Wondering how to survive as a vegetarian in Japan? I have for you the best vegetarian survival guide to Japan.
While Japanese food is characterized by its simplicity, health, and presentation; seafood and meat are an integral part of their food. Japan does not traditionally cater to a vegetarian diet, but there are always options for those who only eat vegetarian meals.
How to Survive as a Vegetarian in Japan: 15 Things to Remember
With the right planning and research, being a vegetarian won’t be a limitation to your experience in Japan. In fact, it may act as a means for you to discover the hospitality that Japan has to offer.
Here are a few tips that will help you find vegetarian food in Japan –
Enquire About Your Dashi Broths
Many Japanese soup based foods use dashi (fish stalk) as a base for broths. This includes noodle dishes, dipping sauces, a variety of soups etc.
It is always safer to ask for the contents of broths before you order. Though not very commonly used, they do have vegetarian dashi broth too.
Shojin Ryori is Always a Safe Bet
Japanese temples offer a completely vegan zen Buddhist cuisine known as Shojin Ryori. If you plan to visit the temple then book your Shojin Ryori in advance on the temple website.
The strictly vegetarian meal does not take away from traditional Japanese flavours. The ingredients used are always fresh and clean.
Learn Some Japanese Food Terminology
Here are some important words you can use with waiters to help translate your food requirements –
野菜だけ – only vegetables
豚肉なし – no pork
牛肉なし – no beef
鳥肉なし – no chicken
魚なし – no fish
Use Translator Apps
Apps like RomajiDesu and even Google translate can be very useful for when you have confusions or questions about the menu and certain foods.
It is important to use apps that are user friendly and accurately translate to Japanese so that it is convenient for both parties.
Plan Ahead Before Visiting a New Place
It is always a good idea to look into the areas you are visiting. Find vegetarian and vegan food options for yourself in advance
Some cities may have more options than others, so it is most convenient to stay in locations that are closer to vegetarian restaurants.
Optimize Your Ryokan or Hotel Stay
Ryokans are traditional Japanese hotels and have flexible meal plans.
Before finalizing your bookings, you can talk to owners and arrange for vegetarian meals that will be included in your stay.
Remember – Fish Is Considered Vegetarian in Japan
It is important to note that fish is not considered a meat in Japan, thus if you simply say ‘no meat’, they will not account for fish, and may serve you seafood.
Thus it is important to mention that you do not eat both meat and fish.
Check the Ingredients on Japanese Packaged Food
Even simple snacks and chips can have chicken or beef powder in them. Therefore, it is important to read labels.
Google translate offers a tool that allows you to take a picture of Japanese print, which it will translate into English. This can be especially helpful when you are unable to read labels.
Look Out for South Eastern and Italian Restaurants
Oftentimes Japanese cuisine is unable to omit meats and fish from its menus.
Other cuisines such as Thai, Indian, or even Italian can offer more vegetarian options for you in Japan, without the hassle of removing too many ingredients.
Pack Something for Yourself
Oftentimes, remote Japanese areas and suburbs will not offer vegetarian options. It is always good to carry a backup meal however small.
You can pack foods from restaurants you have already visited, or you can cook something yourself if you are staying at a hostel or Airbnb.
Make Use of the Variety of Fresh Fruits
Japanese fruit stalls are a common sight in summer months, even in the city. It’s always a good snack to refresh yourself with.
If you can’t find them outdoors, you can always stop by at convenience or grocery stores that sell fresh cut up fruit bowls etc.
Buy Breads From Local Bakery
Japan created the famous ‘melon pan’ bread, which is now a staple sweet bread all across East Asia. Rich milk breads are also enjoyed in Japan.
Hence both big cities and small towns will have bakeries with both sweet and savory pastries to choose from.
Download Apps Like Happy Cow
Apps such as the Happy Cow provide trusted reviews from restaurants all across the world, and can help you navigate your food journey during your visit.
Apps like this give you notifications whenever you are close to a restaurant that suits your requirements.
Relish Vegan Bento Boxes
Bigger cities such as Shinjuku have started selling vegan bento boxes in popular department stores.
Because of the influx in inclusivity when it comes to food options, there are a larger variety in the premade bento market, vegetarians can survive on as a vegetarian traveller in Japan.
Keep Your Japanese Notebook Handy
The best way to remember important phrases, restaurants, or plans for your meals, is by maintaining a notebook for vocabulary and other information pertaining to your journey.
This is a foolproof method for optimal communication with natives while making sure you are understood.
Japanese cuisine is an experience on its own. It is safe to say that vegetarianism or veganism will not stop you from experiencing all that this journey in food will have to offer.