Japanese food is famous around the world for its rich ‘umami’ flavour and healthy yet delicious ingredients, but the common use of fish broth and animal-derived ingredients can make it difficult for vegetarians, vegans and allergy sufferers (amongst others) to truly enjoy the local cuisine when they visit Japan.
While vegan-friendly restaurants and meals are slowly growing in popularity in Japan, the country still has a long way to go, and the meals that you do find tend to be expensive and mostly inspired by foreign dishes. There are some amazing Japanese-style vegan restaurants to be found in cities like Tokyo and other tourist-friendly areas, but your chances of finding food free of animal products or common allergens can be considerably lower in rural areas without a guide or tour organiser such as Heartland Japan to help you.
With that said, there’s usually a way to find food that anyone can eat, no matter where you happen to be in Japan – all you have to do is find a temple or nearby restaurant offering ‘Shojin Ryori’.
Shojin Ryori is the name for the traditional dining style of Buddhist monks in Japan, who avoid animal products in their meals and believe that including a varied mix of healthy, locally-sourced ingredients will help to nourish not only their bodies, but also their minds. Shojin Ryori is not only suitable for vegans and vegetarians, it also lacks ‘pungent’ ingredients such as onions or garlic. Don’t worry about a lack of flavour, however – Shojin Ryori dishes are so delicious and expertly-crafted that several high-class restaurants serving only Shojin Ryori exist across Japan, with busy reservation systems to help sort through the crowds of food-lovers desperate for a taste.
Shojin Ryori can usually be found at or around temples (particularly any temples that offer overnight lodging), or at restaurants along some of Japan’s most famous and historic pilgrimage routes. While some fancier restaurants may offer only expensive set meals, many shojin ryori dishes are quite inexpensive when found at smaller establishments or at holy sites. In locations that are visited often by foreign tourists, you will also find that the staff are happy to explain the ingredients of the dishes – very useful for anyone with an allergy who may be concerned about potentially getting sick.
Whether you’re a vegan, a vegetarian or just someone looking to enjoy the best of Japanese cuisine, stopping to enjoy a traditional and authentic Buddhist meal is always a great addition to your trip itinerary. If you’d like to learn about more traditional activities that can be enjoyed in Japan or wish to explore without worrying about how and where to find food that suits your diet, feel free to get in touch with Heartland Japan today, and let us use our knowledge and expertise to make your next visit unforgettable.