With its love of fish and the seemingly inescapable presence of ingredients like dashi (fish and kelp soup stock) and bonito, Japan doesn’t exactly have the best reputation as a vegan-friendly destination. However, if you know where to look you can find some fantastic plant-based options here.
In this series, I’ll introduce some of the best places to find vegan food in cities across Japan, all the way from Okinawa to Hokkaido. To kick things off we’ll start down south on the sunny beaches of Okinawa, so while you’re traveling around the prefecture’s main island, be sure to check out some of these terrific vegan-friendly eateries.
1. Ukishima Garden, Naha
This upmarket establishment is conveniently located in the heart of Naha, just south of the famous Kokusaidori (International Road). Ukishima Garden offers a completely vegan menu, which is also free of additives and genetically modified ingredients. It uses local vegetables and grains in its dishes.
The five- and seven-course set dinner menus are a great way to sample a variety of local dishes and ingredients such as goya (bitter melon) and mozuku seaweed. They are a little expensive, but well worth the cost. A range of à la carte options is also available for diners on a budget. Whichever option you go for, you’re guaranteed to get a thoughtfully presented and delicious meal. The herb cutlet in particular is seasoned beautifully and the sushi appetizers are a fantastic animal-friendly version of the real thing. The restaurant also has a great selection of organic wines to accompany your food.
- Location: Just off Kokusaidori
- Address: 2-12-3 Matsuo, Naha
- Tel: 098-943-2100
- Opening hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; Dinner 6-10 p.m. Closed on Thursdays. Reservations recommended.
2. Re:Food, Chatan
Re:Food is an adorable café and ice cream parlor offering treats that are both vegan and gluten-free. Its close proximity to the beach makes it an ideal place to drop by on one of Okinawa’s many gorgeous sunny days. The savory menu is slightly limited with just four soup sets available, however the real draw here is the gelato ice cream. There’s a great selection of flavors on offer, including staples such as chocolate and strawberry as well as more uniquely Japanese flavors like beniimo (purple sweet potato) and matcha green tea.
A double scoop is only slightly more expensive than a single, so it’s definitely worth trying a couple of different flavors. If you’re not sure which to pick, the staff are happy to give you a taste to help you make up your mind! My personal favorite is the houjicha (roasted green tea) ice cream — I’ve yet to find another café that does a vegan version. Re:Food also has a small health food shop on site selling a variety of packaged foods and ingredients.
- Location: Near Araha Beach
- Address: 1-17-11, Kitamae, Chatan
- Tel: 098-989-6342
- Opening hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Closed on Thursdays
3. Rockers Café, American Village
Located on the seafront in Chatan, Rockers Café is a casual bar and restaurant that also doubles as a music venue. Unlike the other places on this list, Rockers does serve non-vegetarian food. Their aim is to provide a space where vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters can all enjoy meals together without anyone feeling like they’re missing out.
Most dishes on the menu offer the choice between a vegan version and a meat-based version, so it’s a great venue if you’re travelling with non-vegan friends. Options include burgers, curries, burritos, taco rice, lasagne and sandwiches, as well as a selection of cakes and cookies available for dessert or to take out. Everything is reasonably priced and the portion sizes are pretty generous, too.
Unlike many restaurants that serve meat, Rockers has clearly put a lot of thought into its vegan options and eating here doesn’t feel like a compromise. Notable dishes include the teriyaki burger laden with homemade vegan mayonnaise and the curry plate, which is bursting with different flavors and textures.
- Location: In the Depot Island Shopping Center in American Village
- Address: 2F Oak Fashion Building, 9-39 Mihama, Chatan
- Tel: 098-923-4178
- Opening hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. (11 p.m. on Saturdays). Closed on Wednesdays
4. Tami’s Kitchen, American Village
With a giant billboard screaming “Vegan Café” on the side of the building, Tami’s Kitchen is hard to miss. Recently refurbished, it offers a light and airy space right by American Village’s iconic Ferris wheel. From its vantage point on the second floor, the restaurant’s outdoor terrace is a great place to soak up the sun and watch the goings-on in this popular tourist spot.
Tami’s reasonably priced menu is 100 percent vegan and also indicates what meals are gluten free. There are a variety of burgers available as well as a daily lunch plate that gives you the chance to try a selection of smaller dishes. There are slightly more options available at dinner, including several pasta dishes. For dessert, there’s a rotating choice of cakes and their popular soft-serve ice cream — make sure you pay the extra ¥50 for the chocolate sauce-covered version!
- Location: By the Ferris wheel in American Village
- Address: 15-69 Mihama, Chatan
- Tel: 098-926-2551
- Opening hours: Monday & Wednesday-Friday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. & 6-9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Closed on Tuesdays
If you’re interested to try out some other veg-friendly dining spots in this southern island, here are a few that were on our list but we haven’t made it to — yet!
- Imacoco. A vegan and gluten-free cafe located in Takahara (map).
- LaLa Zorba. An Asian vegan restaurant in Naha (map).
- Mana. A vegan lunch cafe in Naha (map).
- plant-HOLIC. A vegan and gluten-free cafe in Ginowan, with an emphasis on raw food (map).
Enjoy your plant-based eating adventures on this beautiful island!
Are there any great vegan-friendly spots in Okinawa that we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments!