Veg*n tourists coming to Japan will have a hard time finding somewhere to eat. Residents here know that the only way to survive for an extended period of time is to stock up your kitchen and get cooking, but if you’re only stopping by for a few days it may not be worth the effort finding a hostel or AirBnB with a kitchen. Plus, you want to experience the amazing Japanese food culture, and as I’ve mentioned supermarkets themselves are a minefield. Here I’ll recommend some great restaurants and places to eat out that I’ve found in my time here. Being based in Tokyo, it’s going to be very Kanto-specific.
野菜居酒屋 玄気 yasai-izakaya Genki
This comes as my first recommendation for several reasons. First, you won’t find this one on Happy Cow. Second, it is VERY tourist-unfriendly. A lot of the restaurants advertising on Happy Cow rely on tourist business, and so are very tourist-friendly. You read an English menu, order in English, and receive your Western food with a ‘sorry to keep you waiting’. It’s almost tempting to pay in one’s native Western currency. Genki is none of that. The menu is all (handwritten) Japanese. The staff don’t appear to speak English. I wouldn’t be surprised if a bunch of tourists were turned away at the door – it’s a small place and potentially not worth the effort for the staff. However if you get in, the one word that should get through the language barrier is ‘vegan’ (if it doesn’t, try saying it with your best faux-Japanese pronunciation). Obviously you can’t read the menu, so it’s best to go with what the owner recommends (おすすめは何ですか? – osusume wa nandesuka?). Just make sure your ‘vegan’ actually does get through, because this is an omni restaurant.
A true (if slightly bizarre – it’s best to experience it with your own eyes) Japanese izakaya experience.
Google: 玄気 神田
T’s たんたん T’s Tan-Tan
If you’re coming in to Tokyo via Shinkansen, or JR from the north/east, there’s a good chance you’ll end up at Tokyo station. Nestled inside the JR gates is the ramen restaurant T’s Tan-Tan. It offers arguably the best vegetarian ramen in the whole of Tokyo. The menu is all vegan, so no one should have to worry about eating anything they shouldn’t. Unless you have a sesame allergy…
The ramen here is seriously delicious and comes in a number of classic varieties, as well as some more new-agey health conscious offerings (if you count chucking some leafy greens into a pot of oil, salt and carbohydrates as being ‘health conscious’).
As an eastern Tokyo resident for a number of years, T’s was my go to for easy and delicious eat-out – I ended up going here once a week.
It can be pretty hard to find, as it’s inside the ticket gate, in an area without many restaurants. It’s in a place called Keiyo Street. If you follow the signs for the Keiyo line (red line) inside the station, you’ll eventually pass by the restaurant (it’s on your right as you head down Keiyo Street toward the Keiyo line). If you’re coming from the Keiyo line it’ll be on your left after you come up from the conveyor-belt zone. It is NOT in ramen street, which is outside the ticket gates and is a totally different place. I repeat, it is NOT in ramen street!
Google: T’s Tantan
It’s Vegetable is a great little vegetarian Taiwanese restaurant. Most dishes are vegan and those that aren’t are clearly marked. The staff are also super friendly and will help you. It’s located in Kinshicho, which is one stop from Ryogoku in the shitamachi (old-town) region on the JR.
Sadly, I heard a rumor that they’ll be closing down on April 16th 2017, so I recommend a visit before you miss the opportunity!
Google: It’s Vegetable Kinshicho
I know what you’re thinking: I didn’t come to Japan to eat Indian food! Well neither did I, but c’est la vie! When you’re out and about, (particularly outside of central Tokyo or Osaka) it can be super difficult to find anything to eat. One dependable resource for veg*n food is the humble Indian restaurant. Thanks to Hindu religious requirements, Indian cuisine always makes accommodations for vegetarian people (note that Indian vegetarians avoid meat and eggs, but consume a hell of a lot of dairy). As such, a vegetarian will almost always be sure to find something on the menu. For vegans, be sure to ask about what oil they use to cook (ghee is a milk-derived cooking fat), and whether cream or yoghurt is included in the recipe or drizzled on top. Another convenient part of visiting Indian restaurants is being able to communicate in English – sometimes you might find that this is your only option if you don’t speak an Indian language or Nepalese!
While they don’t compare to the real deal in India, I recommend the samosas! At least the ones in Japan won’t make you sick…
Google: インド料理+your location