Peverilblog’s Notes from Tokyo. Part 1: on being vegan in Japan

I loved going on holiday to Tokyo, it was the trip of a lifetime. To be honest, I’m a city person and Tokyo is the ultimate city. It’s the largest metropolitan area in the world with nearly 38m people, which is as big as New York and London combined! (Source:  WikipediaBBC News)

This means you can’t just rock up there and hope to see everything in an afternoon. I doubt you could see most of it in a month. You’ve got to do some homework first. As well as looking at where to stay, what the different areas of the city were like, touristy places to visit etc, I knew that going there as a vegan would be difficult. The whole concept of “vegan” is largely unknown there – more on this shortly.

Before we travelled, we spent a full month working our way through countless forums, articles, blogs, Facebook groups (the Vegan Travel Facebook Group is full of very helpful people) and YouTube videos. I made a lot of notes while I was there too (in preparation for a return trip 🙂 ) and I will post everything on here for my future reference and as a resource for anyone else who needs it.

Visiting Japan as a vegan

There are so many good articles online about being vegan or vegetarian in Japan. Here are just a few that helped us:

 

Made in our apartment: Miso soup with spinach, spring onions and fresh tofu

Since we were staying in an Airbnb apartment, we were self-catering and cooking for ourselves. We do this whenever we go abroad and we both like cooking, so it’s no trouble for us.

To make life easier, we packed a few “starter” foods in our suitcase so we could make our first couple of meals without worrying where the nearest shops were or what we could buy. Typically, packets of dried couscous, pasta etc only weigh 100-150g each so you can get a lot of good food in just 2Kg of your luggage allowance!

We took with us:

  • Beanfeast veggie mince (this one): good for making a quick bolognaise and/or a chilli
  • Fajita seasoning (this one): this is an excellent, all-purpose seasoning for any cooked veg, for stir-fries, for jazzing up plain rice and for sprinkling on salads
  • Dried miso soup mix: the vegan version obviously, which does not contain fish
  • Several packs of couscous, and basic dried pasta in tomato sauce (like this)
  • A packet of meat-free, soy burger mix (this one) that can be made into either sausages or burgers
  • Instant porridge sachets: use them as porridge, or to make overnight oats with soy milk and topped with …..
  • Various packets of nuts, seeds, dried fruit: also good for eating on 12 hour plane journeys!
  • Several blocks of non-dairy, dark chocolate: for eating any time at all!

All of these are easily available in the UK from Tesco, Sainsburys, Asda etc and the total cost was less than £15/€17/$19.

Bought from local konbini – pickled plums, pre-packed soy beans with vegetables, fresh tofu, and packs of mixed salad vegetables.

For day-to-day food shopping in Tokyo, we relied heavily on the konbini, which are small local supermarkets and convenience stores that are absolutely everywhere. There’s pretty much one on every street. The most common are 7-11, Lawson and Family Mart.

All the konbini sell fruit (always bananas and some very expensive apples) and salad vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and carrots. They also sell microwaveable packs of pre-cooked rice, lots of different types of noodles, more fresh tofu than I’ve ever seen, onigiri rice balls, umeboshi pickled plums and snack-sized packets of edamame beans.

Oh and the Google Translate app is a lifesaver for checking ingredients on the fly. Who knew that crisps (potato chips, if you’re American) needed to have pork and shrimp in them. Gross.

Lapaz-desserts

Vegan desserts at Lapaz

When we wanted to eat out, we used the Happy Cow app heavily. It’s always been brilliant for us in Europe but sometimes it’s less accurate for directions here in Tokyo. The Japanese system of street addresses is quite complicated (it seems a bit random sometimes) and often things just aren’t where they’re supposed to be!

Eating-out highlights for me were firstly Organic Table by Lapaz (website – mostly in Japanese), whose soy meat was the best I’ve ever tasted and whose desserts (a raw trifle and a lemon cheesecake) were outstanding:

…. and secondly T’s Tantan Noodles (website – in Japanese). This vegan ramen restaurant is located inside Tokyo’s main train station and has near-legendary status among vegans and vegetarians visiting Japan. It comes up regularly on lists of great-places-to-eat-in-Tokyo and deservedly so. The food is delicious:

Tantan-ramen

T’s Tantan- mushroom ramen

 

Peverilblog’s Notes from Tokyo

 

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14 thoughts on “Peverilblog’s Notes from Tokyo. Part 1: on being vegan in Japan

  1. Pingback: Apple and pear strudel (vegan, dairy-free) | Peveril Blog

    • I knew that going there as a vegan would be difficult but it was totally manageable. The konbini/convenience stores were a life-saver and we also used the HappyCow app heavily, just like we do when we are here in England or on our more usual holidays in Europe.

      Also, since I like cooking, we decided to stay in an Airbnb apartment with its own kitchen. We often take a few packets of easy food (dry pasta, seasoning mixes etc) etc when we go on holiday self-catering, but it worked particularly well for us in Japan, as it let us make up easy meals with whatever we found (ie could understand!) in the konbini.

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  2. Well done surviving Tokyo/Japan being vegan! I have recently started my life as a pescetarian and it can be very challenging to go out to dinner with my mates who gorge on meat… Japan is very much a meat loving culture, but eating fish for me has saved my culinary life.
    Though vegetarianism is raising it’s green little head even here in Asia, so new vegetarian friendly places are popping up slowly but steadily 🙂

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    • It was a bit harder to eat vegan there than I had expected. However, with a bit of help from the HappyCow app and a lot of help from Google Translate, it was totally manageable.
      Put it this way, I didn’t ever go hungry and all I want right now is go back to Tokyo!

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    • I think the language barrier would definitely give it that extra something in the sense of finding vegan food in Japan. Happy to hear you not only managed but fell in love with the country. That’s exactly how I ended up living here: came for a holiday and completely fell in love with the place.

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  3. I’m glad you enjoyed your visit. Even after 18 months I still have to pinch myself that I life here!
    I’m not vegetarian but I don’t like eating too much meat. Plus we have vegetarian/vegan friends visiting so understand how difficult it can be.
    There are so many eateries here, and not being able to just pop in one makes planning mealtimes very important.

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    • I make no bones about it. I loved Tokyo and can’t wait to go back. It is a truly amazing city. If i had to go back there and live on peanuts and bottled water for two weeks, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

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  4. I’m hoping to visit Japan sometime so I will be referring to this when I eventually do. So helpful. I did Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Nepal last year and finding vegan food was sometimes extremely challenging, sometimes very easy. Buddhism is the main religion in some of those countries so they do cater to vegetarians. But I imagine Japan is a whole different ballgame as they rely heavily on fish. Thanks for sharing your tips! Can’t wait to read more!

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