Japan is a heavy consumer of meat and seafood. For someone who is vegetarian and does not speak Japanese, spending a few days or weeks can be an intimidating prospect. However, one good thing is the fact that there is an awareness of vegetarianism, thanks to the ardent practitioners of Buddhism, who tend to be vegetarian.
With some useful tips and resources, you are not going to have any troubles as far as food goes. I spent half a month in Japan, most of the time I was traveling alone and I do not speak any Japanese at all. However, I followed the 8 points mentioned below, and they were extremely helpful:
1) Learn to say I’m vegetarian in Japanese.
You can say “Watashi wa bejitarian desu”
japanese characters are わたしは ベジタリアンです
2) Print the following images and show them to your server when you go to eat.
* if you have trouble printing the images below directly, then you can copy paste these images below onto a word document and then print*
Below is a checklist that you can custom select to communicate what you can and cannot eat. This is a life saver and covers a lot of the issues. You can print this and take it with you. (This was found over here). At this website, there are some other useful things, so take a look.
(checklist with Japanese Kanji characters for dietary restrictions)
Next, I took these printable cards which clearly state the most important phrases when ordering food in English and Japanese Kanji characters. First one is for vegetarians who eat eggs, second one is for strict vegans (including no eggs and no milk/milk products). These cards were all found here. Check this website for other cards that could be useful, in case you have allergy or other dietary restrictions besides being vegetarian.
(Ovo-Lacto-Vegan dietary Japanese card)
(Vegan Japanese dietary card)
This one might be repetitive, but it could still be useful so I have put it here. It was found here. Check this website, because it has some other Japanese phrases along with sound files on how to pronounce these important sentences.
(Japanese card for communicating food preferences)
3) Read this blog’s ‘Food Japan’ section to see places I ate at
I have written, and will be writing more, about different vegetarian food options in Kyoto, Tokyo and Hiroshima. On this page, you will get information, pictures and pricing. I have put all this info in my blog posts.
4) Try to plan ahead by looking into various options
While you cannot always expect to know exactly where and when you will eat, try to keep a list of few vegetarian restaurants in the area that you are going to visit. To create a list, use the following websites:
- http://www.tripadvisor.com.sg/Travel-g298564-c85684/Kyoto:Japan:Vegetarian.Options.html – This is good for Kyoto area restaurants
- http://www.vegietokyo.com/info4vegie/restaurant/index.html – This is a good source of restaurants in the Tokyo area
5) Eat at coffee shops and restaurants serving Italian food
There are lots of coffee shops all across major cities of Japan. These “cafés” often also serve sandwiches and snacks. You can find something vegetarian there, but it may have eggs in it.
You can also find pasta cooked in white sauce which is normally vegetarian. The meat toppings on the pasta can be left out by asking the server or showing them the Japanese food cards posted above.
6) Indian restaurants are quite decent in Japan
Though you are traveling and want to eat something that is not Indian for a change, Indian food is quite popular in Japan and major cities have Indian food options. You can never go wrong there.
7) Find onigiri and other snacks at 7-Eleven stores
You can read my post here about onigiri and 7-Eleven stores in Japan.
8) Check out these amazing resources, if you have time for more research
You can also check out the following to get more information: