I know when I was in Japan I wished for a vegetarian survival guide. Being a vegetarian can be hard, especially when your in another country and can’t understand the language. Even though English is easier to come by in major cities and tourist spots it can be hard to find vegetarian/vegan food when you go off the beaten track. When I was in Europe and some parts of Asia I still managed to find food okay but I especially found it harder to find food at restaurants and cafes in Japan. Fish being an major part of a Japanese diet I couldn’t escape it from being hidden in dishes. Broth, fish flakes, spaghetti sauce, curry- it was everywhere.
After finding myself in a few helpless situations where I ate all my granola bars and instead of enjoying my surrounding I was constantly wasting time trying to find something to eat. It doesn’t help that I am a food conscious eater so surviving on breads and rice weren’t an option for me. Especially when your on vacation and have the “treat yourself” mentality and are constantly indulging. Sometimes you just need a salad to balance it out.
I realized Japan wasn’t as diverse as some countries in the food department, most places were traditional Japanese, so I would have to start being more prepared before my daily excretions.
Having been to Japan twice now I learned some strategies so I wouldn’t get myself into the hunger situation again and hopefully help you out to.
Vegetarian Survival Guide Japan
- Get someone from your hostel or hotel to write down that you’re a vegetarian/vegan on a note or in a book and carry that with you everywhere. Put it in your wallet and try not to loose it
- Shop at grocery stores and make your own food. That’s a pretty basic tip but it does the trick.
- Find a 100 yen bakery! They make for a cheap breakfast or snack. Cheese buns, donuts, ones stuffed with potatoes, all sorts of goodies!
- Ask where ever you are staying’s reception if there is any good vegetarian restaurants around and how to get there. They can use their computer and show it to you on a map and usually tell you which train/bus you need to take
- Research vegetarian food from the country and screen shot it on your phone. I was in desperate need for soy milk so I Googled Japanese soy milk and used the image as a reference when shopping. It was extremely helpful since I couldn’t make any sense of Kanji.
Take a photo of me! Use it as a reference in stores 😉
- Look up vegetarian friendly restaurants around your area or where you will be heading that day. Screenshot the address on Google Maps so you don’t have to use you data while trying to find the area
- Learn some Japanese
I am a vegetarian
Watashi wah bejitariandes
Is there fish?
sakana ga arimasu?
mattaku niku nai?
Since there really isn’t a word for vegetarian in Japanese some cities won’t understand when you use “bejitarian” so instead say
watashi wah niku toh sakana wo taberarimasen
which translates to I don’t eat meat or fish
- In supermarkets there is usually cheap vegetable tempura and other vegetable options. You can also find potato crockets (my favourite), kabocha squash pre made (another favourite), mixed vegetable dishes and other vegetarian friendly items in the deli section.
- Kyoto and Tokyo are easier to find vegetarian dishes as Kyoto is a Buddhist town and Tokyo is an international hub so they cater to more diversity
- If you find yourself at a restaurant with seemingly no vegetarian dishes find a sandwich or burger place and ask for no meat on it and instead avocado. I figured that trick out a little later on and it never seemed to be a problem. The only times where it didn’t work is you’ll find the more traditional restaurants come with a set menu and you pick from the pictures which one you want. On these dishes you cannot change anything. Even if you just want the veggie tempura but its accompanied with another meat dish you will most likely not be able to only get the veggie tempura. I haven’t figured out as to why this is but it does happen
- Find an Indian restaurant. It’s a gold mine for food but make sure they don’t use beef stock. I was in Kyoto and ordered the only Indian dish at a random restaurant near Gion thinking it would be safe but it immediately solidified and the smell was an overwhelming scent of beef. In Nara my boyfriend and I ordered two curry pizzas and then I remembered the beef broth and quickly changed my order to the four cheese pizza. The curry had been made with beef stock.
- Desserts are free game! Just watch out for gelatin if that is a problem for you. It always finds its way into random things like protein/nutrition bars or pastries.
Hopefully these tips help and you are more prepared on your trip to Japan! What do you think about being a vegetarian in Japan? Did you find it easy? Or do you know of any good vegetarian restaurants? Sharing is caring!
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