Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Going Vegan: A Vegetarian’s food guide in Japan

Let me confess upfront, I was a very fussy eater in Japan. A pure vegetarian traveling in a country habitually relying on fish as one of its base ingredients, I had always been skeptical. What raised my doubts further were the incomprehensible Japanese signs and symbols and the unfamiliar smell that emanated from inside the eateries while passing by them.

But this is not to say that I starved. Nope, far from it actually. I had my moments with food and I found in them my pleasures too! So, here is a sneak peek into my, a veggie's, food travails in Japan – a humble attempt to help all those vegetarian's out there planning a trip to this part of the world.


1. Vegetable Sushi Potager

A date with the Expedians, it was here that I also had my first Japanese Sushi, actually two and both purely vegetarian ones!

Sushi: no fish, only vegetables

What amazed me was that it was their first attempt at a vegetarian sushi and this fact itself gives you an idea of the picture of vegetarianism in the country.

Fresh fruit juices to top

Anyways, the entire sushi experience was good value for money and I had topped it with a pineapple juice which tasted quite bitter.

Website: www.sushi-potager.com/en/concept/

2. ISKCON Govinda’s Restaurant

Who would harbor thoughts of an Indian thali in a foreign land and why? But we did and even got it in the ISKCON temple at Funabori in Tokyo.

Indian Thali of Govinda's

Though, the eatery is a bit on the outskirts of the city but it is one place where you can head if you are in search of a hearty pure vegetarian meal in a foreign land. Attend the arti (prayers) and head to the restaurant just besides the temple – the Indian fare is not only tasty but very economic too.


1. Shyojin Ryori

You can think of a Shyojin Ryori, as simply a Japanese version for a pure vegetarian restaurant. Buddhist vegetarian cuisine served at either temples or special restaurants, these are places where you can just close your eyes and dig your chopsticks in without worrying about the ingredients!

Incidentally, our very first stop in Nara was to sample this fare. The ambiance was typical zen - peaceful and tranquil - complete with a humble looking dining house furnished in matted seating and wooden tables.

The interiors: Quiet, peaceful and in the heart of nature

The food was served one after another in a chronological manner, so rhythmic and meticulous that towards the end, the entire table looked visually quite appealing. I remember troubling cosmos and sarah with a lot of my questions on the various dishes being served and its ingredients and they patiently answering every one of them but alas! today, those names have faded in my memory. What I can tell you, however, is that the proportions of everything on offer was moderate - never too much, nor too less and the spices used were minimum, making the food subtle and mild.

The Shyojin Ryori course

Overall, the cuisine tasted very very different to my Indian taste buds but this is not to say that I did not have my favorites. I loved having some fried tofus (Atuage) and this sweet dish right in the end,

Simply sweet!

A small one for someone with a sweet tooth but still a perfect finish to the course!

2. A home meal

Nothing beats a home cooked meal. And I was highly honored to get an invite for a treat at Yoko’s house - a treat that is today a treasure... priceless.

Vegetable spaghetti

There was everything on the plate - company of friends, Japanese hospitality and warmth, smiles, joys and laughter, a lot of curious questions, a bit of anxiety as well, oohs and ahs and of course a lot of food – everything. In all the fun, I even forgot to take any decent pictures except this lone one - sincere apologies.

3. Asura Vegan restaurant, Naramachi
Nara is a disappointment when it comes to pure vegetarian restaurants and eateries, but snowwhite and redrose found this quaint little eatery named Asura in the Naramachi area.

Asura vegan restaurant, Naramachi

It boasts of a vegan delight and has some simple yet tasty menu up its sleeve.

Menu card

Plus a quiet ambiance and a homely atmosphere ensure that you leave the place all satisfied and content.
Bread, rice and curry - My plate

And if you do happen to be here, do not forget to say a hello to the sweet lady at the desk who has an Indian connection.


Her beautiful handmade crafts and pieces decorating the interiors –
till someone picks them up!

4. Tea Ceremony, Jikoin Zen temple

When in Japan, one of the things you just cannot miss is attending a tea ceremony and Jikoin zen temple of Nara
is one place where you can head to to have your experience of this interesting ritual.

Tea ceremony at the Jikoin Zen temple, Nara

Dwell on the concept of 'One time, one meeting', appreciate the beauty in nature, the beauty in your own self and sip your tea. The tea tastes bitter but I second what my friend, cosmos tells me

Who knows, when it becomes an acquired taste :)

C) From here and there

1. Cookies, Biscuits and Munchies: Takeaways from India and from Japan

When all of the above fails, trust these nitty bitties to come to your rescue. We bought a few Marie biscuits, chocolates, cadburies and roasted peanuts from a supermarket store in Tokyo and stacked them up in our food bag.

A peep into my food bag

Bakery produce: biscuits and muchies

Even though, these might not be as fulfilling for a diet but they do manage to squash those hunger pangs. And of course, the delight of indulging in something Japanese-made is always there.

