A Vegetarian’s Guide to Japan Part 1

  • HOW TO

    So… you’re a vegetarian? Awesome! Welcome to the club!

    You live in/ are visiting Japan; where 90% of all dishes are meat based and most restaurants don’t speak English? Bit less awesome.

    Cheer up, though. It’s not the end of the world. Just by following a few simple and easy tips you can have the time of your life in this wonderfully diverse and breathtaking country.

    Part One of this article focuses on eating on the go, when you do not have specific nearby vegetarian/ vegan restaurants handy (actually a pretty common occurrence if you step outside the ridiculous convenience of the major metropolitan cities such as Tokyo and Osaka).

    Please note that most food items in Japan (even if not explicitly stated) do contain some measure of Animal Stock/ Fat. This guide is for the casual vegetarian only (Sorry all you vegans!). I will be doing a guide aimed at vegan living in Japan in the near future, because that is a whole other subject.

    Now, Hajimemashoo! (Let’s begin!).

    The main thing you are going to need is the vocabulary. The following phrases will ordinarily be more than enough to get you your vegetarian burger/ sandwich or pizza.


    The Two Most Important Words for a Foreigner:

    Don’t know any Japanese? Don’t want to memorize complicated sentences?

    Then, “Niku Nashi” (lit. no meat)- These two words will prove to be your salvation. Every Western/ Fast food restaurant (McDonalds, Ringer Hut, Subway, Italian places etc.) will almost always oblige. All you have to do is say the magic words:

    Niku nashi

    Certain ‘traditional’ Japanese restaurants will oblige you as well, but don’t always count on this. However, on the upside, western-style restaurants or fast-food joints can be found all over Japan, even in the smaller towns and ‘village-esque’ areas such as Oita or Beppu.

    Other Vocabulary/ Phrases:

    Should you not want fish or other seafood and eggs, you can also use the following phrases:

    “Sumimasen, watashi wa vegetarian (begetarian) nan desu.” .
    “Niku to Shifuudo to (pronounced:tou) Tamago o tabemasen.” (I do not eat meat, seafood and eggs)
    “Kono ryori ni niku ga haitte imasu ka?” – You can not substitute either shifuudo or tamago for niku as well.
    “Kono ryouri wa niku wo iranaide tsukuremasuka.? – You can substitute either shifuudo or tamago for niku as well.
    “Niku/ Sakana/ Tamago ga dame desu.” (a simpler phrase, with ‘dame desu’ meaning ‘it’s a no’).
    Yasai dake aru ryouri ga arimasuka?
    (if it’s a no or a ‘iie’> point to a menu item which you fancy and say the following)
    You may hear the phrase ‘irenai’ or ‘hairanai’ in the counter person’s response. Irenai/ Hairanai are verbs that basically mean ‘without putting’.

    At the end

    On a final note, make sure to go in with a smile and a friendly demeanor. Indignation or attitude at the lack of Vegetarian dishes is not going to help you. Body language, on the other hand, can be a life saver– so practice the pointing and gesturing. Also, you should probably follow up any encounter with a small bow and a ‘Arigatou Gozaimasu’ (lit. Thank you very much).

    Coming up next> Vegetarian/ Vegan Options in Japan (if you’re willing to look for them)

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