There is quite a lot of vegan food available in Japanese convenience stores. In fact, probably more than in Western style convenience stores. The best place to head is the refrigerated section containing the rice balls and fresh food. You probably shouldn’t waste your time staring at the bento, fried food, oden, bread/pastry and chocolate sections.
Below are some of the vegan foods we have found which you can use as a general guide. The products available at a particular store will vary according to location and season. If we are aware that a product at a certain store is not vegan, we have noted this. BUT we have not checked the labels of each product at each store (7-11, Lawson, Family Mart etc.), so unfortunately you will still need to check them.
Each major chain of convenience stores also has a website where you can find information in Japanese about its products, including allergen information about the unpackaged food it sells (e.g. fried food). Most of the pictures below are from the convenience store websites.
Rice Balls (Onigiri)
Plain rice ball
7-11 has a plain rice ball that only contains rice, salt, vinegar and oil.
Seaweed (Wakame) rice ball
7-11 also sells a wakame rice ball which looks like the plain rice ball except there are small pieces of seaweed mixed into the rice. The label says わかめ. This rice ball contains ‘dashi’, which is likely to be fish dashi.
Seaweed (Kombu) rice ball
Look for 昆布 or こんぶ.
Note the rice ball sold at Family Mart stores (below) contains fish according to their website.
Plum (Umeboshi) rice ball
Look for うめ or 梅 (梅干 or 梅ぼし)
Red bean (Adzuki) rice ball
Inari zushi (rice in a tofu pocket) is often available in convenience stores.
Fermented soy bean (Natto) roll
Note the natto roll at 7-11 (below) contains fish according to their website. The natto roll at Family Mart also contains fish (katsuo).
You can buy ready to eat soba (buckwheat noodles – on the left hand side below) and udon (wheat noodles – on the right hand side below) in Japanese convenience stores. These noodles are usually vegan, just check for egg white (卵白).
The dipping sauce that comes with the noodles will almost certainly not be vegan. You can replace the sauce with soy sauce. Soy sauce may be available at the convenience store counter, but it can be useful to carry your own with you. You can buy very small bottles of soy sauce at supermarkets.
Vegan salads are available at most convenience stores, however you should check the salad carefully before you buy it because there are often small pieces of meat or egg included in the salad. You also need to be careful with the dressing. Vegan dressing is difficult to find in Japan, not only in convenience store salads/sachets, but also in supermarkets and restaurants. It can be a good idea to carry your own salad dressing with you. Choose something that does not need refrigeration, such as balsamic vinegar.
Many convenience stores also sell bags of salad and whole tomatoes, if you would like to make the salad yourself.
Some stores also have a cup with things like carrot, cucumber and dip. Note the dip at Family Mart stores (see picture below) contains mayonnaise and cod roe.
This one is a ‘maybe’. According to the 7-11 and Family Mart allergen charts it is ok, but as always the oil and seasoning used may be an issue.
Available in most convenience stores, but the best bets are 7-11 and Family Mart. 7-11 also sells steamed broad beans which are vegan (just beans and salt).
You can buy packaged beans at many convenience stores. Below are some examples from Family Mart.
Note the red kidney beans (kintokimame or 金時) and black beans (Kuromame or 黒豆) sold at 7-11 appear to be vegan. The yasaimame (vegetables and beans) sold at 7-11 contains fish extract, so are not vegan.
Food to make a meal!
If you are able to cook for yourself while you are in Japan it is handy to know that you can buy the ingredients to make a basic vegan meal – vegetables, tofu and cooked rice – at a convenience store! There are often bags of cut vegetables as well as whole vegetables like potatoes, carrots and eggplants. You can also find packaged cooked vegetables like sweet potato and pumpkin. Note the packaged pumpkin at 7-11 contains dashi and egg, so is not vegan.
Many convenience stores sell a good range of fruit, including bananas, frozen blueberries, frozen mango, kiwifruit and pineapple. Some is cut and packaged, while some is whole.
Most convenience stores have a good selection of nuts, for example peanuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios, walnuts and chestnuts. Check the package to make sure you are just buying nuts, as sometimes nuts are sold mixed with small dried fish and other non-vegan ingredients. 7-11 also has whole boiled peanuts in shells in its refrigerated section.
Steamed bun filled with sweet bean paste (あんまん – Anman)
Near the convenience store counter you can find a warming oven containing anman and nikuman (steamed buns filled with meat).
Anman are in the ‘maybe’ category. According to the Family Mart and 7-11 allergy charts they do not contain egg or milk BUT it is possible that lard or shortening is used. The anman at Lawson contains milk.
Red bean (Azuki) ice cream
Red bean ‘ice cream’ is vegan. The ingredients of the one below are: sugar, adzuki beans, starch syrup, cornstarch (non-genetically modified corn) and salt.
Most jelly in Japan is made with agar (seaweed) rather than gelatine, although you should still check the list of ingredients. Look for:
gelatine ゼラチン zerachin
agar agar 天草 / 寒天 てんぐさ / かんてん tengusa / kanten
gelling/setting agent ゲル化剤 gerukazai (used for both animal and plant sources)
Japanese style sweets
You can usually find traditional style Japanese sweets in convenience stores. For example, daifuku, anmitsu (on left side below – check for honey) and zenzai (on right side below):