When first visiting Tokyo, I got to admit, I was a bit worried about the vegan food situation there. I had done some research before, read some posts in vegan Facebook groups, and everyone said that it’s quite tough as a vegan in Tokyo and Japan in general. I came with really low expectations for food, and was prepared to survive on rice and seaweed for a week. But, as it turns out, my experience was quite to the opposite and I was in for a real treat! I was so surprised and honestly had one of the best vegan foodie experiences in Tokyo! I’m not sure whether it’s because I didn’t expect much, or because of the negative reviews I had read beforehand, but Tokyo absolutely blew my mind and I can’t wait to share my Vegan Guide to Tokyo with you!
First of all, Tokyo and Japan are so much more than the food. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect of the people and the country. This one week vacation was planned quite spontaneously, for one because I wanted to accompany my boyfriend on his business trip there, and I needed to leave Thailand because of visa reasons. Hence, I didn’t really prepare myself a lot, but rather viewed it as a fun weather change from the tropical island paradise of Thailand.
My knowledge of Japan was limited to anime, sushi, ramen, and the general stereotype that Japanese people are shy and very organised.I feel like Tokyo is one of those things that you just got to go and see for yourself, but I’ll try my best to put my experience in words. My overall take from this week in Tokyo is a huge admiration for the Japanese people and culture and I’m already planning my next longer trip to explore more of Japan than just Tokyo.
We stayed in a simple but nice Japanese style hotel a bit outside of the city (Nippori hotel), which turned out to be perfect. Japanese style meaning a very simple room with bamboo mats, 2 simple thin mattresses on the floor, 2 pillows and a small table to sit at. Very minimalistic, but all we ever needed and surprisingly comfortable. While the area was quite far off from the touristy down town, it gave us a little glimpse into ordinary Japanese life. Amazingly enough, the day we arrived it started to snow really heavy (apparently doesn’t happen that often), which turned the streets of Tokyo into a beautiful winter wonderland. Now imagine small, very clean streets, with harmonic Japanese music playing from speakers, people riding their bikes, or waiting in line at the next food stall for some warming soup. As I said, it’s something to experience for yourself.
All I can say is that during this one week, I didn’t have one negative experience. I’ve felt the safest I’ve ever felt in a city (makes sense given the fact that Tokyo has one of the lowest crime rates), met some of the nicest, friendliest, and most polite people ever, had random 20-minute conversions with waitresses who were just curious about where I’m from, and ate some of the best vegan food so far! I know they always call Japanese people the Germans of Asia, but honestly I think they’ve figured out so many things that the West could only dream of, starting by heated toilet seats and ending by the way the metro works! 😀
Now, on to the important part – food. I think one of the biggest contributors to my great experience was my own ignorance. Only later I found out that plant-based cooking actually has a long tradition in Japan. Although love of seafood was always pretty dominant in Japanese culture, it wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that red meat and the mid 20th century that dairy were introduced from the West. Hence a traditional meal would consist of mainly rice, beans, seaweed and vegetables, and a lot of traditional dishes are actually vegan, or can easily be veganized. Plus, there is a special mostly vegan cuisine called ‘shojin ryori’, which the Zen Buddhist monks are eating and have been following since the 13th century.
As mentioned earlier, I really wasn’t very familiar with Japanese culture, including cuisine. When it comes to food, all I knew of was sushi (what we call sushi in the West) and ramen. That was about it. If you’ve ever been to Japan before, you’ll probably smile right now, as the Japanese cuisine offers so much more than that.
If not, the following Vegan Guide to Tokyo will give you a little glimpse of all the awesomeness to expect in case you decide to travel there. While you can find many more places, these are my absolute favorites and well worth a visit! Of course I didn’t visit every vegan restaurant in Tokyo, hence I’ll add a list of the ones I didn’t try below.
Best vegan ramen. I tried the golden sesame peanut butter ramen (¥880), which is filled with delicious flavours and just so so good, but I’ve heard that the black sesame ramen is even more special! I went for lunch and the place was crowded with locals getting a quick lunch break. Do yourself a favour and also order a side of the Asia fried chicken (¥350), it’s really really good!
Little tip: it’s best to get there by actually taking the metro to Tokyo station. Once you arrive, do not leave the station. The restaurant is located inside the station, hence I learned the hard way that if you’re coming from outside, you have to buy a metro ticket to get inside and actually eat there.
Ain Soph Ripple
Best vegan junk food in town. Seriously, this place is vegan burger and comfort food heaven. Ain Soph is a chain that has several vegan restaurants in Tokyo, each with different menus and specialities. Ripple is definitely vegan paradise if you’re looking for burgers, mac ‘n cheese, fries, burritos and everything good in life.
I’ve had the cheeseburger (¥1150), which was crazy good, and the mac ‘n cheese and fries (+¥200), which were both amazing. The food was definitely on the heavier side and I literally rolled out of that place, but so so worth it!
I mean, just look at that cheesy goodness right there!
Ain Soph Journey
This restaurant is the sister restaurant of Ain Soph Ripple but with a very different menu. It’s not far away from Tokyo station, so theoretically you could start your day with breakfast here and then enjoy ramen for lunch at T’s Tantan… you know, theoretically speaking. 😉 Make sure to try their pancakes if you make it here – they crazy fluffy and so so good!
Talking about breakfast, if you’re in the area and looking for a great avocado toast (¥1200) and almond milk matcha latte (¥950), make sure to visit Bill’s in Omotesandō. It’s located on the top floor of the Tokyo Plaza, and offers great views plus an inviting and relaxed atmosphere to enjoy breakfast. They also have really yummy vegan granola bowls with coconut yogurt and fruit!
