In Japan you can find many plant-based dairy alternatives, including soy milk, plant-based margarine, soy yoghurt, soy cream and almond milk. Below are some examples of the products available.
Some foods contain flavouring and emulsifiers which may be animal-derived or sugar that may be bone-char processed. We have marked below wherever we have information on how these ingredients were made.
In Tokyo, the grocery store National Azabu in Hiroo has probably the largest selection of mostly imported, plant-based milks in the country. Their rotating selection often includes those that are nearly impossible to find elsewhere except in natural food stores such as hemp and hazelnut milk. Prices may be higher than at other stores.
Where vegans have to be careful is in relation to additives like:
• emulsifier (乳化剤 – nyūkazai)
• calcium lactate (乳酸カルシウム or 乳酸Ca – nyūsan karushiumu)
• flavouring (香料 – kōryō)
• stabilizing agent (安定剤 – antei-zai)
To the left you can see emulsifier, calcium lactate and flavouring in the list of ingredients of one of the most common brands of soy milk in Japan (in this case coffee flavoured). These additives are in many brands of soy milk, so it is best to contact the manufacturer to check whether they are plant or animal derived.
If you want to be 100% certain the soy milk is vegan, you should look for ‘non-adjusted’ soy milk (無調整豆乳- mu chōsei tōnyū). This type of soy milk only contains soy beans and can even be used to make tofu! If you find the consistency is a little too thick, just add some water. Please note that this type of soy milk is not calcium fortified. Below are some brands of non-adjusted soy milk we have found:
• Meiraku 100% Certified Organic Soy Milk/有機豆乳. Made by Sujahta. Ingredients: Organic soy beans (non-genetically modified).
Instructions for making this soy milk into tofu at home can be found here (Japanese)
• Drinkable Soy/飲む大豆. Made by Sujahta. Ingredients: Soybean flour (USA or Canada) (not genetically modified). Additional information: Dietary fiber, soy isoflavone, soy protein, lecithin are all included. The thin skin of the soybean has been removed.
• Marusan Unsweetened Certified Organic Soy Milk/有機豆乳無調整. Ingredients: Organic soy beans (non-genetically modified).
Marusan currently sells more than twenty types of soy milk, including non-adjusted, organic, coffee, and fruit flavors, but some use non-vegan ingredients like honey. Check the ingredients on their website here (Japanese).
Below are some examples of ‘adjusted’ soy milk (調整豆乳 – chōsei tōnyū). As we said above, if you want to make sure the soy milk is vegan, you should contact the manufacturer to check whether any of the ingredients are derived from animals.
• Meiraku Adjusted Soy Milk. Made by Sujahta. Ingredients: Organic soybean (Canada or USA) (not genetically modified), vegetable oils and fats, sugar, salt, calcium carbonate, emulsifier, flavouring, calcium phosphate, stabilizer (thickening polysaccharide). Additional information: Uses 100% organic soybeans. Contains calcium equivalent to milk (220 mg per 200 ml). Contains soybean derived GABA.
Below are some examples of flavoured adjusted soy milks.
•Marusan Malt Soy Milk Beverage/麦芽豆乳飲料. Ingredients: Sugars (glucose-fructose syrup, starch syrup), soybeans (not genetically modified), vegetable oils, malt extracts, coffee extract powder, salt / calcium lactate. Additional information: It has coffee extract powder added so it tastes like soy coffee.
• Kikkoman Coffee Flavoured Soy Milk/キッコーマン麦芽コーヒー. Ingredients: Soy beans (from Canada) (non-genetically modified), sugar, malt extract, rice oil, coffee extract, chicory extract, dextrin, sun-dried salt, caramel colour, flavouring, calcium lactate, emulsifier, thickener (carrageenan – from red seaweed).
There are many interesting flavours of this soy milk available in Japan. In the Q & A section of their website the company has confirmed that their soy milk does not contain any milk products and that the emulsifier is plant-based. The sugar that they use for their drinks is bone char processed. Confirmed non-vegan flavors are:
Matcha: has shellfish calcium
Black sesame: has honey
Cocoa: has lanolin (source of Vitamin D)
The fruits mix, extremely concentrated soy milk (特濃調製豆乳 1L/200ml), and calorie off prepared soy milk (カロリーオフ調製豆乳 1L/200ml) all contain Vitamin D. Since the Vitamin D in the cocoa-flavored soy milk is from lanolin, the Vitamin D in these other three flavors may be obtained from lanolin as well.
