Our aim is simple: to help English speaking vegans in Japan stay vegan.
Being vegan in Japan, while far from impossible, presents new challenges to even the most experienced vegan. For example, food that is usually vegan, like bread, suddenly contains animal products. Food labels also become practically unreadable unless you have a good understanding of Japanese, including knowledge of many complex kanji. Navigating the local supermarket or convenience store can become a matter of guesswork, which is clearly less than ideal for a vegan.
We would like to help by sharing the information we have gathered so that others don’t have to ‘reinvent the wheel’. There is a lot of great vegan food here, but it is often difficult for foreigners to identify, simply because they don’t have a good enough understanding of Japanese. We want to help break through the language barrier.
Please note this site is not intended to be a vegan restaurant guide – that niche is happily filled by many good resources, such as HappyCow, Vegewel, which also has both an English and a Japanese Facebook page, and Hachidory (for those that read Japanese), as well as the Tokyo Vegan Guide book, and even the “vegan” tag on the Metropolis magazine website.
Where information appears to be lacking is in relation to packaged and convenience foods, as well as cooking ingredients (for those of us living in Japan and cooking for ourselves). While there is quite a lot of general information around about the presence of animal products in almost everything in Japan, there is little practical information about the specific products that are and aren’t vegan. We want to try to help fill that gap.
We have started with some of the most common foods in Japan. You will see there are photos of the products to make them easier to recognise, as well as translations of the ingredient panels. We have included products that you may expect to be vegan, but which aren’t. Unfortunately there are some mystery ingredients like ‘flavouring’ that we cannot identify.
In addition, emulsifiers can be made of different things, including plants, dairy, or occasionally meat ingredients like pork. It’s not typical for Japanese labels to identify what source their emulsifier comes from, unless it’s made of soy. In that case it will often read 乳化剤、大豆由来/nyuukazai, daizu yuurai, or emulsifier-soy origin.
Also, unfortunately white sugar in Japan is still sometimes made using the old method of whitening using animal bone char as a filter to whiten the sugar. The animal bone char does not remain as an ingredient in the final product, so it’s not possible to tell if bone char was used by reading the label on the product. Where we have any information on if bone char was used or not, we will include it in our description of the product. There is no current consensus in vegan groups in Japan on if sugar made with bone char is non-vegan or not. You will therefore find white sugar in the items recommended in vegan Facebook Japan-related groups, at items sold at some vegan festivals (but not all) and in items marked as vegan at some restaurants (but not all, especially not at macrobiotic restaurants or 100% vegan restaurants).
As in other countries, it is sometimes necessary to contact the manufacturer to determine whether a product is vegan. This is something we’re working on also.
As time goes on this site will continue to grow, so please check in with us every so often as well as join us at our Facebook group Is it vegan? (Japan) for more up-to-the moment information, as well as to ask if specific products are vegan.
We hope we can help you stay vegan while in Japan.