Is It Difficult to Find Vegan-Friendly Food in Japan?
If you can’t read Japanese, shopping in a supermarket in Japan can be intimidating, especially if you’re a vegan. You can’t just assume something is safe to eat by looking at it. It’s very possible to pick up something that looks vegan only to find out later that it has dairy, eggs or fish in it. Awareness of veganism has been increasing in Japan recently and more and more vegan-friendly food is becoming available, but shopping can still be quite restrictive. Here we have a list of some vegan foods that are available in many supermarkets in Japan, particularly in Tokyo.
1. Vegan Cheese
Recently there’s been a big surge in soy-based vegan cheese products in Japanese supermarkets. One really great one is “私のヴィーガンシュレッド(my vegan shred). It’s shredded vegan cheese that can be melted on pasta or a pizza and tastes like real cheese. It’s cholesterol-free and really reasonably priced at around 300 yen.
Another brand that has been popular in Tokyo is is “Sagamiya” (相模屋 in Kanji), which makes soy-based mascarpone and burrata. “Beyond Tofu” is another brand owned by the same company which offers cubed vegan cheese and vegan parmesan. These are all under ¥300!
Sagamiya cheese’s packaging includes English so it’s easy to spot as vegan. But the first brand, “私のヴィーガンシュレッド” is written in Japanese only and tends to blend in with the products around it – so be sure to look carefully if you’re trying to find this one.
It’s also possible to find vegan mozzarella in Lawson/Natural Lawson convenience stores.
Everyone is no doubt familiar with tofu, a great source of vegan protein with a good amount of minerals including iron, copper, manganese, and selenium. Tofu has a mild flavour which makes it extremely versatile and there are many different types and textures ranging from super soft silken tofu through to extra firm.
Because it’s so versatile, you can incorporate it into almost any dish you like. Traditional Japanese dishes with tofu include hot pots, miso soup or even served cold by itself. Tofu is popular worldwide and is used in many different cuisines.
3. Miso Paste
Miso is one of the most famous ingredients in Japanese cooking. This salty paste is the main ingredient in miso soup and is made of fermented soybeans. Miso paste by itself is vegan, however you should beware of buying pre-packaged miso soup as it usually contains fish stock and is not vegan. It’s easy to make miso soup yourself though, using just miso paste, seaweed and boiling water. Miso soup is the perfect snack as it’s light and nutritious but heavy enough to fill you up. Miso paste can also be used for so many other purposes including marinating tofu and other foods.
Oatmeal (or porridge for Aussies) is a cheap, nutritious and filling breakfast for many vegans. There are so many ways you can customize it to change its flavour that it’s impossible to get bored. There are many different toppings you can try such as fruit, nuts, chocolate, cinnamon or maple syrup. The possibilities are endless. Overnight oats in particular, usually left to soak through the night, are typically served cold and are great for those hot Japanese summers.
Oats are readily available in Japan and usually found in the cereal section of supermarkets.
5. Frozen Fruit & Vegetables
Anyone who’s lived in Japan for any period of time can tell you that fresh fruit and vegetables can be expensive, especially if you don’t know which seasons are the best to buy in. Fruit and vegetable prices fluctuate drastically depending on whether or not they’re in season and over time, you come to learn the tricks of what to buy and when. In the meantime, if something you want isn’t in season, the frozen version is your friend! Frozen fruit and vegetables are cheaper and have a long expiry date. What’s more, if you like smoothies, frozen fruit and vegetables are arguably better for making healthy, cool drinks because you don’t have to use ice.
6. Soy Milk
Almond milk is especially popular as a vegan food nowadays but unfortunately it can be quite expensive in Japan. Other types of plant-based milk are even more difficult to come by. Thankfully, soy milk is plentiful and there’s a huge range of it to choose from in Japanese supermarkets. One thing you do need to be careful of though, is that many brands use non-vegan stabilisers and emulsifiers which means they’re not suitable for vegans.
One reliable brand is Kikkoman and in particular a product called おいしい無調整豆乳 (delicious unmodified soy milk). This comes in a pale yellow carton and is made with only soybeans and water. Another brand is Marusan who also have a vegan soy milk. This one is in a pale yellow and blue carton and is called “有機豆乳無調整” (organic unmodified soymilk). A third brand in many supermarkets is Otsuka’s (大塚) “スゴイダイズ無調整タイプ” (Amazing unmodified soymilk). It comes in a white carton with a picture of Hokkaido filled with soybeans.
If you’re not 100% strict, there are also a wide variety of different flavoured soy milks available including matcha, banana, chocolate and coffee.
Vegan friendly chocolate can be very difficult to find in Japan. There are many dark chocolate options such as those produced by Meiji which come in 73%, 86% or 95% cacao options but even these are not entirely vegan as the labels warn that they may contain dairy. If you have a craving for vegan chocolate, you’re better off looking for chocolates from smaller producers which are usually found in specialty stores or organic supermarkets such as Kodawariya. Kodawariya has stores in the Kanto area and even has their own brand of vegan chocolate.
A Boost for Your Vegan Shopping List
Remaining vegan in Japan definitely has some challenges. The average Japanese diet does contain a lot of animal products in that even if it doesn’t include meat, it might include fish extract, eggs or dairy. It can be even more challenging if you can’t read the packaging! However, with plenty of information and advice available online, it’s becoming much easier. This article has highlighted some vegan products that are easily available in Tokyo and hopefully you’ll be able to include them in your shopping lists in future!