Beyond sushi: Japan expands veggie options to tempt tourists

Travel Guide

Japan has long been celebrated for its culinary heritage, encompassing a wide range of flavors and techniques. However, vegetarians and vegans have faced difficulties in finding suitable options that align with their dietary preferences. In response to the growing demand from tourists and locals alike, Tokyo and other cities in Japan are embracing the need to expand vegetarian and vegan offerings, ensuring that everyone can savor the country’s renowned cuisine.

The Need for Vegetarian and Vegan Options in Japan

While Japan’s cuisine is often associated with fresh seafood and savory meats, there is an increasing global trend toward plant-based diets. Many travelers who visit Japan are vegetarians or vegans and are eager to explore the local food scene. However, they often find limited options that cater to their dietary needs, hindering their ability to fully enjoy the culinary experience.

Tokyo’s Initiatives for Accommodating Vegetarian Tourists

Recognizing the importance of catering to diverse dietary preferences, Tokyo has taken proactive measures to accommodate vegetarian tourists. The city publishes a specialized restaurant guide that highlights vegetarian-friendly establishments. It also offers subsidies to businesses seeking certification as veggie-friendly and has appointed vegetarian and vegan chefs as “tourism ambassadors.” These initiatives aim to increase the availability of vegetarian cuisine and ensure a memorable dining experience for all visitors.

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Michelin-Starred Restaurants and the Lack of Vegan Options

Tokyo boasts a remarkable number of Michelin-starred restaurants, renowned for their exceptional culinary offerings. However, when it comes to vegan and vegetarian options, the city falls short compared to other global culinary destinations. This discrepancy limits the accessibility of fine dining experiences to individuals with dietary restrictions. Nonetheless, there is a growing awareness among chefs and restaurateurs, inspiring them to explore innovative plant-based alternatives.

Overcoming Challenges and Misconceptions

Some Japanese restaurant owners face challenges when it comes to creating vegan dishes. The belief that vegan cooking is complex and restrictive prevails in many culinary establishments. Concerns about separate kitchens or the necessity to adhere to strict dietary rules akin to halal or kosher guidelines can hinder the adoption of vegetarian-friendly practices. However, by exploring alternative ingredients and realizing the potential of dashi fish stock substitutes, chefs can create exquisite and flavorsome vegan Japanese cuisine.

Promoting Vegetarian Tourism in Other Cities

Beyond Tokyo, other cities in Japan are also embracing the need for vegetarian options to cater to a broader audience. Sapporo, for instance, has launched an online video series showcasing vegetarian restaurants and cafes. By promoting these establishments, Sapporo aims to attract vegetarian tourists and enhance their culinary experience in the city. Similar efforts are being made in various regions across the country, fostering inclusivity and making Japan an attractive destination for all food enthusiasts.

Embracing Buddhist Vegetarian Cuisine

Japan’s long-standing Buddhist traditions have nurtured a unique form of vegetarian cuisine known as “shojin ryori.” This cuisine, characterized by its focus on seasonal vegetables and mindful preparation, has been enjoyed for centuries. While predominantly served in temples and specialized restaurants, there is a rising interest among individuals seeking to learn more about the philosophy and background of Buddhist vegetarian food. Cooking classes, like the one offered in Kamakura, provide opportunities for both vegetarians and those curious about the culinary traditions to experience the art of shojin ryori.

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The Continuous Improvement of Japan’s Culinary Diversity

Although challenges persist, Japan has made significant progress in expanding its culinary diversity. The inclusion of vegetarian and vegan options in regular restaurants is gradually becoming more commonplace. Tokyo, in particular, has witnessed positive changes in recent years, with an increasing number of establishments offering dedicated veggie dishes. As awareness grows and demand continues to rise, Japan has the potential to become as culinarily diverse as renowned food destinations like New York and London.


Japan’s culinary landscape is evolving to accommodate the dietary preferences of vegetarians and vegans. Tokyo and other cities are actively working toward providing an inclusive dining experience for tourists and locals alike. Through initiatives that promote vegetarian-friendly establishments, encourage innovative cooking techniques, and draw inspiration from Buddhist traditions, Japan is expanding its offerings to entice a broader audience. With these developments, visitors can now explore beyond sushi and immerse themselves in the diverse and vibrant world of Japanese cuisine.


1. Are there enough vegetarian and vegan options in Tokyo?

While Tokyo has made significant strides in offering vegetarian and vegan options, the availability is still relatively limited compared to other global cities. However, the city is actively working to increase the number of vegetarian-friendly establishments.

2. What is shojin ryori?

Shojin ryori is a form of vegetarian cuisine that has been practiced in Japan for hundreds of years, particularly within Buddhist temples. It emphasizes the use of seasonal vegetables and mindful preparation techniques.

3. Are there vegetarian options outside of Tokyo?

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Yes, efforts to provide vegetarian options extend beyond Tokyo. Other cities, such as Sapporo, are actively promoting vegetarian restaurants and cafes to cater to the needs of diverse visitors.

4. Can traditional Japanese dishes be modified to be vegan?

Yes, many traditional Japanese dishes can be modified to suit a vegan diet. Chefs are exploring ingredient substitutions and alternative cooking techniques to create flavorful vegan versions of classic Japanese dishes.

5. Is Japan becoming more accommodating to vegetarians and vegans?

Yes, Japan is gradually becoming more accommodating to vegetarians and vegans. The increased awareness and demand for plant-based options have inspired chefs and restaurateurs to explore innovative ways to cater to diverse dietary preferences.