With hundreds of vegan restaurants around Japan, I have made it my mission to eat at as many of them as possible during the past seven years here. While there is no way to fit all these restaurants into one article, if you’re in or planning to visit one of these major Japanese cities and are looking for a plant-based meal to remember, here are some of my all-time favorites from north to south.
1. Itadakizen(Sapporo, Hokkaido)
The Sapporo branch of the small Itadakizen chain is a blissful spot to warm up after facing the city’s cold winds. Conveniently located near Maruyama Park, the traditional Japanese vegan food, lovely presentation and friendly staff are satisfying to the soul. Visitors on a budget should check this spot out for lunch rather than dinner, as in the evening courses start at around ¥4,000, although the vegan sushi set is worth the splurge. One of the specialties is stewed peanuts, which are so good and unusual that you might find yourself ordering an extra bowl of them.
- Where: Maruyama Koen station
- Address: 23-2-1 Minami 2 Jonishi, Chuo-ku, Sapporo
- Tel: 011-676-8436
- Open: Tue-Fri 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. & 5-9 p.m., Sat 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Reservations recommended.
2. 8ablish (Tokyo)
Tokyo has no shortage of vegan restaurants, but the one I find myself returning to most often is 8ablish. The inventive menu changes daily and is always something to look forward to, offering a nice break from the more traditional Japanese vegan menus that often revolve around brown rice, miso soup and veggies. Its popular version of souvlaki (a Greek kebab dish) is reinvented using tempeh, nicely seared with spices and herbs. The dinner menu is expansive and beautifully presented — with prices to match. One of the standouts on a recent visit was the tofu ricotta ravioli in a caper-laced sauce, matched with a nice bio white wine. Make sure to try the desserts, and perhaps pick up a few muffins for an afternoon snack.
- Where: Omotesando station
- Address: 2F 5-10-17, Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo
- Tel: 03-6805-0597
- Open: Mon-Fri 9 a.m.-4 p.m. & 6-11:30 p.m., Sat 9 a.m.-11:30 p.m., Sun 9 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
If you want to discover more awesome vegan restaurants in Tokyo, check out my Tokyo Vegan Guide! It contains recommendations for over 50 different restaurants, as well as sightseeing tips and other useful info for plant-based foodies.
3. Ukishima Garden (Kyoto)
Although Kyoto has several standout vegan restaurants and cafés, Ukishima remains my favorite. Housed in a traditional machiya, or tea house, the elegant Japanese garden, sleek wood counters and antique lamps create a haven in which to enjoy the entirely vegan menu. The millet and Kyoto vegetable gratin combines caramelized seasonal veggies with a rich, browned covering, and the wafting smell of tantanmen (Szechuan noodle dish with sesame paste and chili oil) alone may tempt you back for a second round. The staff speak English and are always happy to recommend good sake or wine pairings to go with your meal. It’s a bit pricy, but to be honest… YOLO.
- Where: Shijo Karasuma or Kawaramachi stations
- Address: 543 Asakuracho, Nagagyo-ku, Kyoto
- Tel: 075-754-8333
- Open: (Dinner) Daily (except Wed) 5-9 p.m., (lunch) Sat & Sun 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
4. Paprika Shokudo (Osaka)
The “Nation’s Kitchen” can be a frustrating city for vegans, filled as it is with tempting smells and street food that pushes the boundaries of flavor and imagination, most of which — sadly — involve animal products of some kind. However the kabayaki-style “eel,” dairy-free pizzas and tofu cheesecake at Paprika never fail to put a smile on my face. The one drawback is that during the evening it has a ¥300-per-person seating charge, which is a bit unusual. If you want to avoid it, then pass by for lunch instead.
- Where: Shinsaibashi station
- Address: 1-9-9 Shinmachi, Nishi-ku, Osaka
- Tel: 06-6599-9788
- Open: Daily (except lunch Mon & Thu) 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. & 5:30-10 p.m.
Conveniently located in the Tenjin shopping district, Rota is a welcome addition to Fukuoka’s limited vegan-friendly offerings. Focusing on macrobiotic principles and supposedly health-and-beauty enhancing ingredients, you can have the pleasure of feeling both full and virtuous at the same time. I am a particular fan of the hayashi (hashed) rice (a stew resembling a thick, satisfying demi-glace sauce) and the shop’s “burger” is quite impressive as well. If it isn’t sold out, get a slice of the lemon cheesecake, although be prepared for the sweetness level to be more subtle than usual. It also offers vegan bento to go, in case you prefer to have a picnic in one of the nearby parks overlooking the river.
- Where: Tenjin station
- Address: 1-12-2 Daimyo, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka
- Tel: 092-738-1414
- Open: Daily (except Wed) 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Fri & Sat 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
6. Ukishima Garden (Naha, Okinawa)
I swear that I am not being paid by the owners of Ukishima Garden, but while there are a couple truly lovely vegan joints around Okinawa (in particular Niffera), in the center of Naha my go-to is this cute spot. The dinner courses are a nice vegan introduction to traditional Okinawan cuisine and ingredients — some of which may take those unfamiliar with the local cuisine by surprise, such as mozuku seaweed and goya, an acrid tasting green gourd otherwise known as bitter melon. It’s best to reserve a table during dinner hours to avoid disappointment. During lunch, the taco rice is an excellent choice, with a proper kick of spice and topped with crunchy almond crumbles.
- Where: Near Kokusai Dori
- Address: 2-12-3 Matsuo, Naha, Okinawa
- Tel: 098-943-2100
- Open: Daily (except Thu), 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. & 6-9 p.m.
Happy travels to my fellow vegans and plant-based foodies, and enjoy eating your way around Japan!
Have you eaten vegan in Japan? Where are your top spots? Let us know in the comments below!