• Kikkoman Soy Presso Coffee Flavoured Soy Milk・キッコーマンソイブレンドテイスト ソイプレッソ Ingredients: Soy beans (from Canada) (non-genetically modified), sugar, coffee, rice oil, sun-dried salt, flavouring, calcium lactate, emulsifier, thickener (carrageenan – from red seaweed).
Kikkoman has confirmed that the sugar they use in their soy milks is bone-char processed.
Sujahta also makes small, 330 ml containers of flavoured soy milks. The product page for all their soymilks is here.
Their flavoured soy milks can be found in supermarkets. Some flavours occasionally turn up in convenience stores or vending machine. Current flavors are amazake (contains less than 0.1% alcohol), kinako roasted soybean flour, green mix, banana and houjicha roasted green tea.
•Houjicha soymilk beverage with organic soybeans/有機大豆使用 ほうじ茶 豆乳飲料. Ingredients: Raw materials organic soybean (not genetically modified), sugar (glucose fructose liquid sugar, sugar), dietary fiber, organic houjicha powder, sea salt / caramel pigment, stabilizer (thickening polysaccharide), flavouring
Vegan margarine is not the easiest thing to find in Japan, but there are a few options. We’ve listed them below. As always, dairy products and gelatine are the problem. Here is an example of regular margarine containing gelatine (the third ingredient):
• Marin Foods My Tasty Vegan Soft. Ingredients: Digestion resistant dextrin, vegetable oil, refined processed oil, salt, emulsifier, spices, coloring (carotin). Additional information from their website: “It is a healthy vegan spread that does not use animal origin ingredients nor use 27 allergenic ingredients. (The same line manufactures products that include milk and soy, but we practice a thorough cleaning before making this vegan soft.) It has reduced cholesterol, and 60% less calories compared to soft-type margarine products based on the standard tables of food composition in Japan. Dietary fibers that are difficult to take with the ordinary diet are included in this vegan soft.” This product can frequently be found at AEON supermarkets.
Meiji makes a margarine that appears possibly to be vegan.
•Meiji Cake Margarine/明治ケーキマーガリン. Ingredients: Edible vegetable oils and fats, edible refined processed fats and oils / emulsifiers (derived from soybeans), flavouring, colorants (β-carotene)
Below is an example of a vegan margarine found in a specialty store (note, however, it contains palm oil).
• Soken 100% Pure Vegetable Margarine/発酵豆乳入りマーガリン. Ingredients: Edible vegetable oil (safflower oil from the United States or Mexico), refined edible oil (palm kernel oil from Malaysia), fermented soy milk (from Iwate, Tochigi, Miyagi), salt (from Mexico), lecithin (soy) (from Brazil), antioxidant (tocotrienol from Malaysia).
Sheese, the vegan cheese, is available for purchase in Japan online here.
• Maru de Cheese by Terra Foods (Just Like Cheese) is similar to a white hard cheese. Can be melted or eaten as-is and used in salads, pastas, on nachos, and so on. It can be found in smaller health food shops or ordered online here.
A company called Sagamiya is currently selling various soy cheeses in regular supermarkets across Japan.
• Natural Tofu Burrata by Sagamiya is supposed to be a burrata or mozzarella-style cheese, but the texture is not close at all. Still, it only retails for about 200 yen, so perhaps it’s worth a try.
•Natural Tofu Mascarpone by Sagamiya is not extremely close in taste to actual cheese but it has a nice texture and pleasant flavor with no soybeany taste. Seems to retail for about 200 yen as well.
• Beyond Tofu by Sagamiya is a plant-based “cheese” in block form, cube form, and as a “pizza” that consists of shreds on a piece of agedofu (fried tofu) that you heat up at home.
