Although it has gotten off to a slow start, veganism is finally starting to pick up in Tokyo – could this be the year it makes it into Japan’s mainstream?
The vegetarian and vegan store and restaurant search site Happy Cow now lists more than 300 restaurants and shops in Tokyo as “veg friendly”; there are a number of thriving Tokyo based online and offline vegan communities; and the city plays host to several successful vegan food-focused festivals throughout the year. Documentaries on veganism-related issues can now be watched on Netflix Japan, and recently the word “vegan” has even been uttered a few times on mainstream TV. But given the country’s reputation as a place where healthy diets featuring a lot of vegetables date back centuries, why did it take so long for Japan to catch up with the rest of the world?
Why Veganism Has Been Slow to Catch on in Japan
Up until recently there were not many Japan-specific resources available about veganism and the effects of animal agriculture on humans, animals, and the environment. Many Japanese vegans and vegetarians I have spoken to over the years only realized that cutting out animal products was an option after traveling overseas for work or study abroad programs.
Nadia McKechnie, the organizer of the Tokyo Vegan MeetUp believes that making Japan-specific information accessible is one of the reasons that veganism has grown in Japan over the last few years. After introducing Japanese organizer, Saori Kondo, to the group, membership almost tripled to 6,000-plus members. MeetUp information is now available in both English and Japanese, and there is also always a Japanese and English-speaking representative at events.
Homegrown activists are also starting to take the movement into their own hands and pushing for change by sharing information with those who may not go searching for it themselves. For Animals Japan – founded by husband and wife activist duo Ryuji and Lauren [they prefer to be identified just by their first names] and based in Yokohama – is a bilingual vegan outreach group that shows videos of the reality of animal-based food production in public places (you can often find the group showing footage on laptops and iPads outside Sakuragicho Station), and then engages with passers-by in conversation to encourage them to make more compassionate food choices.
According to Lauren, “Most people seem to have no idea how their food is made. It is a real shock for them [when they see the footage].” Ryuji added that “Japanese people assume everything is clean and orderly” so they do not realize that they are supporting the type of inhumane, unhygienic conditions that are “industry norms” in modern factory farming (which is how the majority of meat, dairy, and eggs are produced in Japan).
How the Japan Vegan Movement is Growing
With interest in veganism growing, the next logical step is for vegan options to expand to match demand. One individual focusing on making vegan options more accessible in Japan is Haruko Kawano of Vege Project, who started by negotiating with her university cafeteria at Kyoto University to offer a vegan lunch option. She explains that if there are more vegan options available, then people are more likely to choose to eat vegan, so she now advocates for vegan options at a number of institutions and restaurants across Japan. Haruko said that sometimes people “don’t care, [and] some laugh at us,” but with awareness of veganism in Japan growing, and the influx of foreign visitors over recent years, it is becoming harder to ignore the demand for vegan options.
To really gain traction, the movement certainly has its challenges – food corporations will not be quick to change their ways, and traditions don’t change easily. Furthermore, Japan has an age-old group mentality that does not encourage people to ask questions or stand up against established norms. However, Japanese activist and corporate relations manager of The Humane League Japan Maho Uehara is positive about the future and the likelihood of veganism gaining a foothold: “Unlike previous generations, these days younger people have more time and the luxury to think about others – and change is in their hands.”
Vegan in Tokyo? Here’s Where to Eat, Shop, and Learn More
Interested in finding out more about veganism, or just looking for places where you can eat vegan meals or buy vegan goods in Tokyo? We’ve got you covered…
Where to Eat
A cozy and eclectic vegan bar in the heart of Nakano. Has an extensive drinks menu (try the White Russian with almond milk!) and homemade comfort food. Also hosts several DJ events each month (check out their social media for further details) and has English-speaking staff.
For HalloGallo’s contact information visit our Concierge listing.
A relaxed izakaya-style space with a great selection of vegan food and wine. A good option in the Shibuya area for dinner with friends. The owner does not speak much English but there is an English menu available.
For Kibiko’s contact information visit our Concierge listing.
A reservation-only vegan restaurant with a focus on organic and healthy “bio” meals, just a few stops from Nerima on the Toei Oedo Line. The food is more than worthy of an Instagram post, and almost too beautiful to eat! The owner speaks a little English so reservations can be made in English.
For Lito Rukka’s contact information visit our Concierge listing.
Although not completely vegan, this Thai joint in Shimokitazawa offers vegan options and the owner understands what vegans do and don’t eat. The main meals are deliciously spicy, and the desserts are a must try! (The restaurant also homes a very chilled-out cat.)
For Titchai’s contact information visit our Concierge listing.
Where to Shop
An organic, vegetarian store that is a little out of the way in Saitama, but they also have a wonderful restaurant (with vegan options) which is set among the beautiful Chichibu countryside – it’s well worth a day trip! They also supply their products to supermarkets across Tokyo, such as National Azabu and Nissin, and have an online store.
Probably the most popular option for expats. This online store sells vegan and cruelty-free products including food, supplements, personal care products, and more. Use the search option to narrow your search down to vegan items. jp.iherb.com
Fully vegan online store which sells personal care items, as well as food and ingredients. The website is in Japanese but staff can speak English so feel free to contact them. I still think their cashew cheese is the best vegan cheese option currently available in Japan!
Health store in Shinjuku that sells a variety of natural food and cooking supplies. Although not entirely vegan, they have a great vegan selection, including instant ramen, ice-cream, cheese, and more. They also have a small selection of cruelty-free toiletries and cleaning products. www.lima.co.jp/shop-shinjuku.html
Where To Learn More
Animal Advocacy Japan
An information page dedicated to sharing Japan-focused animal-related information, such as news stories, articles, petitions, and events in English. Also has links to all of the local groups and charities working on vegan-related issues in Japan.
Cookery lessons for groups of three to six people in both English and Japanese. The clientele ranges from vegans to vegan-curious and from middle-aged people to kids. The focus is mainly on Japanese dishes using locally sourced and seasonal ingredients, made in the traditional way.
A Facebook community for discussion on all things vegan in Japan, from events and workshops to vegan options at restaurants and vegan finds in supermarkets and conbinis.