While in a country like Japan whose diet is largely based off of fish and many fish products, being vegan can prove to be difficult at times.
Although many Japanese put a lot of effort into serving vegetables at every meal, it can be surprising how hard it can be to find only plant-based foods at most places. Whether it be some minced meat in your potato croquette, bacon in your tomato pasta, or a creamy dressing for your salad, it seems like there is always just one seemingly simple thing to throw off an otherwise vegan dish.
Luckily, there are still plenty of choices available to you around just about every corner in Tokyo. We’ve comprised a list of entirely plant-based options you can find at your local convenience store for whenever you’re feeling a little peckish and don’t want to go out of your way for a proper meatless meal!
A traditional Japanese snack we recommend trying are senbei (rice crackers), as they’re bound to be loved by most people! Amanoya’s Kabuki-age are senbei that have been a best-seller for many years and are beloved by the Japanese people for their addictive salty-but-sweet flavor and very crunchy texture! Being separately wrapped, Kabuki-age are great on the go or even as a souvenir from Japan!
Happy Turn are some of Japan’s best and most unique-tasting rice crackers, with the flavoring something like you’ve never experienced before! Happy Turn crackers are coated in “Happy Powder”, which is a wonderful combination of sweet and salty flavors. Once you start snacking on these, you won’t be able to put them down!
Mitarashi dango are a traditional sweet of Japan that you can’t miss while you’re here! This chewy and fragrant dessert consists of skewered mochi-like balls covered in a thick glaze of sweet soy sauce. These have quite an interesting flavor, as they are sweet but still have the unmistakable flavor of the soy sauce! You can find these popular traditional Japanese desserts at any convenience store.
Often called “rice balls” in English, onigiri are Japanese rice that are traditionally hand-molded into triangle shapes. Other ingredients are usually placed in the center or mixed into the entirety of the rice.
Although fish is a common ingredient in these, there are plenty of entirely vegan options such as sekihan (red rice) and shio (plain rice with salt).
There may be cases however where these and other ingredients (such as seaweed) have been processed with animal products however; if you have any questions please ask the shop staff ("Kore wa bi-gan desu ka? / Is this vegan?").
These crispy sweet potato sticks are a longtime favorite among Japanese people. Looking like thin fries, these are actually strips of candied sweet potato that make a great snack! With most recipes only using oil and sugar, imo kenpi is a tasty option to keep you going during the day, or even as an after-meal dessert!
Edamame (young soy beans which are harvested early) can be bought pre-cooked and pre-seasoned from most convenience stores. Although some of them require popping them in the microwave, many are ready to eat right out of the pack! They are great for when you need a healthy snack or even a side dish. These are not only good for your health, but also delicious, so it’s no wonder that they are so popular in Japan!
Happy Dates are a 100% plant-based product! They come in three delectable flavors: chocolate brownie, fruit granola, and rum raisin. Chocolate brownie is a more fragrant treat and also uses almonds in it, while their fruit granola flavor has added chia seeds inside. These are great natural foods that would be fantastic as a part of breakfast or just as a quick and healthy snack!
Natto Maki Roll
Natto is a great example of traditional Japanese food that happens to be completely vegan. Wrapping these fermented soy beans in rice and seaweed makes them even better, not to mention a great twist on the original itself! Natto is considered one of the healthiest foods you can get in Japan, making this a not only a great healthy snack or meal, but also a tasty one! These are usually found near the sandwich and onigiri section.
Most convenience stores are packed with a variety of pre-made salads for you to pick up on the go. Choices range from western style salads to Japanese style ones that usually include things like renkon (lotus root) or hijiki (dark seaweed), and many also include seasonal salads that change periodically. Small bags of lettuce and other veggies are also easily found in the convenience stores here, and with individual dressing packets sold separately, it’s easy to make your own salad as well!
Tsukemono, or pickled vegetables in English, tend to be just a little sweeter and less sour than those in western cuisines. They can often be found in convenience stores in Japan and are sold in small packages so they can be used as a side dish. Common pickled vegetables in Japan include daikon (a type of Japanese radish), cucumber, Chinese cabbage, and eggplants.
Nuts are usually a safe bet in most places, but the convenience stores in Japan do offer quite a plethora of them! Convenience stores here will hold several kinds of nuts and usually have an option of at least roasted or salted.
While sometimes it is difficult to be vegan in a country like Japan, it’s definitely possible! All of these great vegan choices available for you 24 hours a day at your nearest convenience store is sure to make your trip all the better.
As Japan gradually becomes more accustomed to specific dietary needs and lifestyles, products are continually being released in stores. Natural Lawson is an excellent example of a brand that is continuing to search out and offer quality, great-tasting vegan snacks and meals, and their staff are generally more attuned.
So whether it be a meal or some snacks that you need, you can rest easy knowing that your conbini will have just what you need!
The distributors confirmed that all items showcased in this article are made without any animal products. However, please note that some products, such as Happy Turn, may include refined sugar, so they might not be suitable for some vegans. Please confirm the ingredients in advance and purchase the products at your own risk and discretion.
Written by Lindsey Schultz
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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