2013/12/29

being vegan in japan

when they find out I'm vegan, people always ask me what I eat or if it's difficult to be vegan in japan. to tell the truth, I eat a lot of different stuff, I mostly cook my food at home, and no it's not extremely difficult. in fact, for a couple of months I went soy-free vegan because I thought I had developed an allergy to soy. (in the end, it was just high amounts of stress and long work hours that had caused me to develop a rash on my hands! luckily!) those two months were a real challenge and I basically ate almost nothing out, I had to make everything at home. but it was still feasible to have a good, balanced diet being soy-free vegan in japan.

so now I'd like to introduce you to some of the products I've found that are vegan here. most of them can be found at a regular supermarket or convenience stores (konbini), and I've found others at specialty stores. there are even some that are specifically made for vegetarians. evidently it is a quickly growing market. one disclaimer I'd like to add before beginning is that you should stick to the brands and items I've posted here, because anything else might have animal products in it. for example, Imuraya brand Azuki bar ice cream contains no dairy or soy, but many other brands of Azuki bars contain milk or dairy.
Let's start off with soy products! 

Tofu 

Tofu balls filled with spicy japanese mustard.
Edamame-flavoured silken ("kinu") tofu.
above are a few "specialty" tofus you can find here, although not every supermarket will carry these. Most will carry the following: "kinu" (soft) tofu, "momen" (medium) tofu, which prices will range from 20-40 yen (20¢ - 40¢) for one plain (unflavoured) block. if you want, you can shell out 50-200 yen (50¢ - $2) for organic tofu made with Japanese soybeans. there are also deep fried types of tofu which go nicely in soups, curries, stir-frys and even just roasted on their own and garnished with ginger and soy sauce.

Thin deep-fried tofu ("usu-age")
soft deep fried tofu ("atsu-age")

Natto


Natto with natural konbu dashi sauce
Mizkan's rich tamari soy sauce Natto
Next I will move on to natto, the traditional stinky breakfast item loved and hated by many Japanese.(most love it.) Natto is simply fermented soy beans, so Natto in itself is 100% vegan, but the sauce packet ("tare") usually isn't. here I have put 4 types I have found which are 100% vegan, where there is either no fish product at all in the sauce, or no sauce packet included. A decent price for regular natto with non-vegan sauce is between 80 and 100 yen, and the vegan ones I have pictured here can go from 80 to 120 yen. Some expensive natto such as black bean natto or specialty Hokkaido natto can go up to 200 yen for 2 servings! I have also heard of natto shops in Mito, which is the birthplace of natto. they serve it in a special way, in a banana leaf or something.
Mizkan's vinegar sauce Natto
with Wakayama plum flavouring.
This one has sort of a sweet taste
and is not sour.
Top Value brand with no added sauce packet.
All around, this is the most frugal choice
for natto at only 48 yen for 3 servings.
If you can't find a type that is vegan, get the regular type and throw away the sauce packet. instead, garnish with the included mustard packet and a dash of plain Japanese soy sauce. there are also types that come with no sauce or mustard, such as MaxValu's store brand Top Value.

Fake meats and other alternatives

Tempeh
Tempeh (see right)! Most Japanese people I know have not heard of this, and i don't blame them because I only found it once. I forget where I got it, but I think it was at a normal supermarket... I haven't been able to find it since!
canned fake meats: Gluten-soy burger,
soy sausage (contains egg), veggie taco meat
a variety of products: left basket is gluten protein, middle and right are soy meats.
Fake meats in Japan are NOT commonly known, and only for vegetarians or extremely health-conscious. most people who are eating healthy will just have tofu. In addition, they are NOT easily found in any store. I never saw stuff  like this in Wakayama, I only found it in a specialty health store called Kenkokan in downtown Nagoya.

"awa-fu" and "mochi-fu"
One fantastic thing I've been able to find literally everywhere in Nagoya is "Fu" or wheat gluten protein. I call it Japanese seitan but I've never had seitan in canada so I can't really compare. it is basically something that's really good as a meat substitute when you don't want to use tofu, and works much better than tofu in things like stir-fry, udon/ramen/soba soups, and okonomi-yaki. It has the same texture as "kamaboko" or "chikuwa" which are types of fish-cake. most superstores only carry the "kaku-fu" type but honestly I can't tell the difference and the ingredients are basically the same too.
from left: "mochi-fu" "awa-fu"
"yomogi nama-fu" "kaku-fu" (last 2)
"Fu" basically means any traditional Japanese wheat gluten product, so you will also find "fu-gashi" (sweet gluten snacks) in the snack aisle that are light, fluffy and crispy (although some of them contain honey). don't get them mixed up with kaku-fu!
a bunch of vegetarian curries
and other prepared side dishes.

you will also see I have found some vegetarian curries and side dishes. you will never see these at a regular supermarket; I've only found them at health food stores. I have never tried them, just taken a picture. these particular ones were at S Cuore Kitchen at Aeon Town mall in Chikusa, Nagoya but I've also seen similar items at Kenkokan drugstore and health food store in Osu, Nagoya. I never saw stuff like this in Wakayama.

