While it's notoriously difficult to avoid fish in Japan (thanks in large part to dashi broth and bonito flakes), there are a handful of options for vegetarians in Tokyo—if you know where to look.
Daigo specializes in fine dining vegetarian Japanese cuisine, offering kaiseki-style set menus extending from aperitif to dessert. Some dishes do contain small amounts of bonito flakes and eggs, so be sure to mention if you're strictly vegetarian or looking for vegan food. Sitting at the foot of Mount Atago in Minato City, Tokyo, the restaurant offers a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.
At this quintessential shojin ryori restaurant in Tokyo’s Taito ward, meals begin and end with tea—a gesture to foster community amongst diners. The focus is on fucha ryori, a Chinese-style subset of shojin ryori that features ample use of arrowroot starch (aka kuza) and plant-based oils. In addition to multi-course meals, you can also find boxed bento meals here.
This modern restaurant is in Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward, an area renowned for its anime culture. It's nestled inside the Akihabara food market and is especially difficult to find because the shop where it's located is labeled by the restaurant's tagline: Kamakura Fushikian. Diners order at the counter before taking a seat at the small, casual wooden tables. Although shojin ryori cuisine by definition isn’t always vegan, at Komaki Shokudo it is. All meals come with rice and miso soup in addition to four side dishes such as pumpkin, Japanese-style curry or green beans. Keep an eye out for cooking classes and lectures about the essentials of Japanese Buddhist cuisine, which are offered regularly.
4. T's TanTan
Tucked inside the Keiyo Street Food Hall in JR Tokyo station is T's TanTan, one of the best vegan ramen restaurants with a must-try black sesame version. You'll also find dishes with soya meat, along with gyozas (dumplings). Keep in mind that you need to buy a 140 yen ticket to go through the station and access the restaurant, and once you do you'll most likely be greeted by a line, but don't be deterred! It goes fast.
The mission of this tiny, counter-seat ramen joint is for everyone to "enjoy food with equality." Their kitchen is equipped with energy-efficient appliances and LED lighting, the space is accessible for guests in wheelchairs and parents with toddlers, the menu of Japanese food contains visuals to make it easy to understand and the vegetarian food is 100% halal—with a variety of vegan options to boot. Choose between spicy or normal ramen—regular, large or extra large in size. Reservations are available, but only for the 2500 yen set menu (includes drink and a dessert).
6. Milk Land
At this vegetarian (and vegan-friendly) restaurant near the Shinjuku station in Tokyo, you only need to make one choice: white or brown rice. The remainder of the menu is set and comes with various veggie and tofu dishes, along with miso soup. It's a bit difficult to find, as there's no English sign out front, but just keep an eye out for the 7Eleven and Kuroneko Yamato sign and enter through there. Rumor has it that the rice and soup refills are free, but we have yet to put that one to the test. Let us know if you do by tagging @gojourny!
7. Nagi Shokudo
As one of Shibuya's best vegetarian/vegan restaurants, Nagi Shokudo has crowds of locals flocking in for its 1000 yen set lunch menu, and at dinner for its à la carte offerings—including coconut curry, falafel, miso soup and deep-fried soy "meat." The space is small (around 20 seats max) and the entrance is hard to find (look below the stairs!), but it's definitely worth a visit—as much for the food as for the eclectic library of Japanese and English zines and soundtracks.
This organic vegetarian restaurant in Harajuku/Omotesando features a variety of fermented foods, along with tofu, brown rice, seaweed and seasonal vegetables. Be sure to check out the page in the menu dedicated to educating guests on where the individual ingredients are sourced from. Once you're done eating, pop by the attached Neal's Yard Remedies, a UK-based ethical skincare company (of which Brown Rice Cafe is a part of).
This Japanese curry chain has a separate vegetarian menu with a selection of veggie/vegan options, but you have to ask for it. Expect generous portions of curries containing eggplant, tomato, asparagus, mushrooms, spinach, okra, yam and more. Keep in mind, though, that while the standard menu has a vegetable curry option, it may contain meat. In order to get a vegetarian vegetable curry, it has to be ordered from the dedicated menu.
