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Staying Vegan and Vegetarian in Japan While on a Budget

Being vegan or vegetarian while saving money in Japan can be tough. Here are some tips to help stay true to your lifestyle without breaking the bank.

By 4 min read

So you’re a vegan or vegetarian that just moved to Japan. There is so much to explore: entertainment, fashion, nature and delicious food. There’s just one problem: you’re in a country where vegan/vegetarian lifestyles aren’t very popular yet.

Unfortunately, substitutes you could find at home (Beyond Meat, Boca Burger, MorningStar Farms, etc.) will most likely be scarce, if at all available. Still, it’s not impossible to stick to some of your vegan/vegetarian routines—it just might be more expensive than what you’re used to.

Searching vegan and vegetarian food in Japan almost always lead to excellent cafes and restaurants lists. But what if you don’t have the kind of budget to eat out every day? It’s common for people to switch to pescetarianism in Japan to make life easier—but if you’re dedicated to your lifestyle choice, you’ll need to try a bit harder.

Convenience or inconvenience?

You can find vegan and organic foods at Natural Lawson.

Often, foreigners in Japan gravitate towards the konbini (convenience store) because they are everywhere, and there’s bound to be something substantial for them to eat. For vegans and vegetarians, choices are actually very slim. Besides snacks and a few onigiri (rice balls), almost everything has meat or animal product. Even the salads frequently have chicken or bacon mixed in.

One konbini that stands out from the rest in terms of choices is Natural Lawson, a more organic, health-oriented version of the regular Lawson. Here, you can find all kinds of vegan and vegetarian-friendly snacks, drinks, desserts and meals. And they’re sometimes labeled as such.

Keep in mind that while options are much better, the best items suited for vegans and vegetarians tend to be packaged in small portions. As a result, it can be easy to spend more than expected if you do all your shopping here.

Grocery shopping

Keep in mind that vegetables out of season will cost more.

For your main staples, the first place to go should be a supermarket, preferably a larger one. After that, it’s usually just a matter of assembling and cooking the ingredients yourself. You can easily find several kinds of vegetables, fruits, nuts, tofu and konjac—a popular meat substitute. One of the cheapest supermarkets is Hanamasa (肉のハナマサ), which sells bulk items. Another affordable option is MyBasket (まいばすけっと). They sell cheap fruits and veggies and have recently started promoting vegan and organic options like soy-based meat.

Another option is Costco, which sells vegan/vegetarian-friendly in bulk. They also have meat alternatives such as soy meat and lentil and carrot burgers. Their food courts also have vegan burgers. Some of my favorite items to pick up are giant bags of dried fruits and frozen foods to put in my lunches.

Specialty stores and online delivery

More reasons not to go outside.

Several specialty stores carry imported vegan or vegetarian food items. Seijo Ishii is a high-end grocery store, but you can still find deals, especially closing time. They also have a lot of imported goods. Personally, I love their selection of oatmeal. Kaldi is a well-known coffee store. They also sell foreign spices, sweets, pasta, wine, toppings, and the occasional vegan or vegetarian treat. For example, their vegan green curry noodle cup is just a little over ¥200!

If you live in a place that’s not as accessible, there are items you can order online from Costco or Kaldi, as well as Amazon or these organic and vegan sites:

Food label vocabulary

Some ingredients, such as egg and milk, must be labeled by law.

Now that you’ve acquired the physical and digital means to access vegan and vegetarian food, your last challenge before purchasing will be checking the ingredients. Japanese stores and restaurants have been better at clearly labeling menus and/or food packaging to inform customers of vegan and vegetarian options in recent years. Some ingredients are required by law to be listed due to food allergies, such as milk and egg.

A helpful guide that many vegans and vegetarians living in Japan often refer to when looking at food labels is the Is It Vegan Dictionary. This guide comes from a blog dedicated to residents of Japan living the vegan lifestyle. You can also check out our article on food allergies and dietary restrictions, including people following Halal.

Here are some words to get you started:

English Japanese Romaji
Milk 牛乳 gyuunyuu
Egg tamago
Beef 牛肉 gyu-niku
Chicken 鶏肉 tori-niku
Pork 豚肉 buta-niku

Learning to read labels is a lifesaver and a great motivation to study. Knowing the basic terms in Japanese off the top of your head will save you from a world of frustration. Especially when you are hungry and standing in the middle of the supermarket trying to make a decision.

Now that you’ve gathered your shopping locations, grocery staples, and vocabulary list, you are ready to tackle the Japanese world of vegan and vegetarianism on a budget. Don’t forget to treat yourself to vegan restaurants and cafes, too, once in a while. You’ve earned it.

Are you a vegan or vegetarian in Japan? What kind of tips can you offer to other foreigners? Let us know in the comments!

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