Being a vegetarian in Japan

Are you moving to Japan and worried that you won’t be able to find all the vegetarian foods from home that you are used to? Don’t worry, there are actually many options for vegetarians in Japan these days, as the country becomes more aware of dietary requirements like vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free.

Your image of Japanese food may be limited to sushi and Kobe beef, but there is so much more to offer. Vegetarians in Japan do need to be careful as even many condiments and sauces contain meat, sometimes surprisingly.

What Japanese foods are suitable for vegetarians?

Two of the main staple foods in Japan are rice and noodles. These by themselves are suitable for vegetarians.

Rice – Rice is often served in a bowl by itself, so you can easily eat the rice. Many curry shops also have a vegetable curry option.

Noodles – Noodles can be served by themselves, such as a refreshing bowl of “nagashi somen” in summer, however they may also contain meat, fish, or broth containing either. The ingredients used in the dish and the broth are things to look out for. Soba noodles are often a good choice, and you can get them with vegetable tempura on the side.

Tofu – Tofu is very common in Japan and is often served as a side dish in restaurants. You can get it fresh, or deep fried (aburaage and atsuage). There are also dishes that involve tofu, such as:

  • Hiyayakko – This is fresh tofu, but be careful to ask for no fish flakes (katsuobushi) on top.
  • Agedashidofu – A soup made of lightly breaded tofu which has been deep fried.
  • Mabo tofu – Tofu cooked in a sauce with beans and chilli. Be careful as this often contains small pieces of pork.
  • Inarizushi – These are sushi rice stuffed inside fried tofu. These are common and safe to eat.

Okonomiyaki – These are Japanese savoury pancakes made with eggs and cabbage. You can usually choose what goes in them, and while seafood is popular you can definitely request vegetarian (remember to say “no bonito fish flakes” as these usually come on top).

Tempura – In the countryside you can often order “mountain vegetables” tempura, which is a delicious mix of local vegetables you’ve never heard of before. Often the tempura sets contain shrimp, but you can usually ask to switch the shrimp to a vegetable.

Seasonings – Japanese foods are commonly seasoned with miso, koji, soy sauce and mirin. These are all safe for vegetarians.

Sides – Japanese sets are often served with a side of pickled vegetables. These can be eaten by vegetarians. Natto, fermented soybeans, is commonly served and edible for vegetarians as long as you can handle to unique texture.

Shojin ryori

Zen Buddhism reached Japan in the year 538 and spearheaded a 100-year ban on the consumption of meat as a way to abstain from violence against living beings. These days, the Buddhist cuisine, named “shojin ryori”, is still meat-free and can be found at temple lodgings known as “shukubo”.

Things to watch out for:

Dashi – Dashi is stock used in soups and various meals. The problem with dashi is that in Japan it is almost always made using fish stock. It can be quite difficult to avoid, and vegetarians should check with the restaurant staff whether or not the dashi contains fish (Usually it does).

Remember to ask the waiter if you are unsure, as sometimes dishes in Japan may be considered suitable for vegetarians despite containing fish or meat in the broth.

Can you get vegetarian meals at traditional Japanese ryokan?

Japanese ryokan, or inns, often serve a full multi-course meal known as “kaiseki”. These contain a soup such as miso soup, raw fish, cooked fish, possibly some kind of meat dish like nabe, sometimes noodles, or tofu, and several small side dishes made from local vegetables. If you contact your ryokan ahead of time, they may be able to arrange for your kaiseki meal to be vegetarian only. If you book a trip through Omakase Tour, they will ensure that your preferences are communicated to the hotel ahead of time.

Where can you buy vegetarian ingredients?

Convenience stores

Convenience stores have many vegetarian snacks on offer, like nuts, string cheese, vegetable sticks with miso dip, and onigiri (rice balls). The onigiri usually contain meat or fish, but some flavours are suitable – look for ume (sour plum), plain salt, or kombu seaweed flavours.


Supermarkets have less ready-made meals that are especially for vegetarians than in some countries, but they still have things like noodles, tempura, roasted sweet potatoes and a variety of salads and pickles. Speciality shops like Kaldi, Seijo Ishi and Yamaya may have ingredients that are hard to find in normal supermarkets such as lentils.

Halal shops

There are some shops catering towards halal customers that have many legumes and ingredients that are excellent for vegetarian dishes. One example is the Tokyo Camii Halal Market in Yoyogi.

Useful kanji and phrases

出汁 = dashi

肉 = meat

魚 = fish

I’m a vegetarian
Watashi wa bejitarian desu. (I am a vegetarian.)

Does this contain meat?
Kore wa niku ga haitteimasu ka?

Does this contain fish?
Kore wa sakana ga haitteimasu ka?

I can’t eat meat or fish.
Watashi wa niku to sakana wa taberaremasen.

I can’t eat dashi or bonito fish flakes.
Dashi to katsuobushi wa taberaremasen.

Good vegetarian restaurants in Tokyo

We recommend the following vegetarian restaurants in Tokyo, although in large cities like Tokyo and Osaka you will find a large array of options.

Bon –
If you want to try Buddhist shojin ryori without doing a temple stay, try Bon. It has a wonderful all vegetarian course menu. Reservations required.

Kyushu Jangara –
If you want to try plant-based ramen without worrying about the broth, this chain has several locations in Tokyo and is delicious.

Sasaya Cafe –
This cafe near Tokyo Skytree serves vegan meals and desserts, made with ingredients from local organic farms.

Onigiri Bongo –
This shop near Otsuka sells custom-made rice balls, so you can request vegetarian fillings.

Plant Based Tokyo –
This is a fully vegetarian restaurant near Yoyogi with many tasty options for vegetarians in Tokyo.

Where to find other vegetarian restaurants

HappyCow lists vegan restaurants, so the suggestions can be used by vegetarians or vegans.

Vegewel allows you to sort restaurants by vegetarian, vegan, low-card, gluten-free, macrobiotic and organic.

Vege Map provides an interactive map where you can click on different locations in Japan to see vegetarian restaurant suggestions.

If you are moving to Japan, or have already arrived here but are looking for some guidance, Omakase Helper can assist you with finding an apartment, setting up utilities and contract, setting up your bank account, doing paperwork and other tasks at city hall, signing your kids up for local school or daycare, and more.

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