2. Fruits:

If you still find yourself at a loss for picking out things, look no further and go for fruits. Bananas, cherries, apples, Japanese supermarket stores have them aplenty and they all come at a good price for our pockets.


The best thing is that all these fruits are unlike any of the fruits we have here in India and they taste way better. I’m sure they are much more healthier too!

3. Bread and butter:

Look out if you hotel offers you a complimentary breakfast. If yes, you can ask one of the hotel staff to point out all the vegetarian options in the menu.

My breakfast plate of bread, butter and milk at
hotel Villa Fontaine Roppongi, Tokyo

The desk staff are generally well conversant in English and are more than glad to help you out.

Last but not the least: Do your research -

Talking to the locals surely helps but the existence of a language barrier cannot be denied. Just to be on the safer side, I would advice you to do your own research before you leave. Especially, Tokyo has lots to offer for all us vegans out there. All my Nara blogger friends were surprised when they realized that we had mostly survived on the breakfast of Hotel Villa fontaine while our stay in Tokyo. And rightly so, because one can easily find a lot of vegan options there if some time is devoted for research on the internet before leaving your country. Something we regretted to having missed out on before leaving India.

So as a vegetarian traveling in Japan, plan wisely and eat delightfully. And do not forget to say - Itadakimasu before you start your meals! Happy Eating!

Would you like to share this article with your friends?


  1. thats one of the most useful posts for me arti...coz am a vegetarian too (well i do eat eggs but thats about it!!)

    and I have been planning on not going to japan/china/korea for this very precise reason!!!....

    well, there's hope for me in japan then :)

  2. This post is so useful! As a pure vegetarian myself one thing I have to do before travelling to a new country is research potential places to eat. Thanks for sharing.

    Sita xx

  3. Very informative post, being a vegetarian by choice myself I found the post to be very useful. So nice of Yoko to specially make veg meal for you. Some of the pics specially the one from ISKCON Thali is absolutely yummy.

  4. Great looking food and now I have to go eat breakfast for sure!!! These did stir my appetite!! Hope your week is going well, Arti!!

  5. All this looks delightful Arti! I made vegetarian Sushi once -and loved it. Our family does it fish, but no meat - i really don't miss it! Have a lovely day!

  6. I am sure you will like my sister's all vegan restaurant here in Hawaii. It is amazing what one can do with vegetables.

  7. I'm glad that you like Japanese food, especially vegetables. I also like eating and planting vegetables at my garden. :)

  8. I must say that all of this cuisine really intrigues me. I miss the variety of ethnic food that I used to enjoy when living in a large city. I can live vicariously through you!

  9. wow, all those look so yummy, Arti, I am glad you were not starved and found those yummy vegetarian foods to nourish you during your stay there :)

  10. This is the one post that i wait from your post :) The Food !

    As vegetarian i never try japanese food, look yumy ya, want to try The Shyojin Ryori menu :)

  11. Hi Arti,

    Great post for anyone traveling to Japan and a vegetarian. We eat a lot of Japanese food over here and really enjoy the food. Thanks for sharing the great post.
    Hope you are enjoying the week

  12. We also have MARIE biscuits here in Manila. My favorite when I was still a baby. :)

    Wow! Their food presentation is so impeccable. Taste yummy even before you chew it. :)

    Always have a safe trip, my dear friend Arti! :)

  13. Wow. It's the middle of the night and now I am hungry. You should come to Houston, a city of apartment complexes connected by streets under construction and an eatery every ten feet and a grocery store in every city block. I wish someone did a research like this.

  14. That is a lovely guide for vegetarians in Japan. Nicely written.


  15. Very useful informative post. Thanks a lot.

  16. What a coincidence Arti! I am a vegan too like you so this post is a delight:)

  17. Great looking food - Its one of the things I remember most about my trip to Japan.


    Stewart M - Melbourne

  18. You are quite a food monger I see :)
    And now I'm happy if I ever I visit Japan, I need not worry about the availability of Vegan food.

  19. A non-meat eater myself I have to say that whilst this all looks wonderfully presented I have no fancy for sushi whatsoever.

  20. I was vegan for years but then I got b-12 deficiency and had to see a neurologist for a long time to get back on track. Now I eat animal products, but I still love to eat vegan meals :-) These foods all look so wonderful!

  21. Wow, it seems as if you had to really work for your meals, but I'm glad you managed to find food to satisfy you. Food is definitely an important and oftentimes troubling issue travellers face when going to foreign countries. Great photos!

  22. Aha...so you did try the sushi :)

    The oriental sometimes becomes an issue not just for vegans but for hard core non-veg folks as well. One of my friends was telling me of one of their gourmet expeditions in which one in her group ordered a chicken dish. He had a hard time explaining it to the waiter, who seemed to know only the native language, but finally managed to convey he wanted chicken. When the meal came, the group was shocked to see a chicken dish complete with the chicken's head, wings and feet as decorative. Needless to say, poor guy lost his appetite.

