Japan’s Most Vegan-Friendly Cities, Ranked

Kyoto is one of the most vegan-friendly cities in Japan
Kyoto is one of the most vegan-friendly cities in Japan | © Travel / Alamy Stock Photo
Tom Smith

Seafood sushi. Yakitori chicken. Wagyu beef. Pork-bone tonkotsu ramen. Hokkaido dairy. Japanese cuisine doesn’t exactly scream vegan. But the Land of the Rising Sun is also the Land of the Rising Vegan Scene, home to an ever-expanding collection of plant-powered restaurants up and down the country.

It’s not easy being a herbivore in Japan. Meat might be a recent trend, but seafood is a long-savoured staple. And while it’s not hard to differentiate tuna sushi from avocado and cucumber rolls, a sneaky ingredient by the name of dashi is much tougher to spot. This ubiquitous fish stock is used to season everything from ramen broths to plain rice, keeping vegans on their toes.

Japan hasn’t embraced veganism quite as quickly as its neighbours in the West. But the ancient tradition of shojin ryori – the animal-free cuisine that began with Buddhist monks – has been joined by a growing crop of contemporary cruelty-free diners that have imported their ideas from abroad. From the capital to Kyoto to the country’s answer to California, here are six Japanese cities travellers are likely to find themselves in, each ranked by vegan-friendliness – starting in the snowy (and meaty) north.

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The capital of Hokkaido – the northernmost of Japan’s four major islands – specialises in seafood, Japan’s best dairy and a dish called jingisukan (Genghis Khan), a beer hall favourite made of mutton. In other words, Sapporo isn’t exactly a vegan paradise. But a few blocks from Maruyama Park lies the Sapporo branch of the Itadakizen restaurant empire, whose organic menu relies on noodles, tofu and the regional veggies that flourish in Hokkaido’s luscious green fields. There’s no sugar, no chemicals and definitely no meat. Oh, and Sapporo’s most iconic export – the beer of the same name – is completely free of animal products. Cheers to that.

Sapporo is more known for seafood and dairy


Japan’s third-largest city is dubbed the nation’s kitchen for its love of food, which is so great they even came up with a new word – kuidaore – to describe their eat-til-you-drop gluttony. Osaka’s two favourite dishes are takoyaki (battered balls of octopus meat) and okonomiyaki (“as you like” egg pancakes). Sorry, herbivores. But the vegan influence of nearby Kyoto is starting to infuse eateries in this meat-loving metropolis. Paprika Shokudo in the Shinsaibashi shopping area is a Western-style restaurant with a Western-style menu – think dairy-free pizzas and parfait. Rocca serves a set menu of Japanese classics made of home-grown vegetables. And Megumi also does traditional Japanese minus the animal products, including an egg-less okonomiyaki.

Try an egg-less okonomiyaki in Osaka


Less than 90 minutes on the Shinkansen west of Osaka, another of Japan’s biggest cities is cultivating a burgeoning vegan scene. Markets and restaurants ring the Peace Memorial Park at Hiroshima’s heart, but vegans can ignore the oysters and the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki and sniff out one of the growing number of plant-based offerings instead. Steps from the Atomic Bomb Dome – the symbol of the World War II tragedy that’s synonymous with Hiroshima – is Nagataya, where long queues wait for a cruelty-free okonomiyaki. A few blocks away, Vegimo’s Scandinavian fit-out is reflected in the organic, European-style menu. And on the other side of the Aioi Bridge, MOS Burger – one of 1,300 franchises across Japan – grills a 100 percent plant-based burger, developed in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to cut down on their carbon footprint. No wonder it’s called it the Green Burger.


Kamakura feels like a chunk of California blended with Kyoto – plating up organic cuisine to match. The city’s two golden arcs of sand attract a stream of visitors an hour south of Tokyo throughout summer, and beachfront eateries like hemp-obsessed hippie café Magokoro cement that West Coast vibe. But scale the hillside temples that peer over the coast to discover shojin ryori, the centuries-old Buddhist tradition of vegan and vegetarian food. Kamakura Hachinoki isn’t quite that ancient – it has only sat here surrounded by Kamakura’s leafiest Zen temples since 1964 – but it still presents an authentic shojin ryori multi-course menu fit for a monk in an exclusive dining room shrouded in forest. And they’re only two of the many plant-based restaurants and cafés that make Kamakura Japan’s most underrated vegan destination.

Kamakura has a California vibe and authentic shojin ryori cuisine


As with all international trends imported to Japan, Tokyo stands at the cutting edge of the country’s burgeoning veganism. And while the list of plant-powered eateries can’t match similar sized super cities like London or New York, herbivores shouldn’t struggle to find vegan food in the Japanese capital. Ume onigiri (plum rice balls), mochi, dango and daifuku red bean paste snacks, daigaku imo (candied sweet potato) and meat-free macrobiotic bowls are staples at Tokyo’s depachika underground food halls and 24/7 konbini convenience stores. Indeed, Vegan Store became Tokyo’s first fully plant-based konbini when it opened its blond timber doors in the kitchenware district of Kappabashi in 2019. And vegans don’t have to miss out on the alleyways of Omoide Yokocho – the food stalls here grill mushrooms, tofu and peppers alongside the meat.

Naturally, Tokyo also boasts the country’s largest collection of meat-free restaurants. T’s Tantan is an institution inside the bowels of Tokyo station, scooping out huge bowls of vegan ramen based on sesame and peanuts rather than dashi fish stock. 8ablish in Minato City is an upscale option with Mediterranean bent – perfect for travellers who need a break from rice and veggies with tofu ravioli or tempeh souvlaki. Tudore Tranquility’s eight-course degustation is as serene as the name suggests. The Ain Soph chain grills droolworthy burgers across the city. And that’s just the start of Tokyo’s rapidly evolving vegan landscape.

Tuck into some grilled mochi in Tokyo


Japan’s imperial capital doesn’t just give visitors a taste of feudal Japan – it also plates up the country’s best vegan cuisine. The buffet of Buddhist temples that make Kyoto famous also explain the smorgasbord of meat-free meals on its menu. Within the grounds of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Tenryuji Temple, Shigetsu represents the most special vegan dining experience anywhere in the entire country, dishing up refined shojin ryori in traditional tatami rooms overlooking the garden’s koi pond.

Kyoto’s vegan offering doesn’t end there. Many regular restaurants provide oshinko maki (pickled vegetable sushi) and tempura vegetables for herbivores, making the most of Kyoto’s nutrient-rich kyoyasai veggies. The stalls of the must-visit Nishiki Market brim with soy ice cream, roasted rice skewers and pickled plants. Mumokuteki does Western fusion on Teramachi shopping street, while Little Heaven near Katabiranotsuji station wraps sans-seafood sushi. Tousuiro delivers upscale kaiseki sets showcasing tofu, which was introduced to Japan by Zen Buddhist monks late in the eighth century, when Kyoto’s neighbour Nara was the capital. Speaking of Nara, the temples in that region offer more affordable shojin ryori than Kyoto itself, budget-conscious fine diners should note.

A visit to Nishiki Market is a must when in Kyoto

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