A Japanese-owned, California-inspired healthy restaurant, located in the buzzing streets of Harajuku. This place is an ideal spot if you’re craving a burger, salad, green smoothie, big healthy sandwich or feel like treating yourself with some yummy vegan desserts. The portions are quite large and the menu clearly specifies which dishes are vegan!
If you’re in the area around Omotesandō, make sure to check out 8ablish as it’s just around the corner. I went here twice, for lunch and dinner, and definitely didn’t regret it. For lunch they have a smaller select menu, and I tried this vegan souvlaki plate, which was heavenly. Imagine tofu, tempeh and veggie skewers on top of delicious brown rice (I didn’t think brown rice can be that good), pickled cabbage, vegan tzaziki, a delicious side salad + soup, and the best pomegranate kombucha I’ve had until this day (¥1550 for the lunch set,¥850 for the kombucha)! Definitely recommended! Also, if you go for dinner, spoil yourself with the assorted dessert plate! 😉
Brown Rice by Neal’s Yard Remedies
A beautiful place with delicious high-quality food. During the warmer months you can sit in their courtyard and enjoy the sun while eating wholesome, healthy food. They offer a very basic menu with delicious lunch sets, having most of their dishes revolve around brown rice, with a mixture of fresh local veggies, tofu, the option of hot/cold tea and delicious desserts made from brown rice amazake.
Brown Sugar 1st
Having a sudden sweet craving? Brown Sugar 1st got you covered! This is a sweet little gem, located in the buzzing district of Harajuku. If you’re feeling a bit tired after walking the lively streets of Harajuku, this is a great place to recharge.
They offer a selection of mouthwatering vegan cupcakes, teas and coffees for a quick pit stop.
I’ve tried the coco vanilla cupcake, which was divine! The other ones looked really amazing too though and I’d definitely come back to try them all!
Yes, you’ve heard me right. While I’m not a coffee drinker and would probably avoid Starbucks in any other country, in Japan, they actually have one of the best soy matcha lattes I’ve had so far! Plus, they have a vegan donut. I mean, come on… VEGAN DONUT?! 🙂
Just in case you’re missing some good old vegan flavours from the West, Hanada Rosso has got you covered. It’s an all vegan hot spot that serves delicious vegan burgers and other goodies, plus they have a shop inside the store where you can find some vegan cookbooks, etc.
Finding fish free sushi is actually not that easy in Tokyo, as in a lot of places they just drizzle those bonito flakes or fish-based dashi on everything. But, luckily one of my vegan friends showed me this really cheap, traditional sushi place that has a variety of vegan sushi options – hell yeah! We ended up ordering a bunch of maki rolls filled with avocado, cucumber, fermented soy beans, radish, plus some extra portions of avocado sashimi and inari (marinated tofu pockets). Best thing about this place, you see the sushi being prepared right in front of your eyes, and there’s an endless supply of green tea. Also, it’s super cheap!
Located in a neighbourhood that’s known for its hipster and art scene, Nagi Shokudo combines a unique atmosphere with delicious vegan food. It’s a favourite of many local vegans and the perfect place for a quick and quiet lunch, enjoying one of their yummy lunch sets. They offer a good variety between vegan Japanese dishes like miso, pickles, etc. and other delicious dishes like curries, falafel, and more.
Veganic To Go
A small little gem selling an array of vegan goodies. If you’re in the area, they have some delicious vegan cheesecake and soft serve ice cream (only in summer though).
Convenience Stores & Supermarkets
Possibly one of the best things about Japan are its 50,000 convenience stores. Whenever you’re in need of a little vegan snack or a full on vegan meal, they’ll save your day! My favourite ones are Seven Eleven, and Lawson (and Natural Lawson). You can literally find them on every other corner, which is more than convenient. Surprisingly, they became my go-to breakfast and snack option on many days.
The only problem is that in most cases, there’s absolutely no English writing on the products, nor does anyone speak proper English, so you gotta make sure you know the deal before entering. There’s a number of YouTube videos featuring which products are vegan, so those are always helpful. Or you can just take screenshots of these products and look for them. Here are my absolute favourites:
Onigiri – rice balls filled with either seaweed (kombu) or pickled plum (umeboshi), simply salted, or salted with azuki beans
Mochi – sweet rice cakes made from rice flour and sugar, filled with azuki bean paste
Edamame – ask them to pop them into the microwave and eat to-go
Cucumber salad – there’s usually an array of cucumber salads with sesame and vinegar dressing
Soba noodles – tons of to-go dishes featuring simple soba noddles
Inari Zushi – rice in marinated rofu pocket
Fermented soy bean natto roll – looks like a long maki roll with soy beans inside
Check out this page for more detailed info and pictures!
Now, apart from the convenience stores, there are always bigger supermarkets around the city, my favourite one being Maruetsu. There you can find, most importantly, freshly baked sweet potatoes, which are life changing if you never had the Japanese variety! Tastes like warm gooey pudding rather than a potato and is naturally super sweet! This was probably my breakfast most of the days (super cheap and crazy tasty).
They also have a big selection of plant-based milks, ranging from soy to almond and rice with different flavours. I like the soy matcha and soy banana ones very much!
Apart from that, the bigger supermarkets also have more interesting mochis like matcha mochi, or strawberry daifuku, which are very yummy.
I definitely became slightly mochi obsess during those 7 days and am already craving them, now that I’m back in Thailand!
Other foodie places to look out for:
• Aoyama Farmers Market (on the weekend)
• Marugo Deli
• Taco Rice Food Truck
• Loving Hut
• It’s Vegetable
• T’s Vegetarian Restaurant
• Saishoku Kenbi