Located a short walk away from Tokyo's Shinjuku station, Tsunahachi is a cozy tempura restaurant that's been around since 1923. Although it's not a dedicated vegetarian restaurant, the staff will happily accommodate—especially since the tempura is cooked fresh right in front of you (these language tips will help).
Zen specializes in okonomiyaki, a cabbage or noodle-based savory pancake (wildly popular in Osaka) that's made to order—in fact, it translates to "how you like it." They have an English menu with a vegetarian section explaining each ingredient—and if you mention that you're vegetarian the chef will prepare yours without dashi.
12. Rainbow Raw Food
At this vegan restaurant in Shibuya, all ingredients are either raw or cooked at temperatures under 48°C to preserve their beneficial enzymes—with no artificial additives used in any of the dishes. In addition to raw puddings, ice creams and cakes, you'll also find organic wines, raw pad Thai salads, smoothies, lunch sets and price-fixed dinners.
13. Meu Nota
For eclectic, fusion vegan fare (think soybean hummus, taco rice and falafel) with a charming vibe, head to Meu Nota, a nondescript second-floor café outside the supermarket chain in Kōenji—a bustling shopping district. It's outfitted with antique furniture—and if you go on the weekends, there may even be live music.
14. Garden Cafe
Part-salon, part-spa, part-restaurant, Garden Cafe in Tokyo's Aoyama ward offers a variety of curry, soup and salad sets, along with sweets (think cherry and pistachio parfait and berry soy yogurt parfait), smoothies and teas. Cash only!
Tudore Tranquility is Japan's first upscale restaurant that focuses exclusively on plant-based cuisine. Chef Mamta Reid, who hails from South Africa, has created an eight-course experience in a decidedly luxurious setting. Over the course of two hours, diners may taste everything from black quinoa and chestnut soup with smoked paprika, to cashew mozzarella and lemongrass tofu steak. Reservations are required for dinner Wednesday through Saturday, but there's also smoothies on offer ever Tuesday and a Champagne brunch on Sundays.
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16. Sasaya Cafe
The motto at Sasaya Cafe is "enjoy eating the veggie way"—which is easy when the menu of sweet and savory breakfast, lunch and afternoon dishes includes things like scones and crumb cakes, curries and fried tempeh, hummus sandwiches and miso soup.
There's no shortage of seasonal vegetarian and vegan options at this Shibuya-based restaurant, but what they're best known for is their vegan sandwich lunch set, which also comes with soup and a drink. Other stand-outs from the menu? Tomato and soy "cheese" pasta, vegetable curry, minestrone soup and a pumpkin chocolate parfait.
18. Afuri Ramen
Afuri is one of the most popular ramen spots in Tokyo, with locations in Shinjuku, Harajuku and Roppongi. There's a variety of vegetarian and vegan options doctored up with konbu (seaweed), yuzu (Japanese citrus), vegetables and mixed greens. Guests select which version they'd like from a ticket vending machine, with the option to choose between hoso-Men noodles (made with whole grain flour and rye), temoni-men noodles (stickier wheat noodles made in a vacuum mixer without extra air) and konnyaku-men noodles (low-calorie, made with fiber-rich konjac)—all a slight departure from the typical soba variety.
19. Ain Soph
Ain Soph is a vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free-friendly restaurant with locations in Ginza, Shinjuku and nearby Ripple. The front entrance is small, so it's easy to miss, but once you spot it select your party number from an iPad outside and bring the ticket inside. Choose from a diverse menu of curries, Spanish omelettes (made with tofu and potatoes), vegan pancakes and soups doctored up with various toppings.
Revive Kitchen Three in the Aoyama/Omotesando neighborhood is focused on "modern shojin ryori" cuisine that also happens to be gluten free. Reservations are accepted for dinner but not for lunch, with the option to choose a set menu or à la carte. Don't miss out on their cauliflower, dill and nut salad with homemade rice flour bread.
For more information on all things vegetarian-friendly in Japan, check out our ultimate guide to going meat-free (including cultural perceptions, foods to watch out for and language tips to avoid miscommunication) as well as this guide to shojin ryori Japanese Buddhist cuisine.