5 Tips on Shopping for Vegan and Vegetarian in Japan
While plant-based products and processed foods are becoming more readily available in Japan, there are certain things you need to keep in mind due to language and cultural differences.
Here's a list of things you should be aware of if you want to embrace an animal-free diet in Japan.
1. Look for the Vegan and Vegetarian certification mark
Look for the Vegan and Vegetarian certification mark
Vegan certification mark provided by VegeProject Japan
One easy way to spot vegan and vegetarian products or restaurants in Japan is to look for the certification marks provided by non-profit organization VegeProject Japan.
Many animal-free products in Japan come with these certification marks, so you don't need to spend hours rummaging through shelves.
The organization has its own definition of vegan and vegetarian food and periodically monitors manufacturers and restaurants to ensure their operations follow the certification standards.
2. Look for Macrobiotic products
Look for Macrobiotic products
Soymilk and soybean flour Macrobiotic biscuits
Macrobiotic diet is a healthy way of eating that originated in Japan.
This diet focuses on eating predominantly local and seasonable vegetables, grains, beans and fruits while allowing for the occasional consumption of fish.
Additionally, refined sugars and oils (except vegetable oil) are to be avoided.
Due to its similarity with veganism, macrobiotic products (often abbreviated as "Macrobi") might be what you’re looking for in Japan.
3. Check product labels on food packages
Check product labels on food packages
Even if you can't find vegan and vegetarian products that are certified or marked as "Macrobi", don't give up.
You can find ingredients lists on almost all food packaging, so read on carefully to see if the product that interests you ticks all the right boxes.
We’ve put together a list of common ingredients you often find in Japanese food products, so feel free to reference it.
List of Japanese food ingredients for Vegans and Vegetarians ✓ Applicable × Not applicable △ Double-check before you eat Vegetable fat (植物油脂) Beef (牛肉) Sugar (砂糖) Sunflower oil (ひまわり油) Pork (豚肉) Dashi (だし) Olive oil (オリーブオイル) Chicken (鶏肉) Soy sauce (しょう油) Coconut oil (ココナッツオイル) Fish meat (魚肉) Miso (みそ) Buckwheat flour (そば粉) Eggs (卵) Rice flour (米粉) Milk (牛乳) Brown rice (玄米) Milk ingredients (乳成分) Rice with mixed grains (雑穀米) Honey (はちみつ) Soy (大豆) Gelatin (ゼラチン) Soymilk (豆乳) Lard (ラード) Organic sugar (有機砂糖) Bonito (かつお) Beet sugar (てんさい糖) Dried small sardines (煮干し) Brown sugar (黒糖) White sugar (白砂糖) Salt (食塩) Noodle soup base (めんつゆ) Stevia (ステビア) Roasted soybean flour (きなこ)
4. Watch out for these ingredients
Watch out for these ingredients
While refined white sugar is commonly used for cooking in Japan, its white color often comes from the use of cattle bone char as a decolorizing filter.
To avoid this, look for beet sugar, cane sugar or organic sugar.
The umami-rich soup stock known as dashi is an important ingredient that plays a major role in Japanese cooking.
While some dashi is prepared using only vegan ingredients, such as vegetables, dried kelp and shiitake mushrooms, you will often see animal-based dashi made using dried bonito flakes, anchovies or chicken.
Soy sauce is another common ingredient in Japanese cooking and is made predominantly using soybeans, wheat, salt and water.
Vegans and vegetarians should avoid dashi soy sauce, as it often contains bonito flakes.
Gluten-free eaters should look for tamari soy sauce, which doesn't contain wheat.
As a bonus, tamari soy sauce has a much more pungent flavor and a saltier taste.
5. "Organic (有機)" doesn't necessarily mean vegan or vegetarian
Looking out for "Organic (有機)" signs is a common way for people to spot plant-based foods.
But be mindful that the "Organic" label can also be applied to livestock products.
If you’re specifically looking for organic food in Japan, keep an eye out for Japanese Agricultural Organic Standard (JAS) labels.
This label is managed by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and is only granted to products and processed foods that follow JAS Standards.
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