I know they have a vegan fish burger as well.
This Italian-style family restaurant offers vegan options like Spaghetti Peperoncino, Spaghetti Aglio e Oglio, Garden Salad, Crispy Potatoes and Lemon Sorbet.
Besides vegan milk options (soy, oat, almond, coconut), Starbucks recently added several delicious food options too. They include for example a sandwich with falafel and veggies, a delicious oat and macadamia cream cake and a doughnut. Just check the little signs showcase for „plant based“.
Tully´s is another famous café chain which recently added soy milk, oat milk and plant-based vegan food options. They also had an oat milk latte special with vegan whip cream.
Useful Vocabulary for Vegans in Japan
Ingredients to avoid:
Any kanji including 魚 in any way
broth (often includes fish sauce)
(昆布だし would be ok)
乳 (except 豆乳 soy milk)
クリーム (豆乳クリーム soy cream is fine)
Other useful words:
animal derived ingredients
dōbutsu yurai busshitsu
without animal derived ingredients
dōbutsu yurai busshitsu fushiyō
soi kurīmu ソイクリーム
free of allergens
Check out my Kyoto Sightseeing x Vegan Food Guides
If you have more tips, please share them in the comments :)
All photographs by the author unless specified differently.