While dietary restrictions are not something I commonly talk about on this blog (as it is predominately about cosplay), my being sort-of vegetarian had a surprisingly significant impact on my recent trip to Japan and I thought it was worth discussion. For clarification, I say sort-of vegetarian because I can still eat fish and chicken, though I try to avoid them when possible. Red meat is a complete no-go, however. By no means is this article an attempt to promote one lifestyle over another, the goal is simply to provide advice for those about to travel to Japan with a dietary restriction regardless of the reasoning behind it. Because Japan has a tendency to have animal products in food that may not be as obvious (such as sauces containing fish) if you have a severe allergy it may be wise to have a card with you explaining your concern in Japanese that you can show to wait staff [Just Hungry has a list of printable cards http://justhungry.com/japan-dining-out-cards ].
Depending on your country of origin you may need to request a vegetarian meal option on the flight to and from Japan. We flew on ANA and were very impressed with the service. There were a huge variety of meal options- from lacto ovo vegetarian (which I chose) to raw vegan- that could be selected online after purchasing the ticket. This does have to be done in advance so they can have the food ready for the flight, so be sure to take care of it as quickly as possible. We also called to confirm the week before our departure to avoid any confusion.
I HIGHLY recommend planning out your food itinerary before you get to Japan. At first glance this may seem a bit excessive, but because vegetarian options are so difficult to come by it is a lifesaver to have a list of nearby locations on hand. Restaurants in Japan tend to focus on specialty dishes- for example a beef bowl eatery that serves the most perfect beef bowl in the world- and has nothing else on the menu. Since our trip was organized by location, for example: Monday was spent in Akihabara, we made a list of potential places to eat in Akihabara to take with us. There are numerous vegetarian blogs that go in depth on specific restaurants, we also found vegetarian J-Vloggers such as Sharmander and Cakes with Faces very helpful.
Here are a handful of restaurants that we went to in Tokyo, most are on the fast food/inexpensive side:
Additionally, most cheaper conveyor belt sushi type restaurants have vegetarian options that can be ordered through a touch screen menu at the table. Many of these places do have an English language setting, so ordering via touchscreen is very easy.
I can’t talk about food in Japan without mentioning convenience stores. Referred to as konbini, convenience stores are everywhere in Japan and sell a wide variety of prepackaged food that is much higher in quality than we are accustomed to in the US. There was a Family Mart across the street from our hotel that we got breakfast from nearly every day. My usual go-to was an egg-salad sandwich and some type of fruit. I made sure to eat a filling breakfast since I knew that finding vegetarian places to eat later was difficult.
Japan has an enormous variety of delicious and unique dishes. Researching vegetarian options and planning meals in advance definitely made out trip much smoother and enjoyable. I hope this article aided you in planning for your future travel to Japan! If you have any vegetarian-friendly restaurants you would like to recommend, please feel welcome to mention them in the comments.