Vegetarian Survival Guide: Japan

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.

Heaven sent donut from 100 yen bakery


  • 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 😉

Soymilk (coffee flavour) and vitamin drinks! 


  • 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


Some phrases:


I am a vegetarian

Watashi wah bejitariandes


Is there fish?

sakana ga arimasu?


No meat?

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.

Traditional Monks dinner on Mount Koya


Veggie Tempura from a small restaurant near Dotonburi, Osaka


  • 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


Mellow Cafe in Nara


  • 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.


                                                                       Ice cream near the Golden Temple, Kyoto


Treat from random sweet shop in Kyoto


  • 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! 

Don’t forget to subscribe or follow my Instagram



You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    March 31, 2015 at 1:12 am

    thank you so much for all the tips!! i’m a vegetarian too and i always find it hard to find things i can eat when i’m travelling abroad.. totally keeping your article in mind for the day i’ll get to go to Japan 🙂

    x tiphaine | http://www.tiphainesdiary.com

    • Reply
      April 22, 2015 at 11:11 pm

      Awesome!! I’m glad you found this helpful. It’s so hard when you can’t read the labels and don’t speak the language! Yay I hope you do! Thank you 😀

  • Reply
    March 24, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    I’m not a vegetarian, but all of this looks so delicious! Then again.. it IS Japan. I really have always dreamed of going there!

    xx Sabrina

    • Reply
      March 25, 2015 at 10:08 pm

      Seriously though the quality of food in Japan is amazing! Aw I hope you make it there soon 😀

  • Reply
    March 22, 2015 at 8:49 pm

    Japanese food is my favorite! Id be in heaven eating there, try mochi in ice cream form! Delish!


    • Reply
      March 23, 2015 at 11:33 am

      Same here! Nothing beats good sushi. That sounds amazing I will!

  • Reply
    March 21, 2015 at 10:06 am

    Hey Shelby 🙂
    These are some great tips! I feel your pain! For about a month in France I decided to go without eating meat and to be more conscious of my food, and man was it hard to find good vegetarian food on the go! I think you may have cracked the code here though 😉 and I hope in future you will have less troubles! Oh and that pastry looks delicious… Actually all that food looks delicious!!! 😉

    xX Zoe | http://life-gazing-and-wildstrawberries.blogspot.com/

    • Reply
      March 23, 2015 at 11:31 am

      Thank you! I know I think I lived off baguettes and cheese in Paris. That’s great you tried to go without meat though! Ya getting a note is a great way to communicate I hope it helps you with your allergies as well :] Thanks! Everything was almost to good.. couldn’t get out of the treat yourself mentality!

  • Reply
    March 20, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    I totally know that feeling! I struggled in Japan, and it was the first country I travelled to at 18, and I was not prepared. I ate around so much fish, and resorted to supermarket sushi rolls far too often.

    Recently I travelled to China and was much more prepared. I asked a Chinese girl to write ‘I am vegetarian’ in Mandarine, and used that sign every time I ate out. It worked so well! I’ll definitely be doing that again.

    I can’t wait to return to Japan. I’ll definitely keep your article bookmarked for when I do.

    Chalsie | The Workshop Co. x

    • Reply
      March 23, 2015 at 11:25 am

      Same! It seemed like no matter what restaurant you’re at there’s going to be fish around you. Or ham. Notes work so well! They make life a 100% easier
      Thanks :]

    • Reply
      March 20, 2015 at 11:22 am

      Thank you! :]


    Read more:
    A Lazy Day In Florence: Eating Pizza And Soaking Up The Tuscan Sun

    I’ve done the whole 3 countries in three days thing, spent hours on a train only one night in a...