If you follow us on social media, you’ll most likely know that Trent and I recently went on a quick little trip to Japan (as we spammed you with a heap of yummy food snaps during our time away, sorry not sorry!)
Japan is one of my all time favorite destinations! This was the 4th time I’ve traveled there, but my first time there as a vegan.
I tried to read as much as possible before we left, and I’ll admit, I was prepped to survive solely on rice and soy milk for the week after what I’d read about how hard it was going to be finding vegan food there.
So, good news, I was very pleasantly surprised!
On this trip we stayed in Tokyo (in Shinjuku) then hiked the Nakasendo trail in the Kiso Valley for 4 days. We also did a day trip to FujiQ highland fun park and another to Kamakura. And here’s some of the gems we found:
T’s Tantan – a 100% vegan ramen shop inside Tokyo station (you’ll need a valid train ticket to get in, as its inside the gates) serving up scrumptious ramen of differing spicy-ness, Japanese curry, soy meat and organic drinks. This place was on the other side of Tokyo to where we were staying so we only got there once, but had it been closer we would have eaten at T’s every night!
Kaemon Asakusa (other locations also)- this quiet, very ‘shiny’ little place is just around the corner from Shinjo-ji temple in Asakusa. They have the BEST soy ‘chicken’ you’ll ever find, trust me on this one! A little on the pricey side, but being in such a popular tourist area that wasn’t too much of a surprise to us. Similar style and ambiance to loving hut.
Isetan Food Hall – you’ll find this ridiculously amazing food court in the basement of this huge department store. Get ready to be overwhelmed! Pick up an assortment of tempura veggies, salads, pickled vegetables, tofu (anyway you like it), smoothies, juices, sushi, inari and other vegan noms here!
Shops at Shinagawa JR train station – if you’re heading out on the Shinkansen to explore Japan, or you’re coming into or out of Tokyo from the airport, it’s likely you’ll need to go via Shinagawa station. There’s a handful of really delicious speciality inari, mini sushi, onigiri and soy/cold dripped coffee that you can pick up here for your trip. Unfortunately I don’t have the names of these exact places, but I can tell you that you’ll find them directly opposite the Shinkansen ticket booths inside the Shinagawa JR station (after you go through the ticket gates). The cold drip coffee I had here was hands down the best coffee I’ve ever had. That’s big for me!
Places we didn’t get to, but had planned to: Chaya macrobiotics (Shinjuku), Loving Hut (Chiyoda-ku), Raw Life Cafe (Ginza) . There are plenty more, check out Happy Cow for suburb listings.
A beautiful, easy, day trip from Tokyo, this temple town had a heap of cute organic stores, fair trade coffee, and I heard (though sadly we didn’t get time to visit) a vegan bakery!
We did stop into a stunning Japanese cafe for lunch between temples, called Kokusai Cafe Sorafune. Everything on the menu here was vegan, most is also gluten free and macrobiotic. They serve lunch sets, raw deserts, coffee made from rice (was interesting), teas and other treats which alternate daily. I loved this cafe. The staff were so friendly, and the food was super fast.
It’s a little hard to find, so here’s a photo of the entrance to the building (shared with other businesses) its a ten minute walk from the train station, or 5 minutes by bike.
So for this part of the trip we REALLY expected to be living on a bowl of rice, and had packed a heap of clif bars and nuts to keep us alive over the 3 day hike. But, I’m happy to report, we were blown away by the food on this leg of the trip!
Nakasendo literally means ‘the road through the mountains’- it’s the ancient highway between Kyoto and Tokyo. The full hike takes between 10-14 days, but being on a time limit, we did the Magome – Tsumago – Narai leg of the hike.
There aren’t any hostels or hotels in this area, so before we left we made some phone calls and booked ourselves into minishuku’s and ryokans in these towns. These types of accommodations in Japan will usually provide you with breakfast and dinner as part of the price, and it’s absolutely essential to tell them as early as possible about dietary requirements (as some hosts will only visit a market weekly for supplies).
Originally we tried to get a booking company to call on our behalf, but both of them told us we wouldn’t find any accommodation able to cater for vegans, we decided to call ourselves and find out. Which was successful, yay!
If you’re vegan or vegetarian and thinking of hiking the Nakasendo, here’s where we stayed with meals included: Tajimaya (Magome) has email, Hanaya (Tsumago) has email, Shimada (Narai) phone only, no English.
Be very clear with your dietary requirements when you book, and I’d also suggest calling or emailing a couple of days before arriving to confirm. There aren’t any supermarkets or ATMs between these towns, so be sure to pack heaps of snacks and cash so you don’t get caught out.
Some accidentally vegan food we found on the hike was mochi balls (covered in sesame paste, so good!) and freshly made buckwheat noodles (ask for no dashi or bonito)
Snacking On The Go!
Research vegan cafes and restaurants before you head off on your trip, download Happy Cow, VegMan and other vegan food finder apps and print a list of places you’d like to visit. If you get stuck in a station (or near a 7/11, family mart, or lawsons) and need something on the go, here are some easy to find staples:
Plain Inari and Soy Milk (heaps of delicious flavors available in this brand, the coffee malt one gets my vote)
If you’re looking for a cold coffee without milk from a vending machine, this here is your guy. And it’s surprisingly delicious too (coming from a coffee snob i’m shocked)
You’ll also find a variety of salads, sushi rolls, rice balls and edamame at convenience stores. Here’s a great link to help you read labels and work out what is and isn’t vegan: JapanVegan. Also check out this list of convenience store vegan friendly food here, isitveganjapan
And a final super tip – before you leave on your trip, pack a heap of bars in your backpack for emergency snacking, just in case 😉
Also – print this out and keep it in your pocket! You can pull it out whenever you have trouble asking for vegan options at a cafe, store or restaurant who may not understand (there is no actual word for ‘vegan’ in the Japanese language, and it’s a relatively new concept over there)