•Marin Foods My Melting Vegan Shred– 99% reduced cholesterol. This plant-based shred “cheese” has 99% less cholesterol than gouda. It doesn’t use animal ingredients or any of the 27 “allergenic ingredients.” Intended for melting- the website suggests using it on pizza toast or gratin. Allergens listed as none: dairy is used in the same factory, but they practice thorough cleaning before making this product.
While not exactly cheese, this smoked tofu would go well with crackers etc. It was in a small shop in Kanazawa and may be available elsewhere in Japan.
Field of Cheese – Smoked Tofu (Salt Flavoured). Ingredients: Domestic soy beans, natural bittern (nigari), deep water sea salt. Note the other flavours may not be vegan.
Japan also has a unique creation called tofu misozuke. It originated in Fukuoka Prefecture and is basically tofu that has been aged and cured in miso for at least 2 months, and up to 2 years. It can be made with a few variations to produce different ‘cheeses’. It can be hard to find in Japan, but you can make it yourself if you find a recipe online.
Soy yoghurt is available in Japan but look out for gelatine.
• Marusan Soy Milk Yogurt/豆乳グルト is vegan. Ingredients: soymilk (Canadian soybeans, non genetically-modified.
• Pokka Sapporo Soy Milk Yogurt/豆乳で作ったヨーグルト is not vegan as it contains gelatine.
Coconut yoghurt seems to be making small steps into the Japanese market, although distribution remains a bit limited. Currently available varieties are:
• Fruta Fruta Coconuts Guruto
Coconut milk, agar, psyllium seed coat powder. Available exclusively at Aeon and Aeon Style stores in Honshu and Shikoku.
• Happy Coco Coconut Yoghi (Vanilla/Mango/Natural)
Available at Bio C’Bon grocery stores.
If you want to try to make your own yogurt, unfortunately, vegan yogurt starters don’t appear to be available from regular grocery stores, but you can definitely get them on iherb. This one was found at a Bio C’ Bon grocery store and it’s also available on the Ohta website.
• Ohta Soymilk Starter Soy Yoguru/豆乳専用種菌 ソイヨーグル
This starter for soymilk yogurt uses plant material to grow yogurt starter bacteria and lactic acid bacteria. Milk is not used.
Below is some soy whip cream that is available in Japan.
• Sujahta Soy Whip Cream. Ingredients: Vegetable oil, organic soy milk, sweeteners (oligosaccharides, maltose, sugar), emulsifier (derived from soy), stabilizers (modified starch, carrageenan), metaphosphoric acid Na, flavouring. Note the maltose is from corn/potato/sweet potato and the modified starch is from cassava. It is not known whether the flavouring is vegan.
The list of ingredients in Japanese can be found on the Sujahta website (which is also the source of the above product photo).
There is also almond milk in Japan, however it is a bit harder to find than soy milk.
Blue Diamond Almond Breeze is sold in original/オリジナル (sweetened) and unsweetened/不砂糖 varieties. The website is here.
• Blue Diamond Almond Breeze. Ingredients (original variety): Sugar, almond paste, vegetable fat and oil, salt/calcium phosphate, potassium citrate, stabilizer (thickening polysaccharide), emulsifier, vitamin E, flavouring. As with the soy milk, it is unclear whether all the ingredients are plant based.
Glico makes six varieties of almond milk: regular, low-sugar, coffee, low-sugar coffee, cocoa, and three-nut, but check the label as some have non-vegan ingredients like honey. Website is here.
• Glico Almond Beverage – Coffee Flavour/Glicoアーモンド効果 香ばしコーヒ Ingredients: Sugar, almond paste, dietary fiber (polydextrose), instant coffee, salt, almond oil processed product, cellulose, flavouring, emulsifier, pH adjuster, vitamin E, sweetener (acesulfame K).
The almond milk below is not vegan as it contains honey:
• Glico Almond Beverage/Glico アーモンド効果. Ingredients: Almond paste, sugar, dietary fiber (polydextrose), honey, dextrin, salt, processed almond oil, cellulose, flavouring, emulsifier, pH adjuster, vitamin E.
• Topvalu Almond Milk (Aeon house brand) is confirmed NOT to be vegan as it contains a pork-based emulsifier. It’s sold in two varieties, sweetened and unsweetened. The sweetened variety also contains honey (はちみつ).