  23. Your food pictures are good enough for a cookbook Arti! (We've cut wayyy back on meat and I try to do a pure vegetarian meal a couple times a week. But we do eat fish, eggs, milk, and cheese.)

  24. veg or non-veg. we were asked that a lot when we were in your country. i always go for veg, of course. :)

    the food in your photos look like works of art.

    have a great weekend ahead of you, arti. :)

  25. I could never be a vegetarian -- but the food you captured is very appealing.

  26. I am so glad that you experienced various meals in Japan. Now I can feel nice curry smell coming from your photo!
    Enjoy your weekend, Arti.

  27. Arti, Thanks for sharing so beautiful post. Great to saw the photos.

  28. interesting post with food items... mouth watering

    thanks arti

  29. The food looks so delicious. As a vegetarian, I'm glad to see lots of veg options.

  30. As I am a vegetarian so this post is very useful for me... :-) Well lovely post like always...

  31. It's good viewpoint to pick up japanese meals for you. I think you got confused in front of syojin-ryori. But I am glad that you remembered about atuage.
    Have a nice day!

  32. It is amazing to see what we take for granted in india is so difficult to find abroad. : ) I am sure your tips will be helpfull for all indian bloggers to plan their trips with ease.

  33. Lovely post Arti, I have missed a lot in the last 2 months. I was totally disconnected from the blog world. Missed lot of posts. Need to catch with all my friends posts. tc

  34. a very interesting post aided with good photos... seems u have made a very good research of all the vegan dishes available in Japan.... a good guide to other people who want Vegetarian food in Japan.

  35. Arti, Thank you for the detailed post. I started on vegan an year back and it is hard for me to find food choices when in a group. I can totally understand how it must be in Japan. I don't know if I will ever go there, but your post is sure to be kept in mind :) How you must have gobbled all the Indian food...Hahaha

  36. There's a website called Happy Cow that lists vegetarian restaurants around the world. I think it would be worth checking out for your next trip wherever that might be.
    I like fish but not so sure about the intensive fish diet I'd get in Japan.

  37. Hi,
    Really great Post! I've enjoyed reading through your blog http://myyatradiary.blogspot.in/ because of the great style and energy. I have a blog on travel theme. If you're interested, we would love to have you on as a guest blogger. Please send me an e-mail and I can give you more information. Looking forward to hearing from you.

  38. Hi! It's nice you have many friends in Nara.Did you enjoy Syoujin-Ryouri?
    When I invited a Malaysian family, They were Hindu people. They had let me know that they would eat not pork.
    They liked Japanese food very much. It was a very pleasant day.

  39. Well, Arti, I am glad you found some delicious things to eat. I am not a sushi girl, and I don't fish..So if I ever travel there, I will just indulge in fish..or just stick with fruits.

    Beautiful food photos!

  40. Being a pure Vegetarian myself I was actually waiting for this post of your, I guess I asked for it also sometime back.
    I have heard a lot about Sushi and Japanese food but never heard vegetarian options.
    Vegetarian Sushi that was first and yes you always have Fruits and Biscuits and snacks that can help you.
    Loved the post and how extensive it was :)

  41. Gochisosama deshita! It took a bit of research and hunting, but in the end, it looks like you had some wonderful, delicious meals. And Japanese pastries and snacks are some of the best!

    A great weekend to you!

  42. Great article, my wife and I will find it useful when we plan our trip to Japan. We both are non-veg but not very adventurous when it comes to meat! hah

  43. This is such a great resource, Arti! I'm not a vegan but once in awhile I do enjoy meatless dishes. The food here looks delicious and wonderful reviews. You can never go wrong with fruits and those great Japanese bakeries.

  44. Thank you for so many wonderful pictures of food. I am not a vegetarian, but they all still look yummy to try. I did lots of pointing while in Japan and I was happy to see some restaurant had picture menus although one might not be able to tell easily if the food is tailored to vegans.

  45. I'm glad you found vegetarian food, Arti, and there was such variety!
    I'm not a vegetarian but I'm picky so food is something I get concerned about when I travel.

  46. Hey Arti, great guide, glad you found some delicious food in Japan. It all looks tasty, and I agree, nothing beats home cooking!

  47. Food at ISKCON Govinda’s Restaurant was a typical Indian thali! Guess we Indians are everywhere after all! :D And interesting you found veg food in Japan. Some of my vegetarian friends are currently in Japan and they are finding it difficult to adjust there.. Will share this post with them :)

  48. Does anyone know of a tour operator for Japan who will serve vegetarian meals?
    We have done a tour in Europe which catered specially for Vegetarians and it really made it worth its while...
    We Indians love our spices ...esp when travelling and on holidays! :)


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