Soy milks ("Tou-nyu") and yogourts

Kikkoman brand soy milk
Sakura [kind of a plum-fruity flavour]
and melon flavour
Soy milk is pretty popular in Japan right now, although 99% of restaurants and cafes don't have that option except for Starbucks--I have to admit I love starbucks for that reason! and by the way they are extremely adamant about not mixing or mistaking your drink, they give you a "soy milk card" when you order, and when you collect your drink you have to hand the card to the barista to avoid any mix-ups. 
without further ado, here are just a few of the flavoured soy milks I've found here. in addition to those pictured, Kikkoman makes sweet azuki ("oshiruko") flavour, roasted sweet potato flavour, chocolate, chocolate-orange, coffee flavour, black tea flavour, banana, strawberry, mango, grapefruit, roasted green tea flavour, mont-blanc cake (chestnut) flavour, and many more flavours of soy milk.
clockwise from top left: Mango, Strawberry, Matcha,
Pudding (creme brûlée), vanilla ice cream, banana 
top: Marusan plain "Tou-nyu Guruto"
bottom left: blueberry flavour; right: plain
soy whipping cream















Soy yogourt is also a thing now, but certainly not common. I can only find it at certain supermarkets in Nagoya. I never saw it when I was in Wakayama. These yogourts are very delicious and are not "jelly-like," they have the same consistency of a good mixed yogourt in Canada.

As for other milk alternatives, the only ones I've been able to find commonly are coconut milk, although I found one in a big 1 litre carton at the bulk food store. I've never seen almond milk, rice milk, or anything else. (although I've heard tell of almond milk being sold at the store on american military bases)
On occasion, I can find soy whipped cream with no dairy. be careful to buy the one that looks like the picture, because I've seen identical-looking whipped creams that say "made with vegetable oils" but they contain dairy. You have to get the Sujata (スジャータ) brand that says
"乳製品を使っていない 豆乳入りホイップ" at the top.
Edit 2014/01/19 recently I have found Black Diamond almond milk at Feel Supermarket at Shanpia port shopping centre in Nagoya, as well as Kirkland Signature rice milk at Costco in Tokoname city, Aichi. (the rice milk is really amazingly delicious and is also fortified with B12)

Other

Vegan japanese-style mayo
two types of soy mayo
By far my most glorious discovery upon coming to Japan has been the vegan mayonnaise. This Oillio brand mayo is the flying spaghetti monster's gift to vegans. I have had regular japanese mayonnaise, regular american mayonnaise, and vegan american mayonnaise, and this brand blows vegan american mayo out of the water. in fact, it tastes exactly like regular japanese mayo. In canada, I always hated vegan mayo, but in Japan I eat this stuff often. in addition to putting it on okonomi-yaki, yaki-soba and fake meats/croquettes, you can put it on stir-frys and rice if you're feeling like a good unhealthy meal. just warning you, if you normally eat well and then eat a ton of this stuff you're not going to feel good. but sometimes vegans need to pig out, too! Just a note on the brands, the Oillio brand on the left can be found in any supermarket, even way out in the countryside in Wakayama. it is shelf stable at room temperature, just like regular japanese mayo. the picture on the right contains two types of "soy milk mayo" and I found it in a health store in Nagoya. I have only tried the oillio brand, so can't vouch for the latter's taste.
Cream of corn
and cream of pumpkin soups

At bulk food stores I have also found these soy milk cream of corn or pumpkin soups. they contain no dairy and no animal products including chicken stock or butter. I found them in Wakayama and Nagoya at professional food stores such as Amica. 

One thing I have never been able to find outside of tokyo* is vegan margarine!! every time I look at the ingredients thinking, "maybe this will be the one" it's always, this contains powdered skim milk, milk fats, milk, cream, and what have you. the closest thing I found was one that said "ingredients contain trace amounts of dairy" but I'd rather not risk it. instead, I've found vegan shortening, at Amica in Osu, downtown Nagoya (this is also where I found the above mentioned corn and pumpkin soups). it is made from organic and sustainably produced palm oils. it doesn't do very well as margarine to spread on toast, but I use it when I make bread in my bread maker.
*Edit 2014/05/18 I have found vegan margarine, two brands, but they were at a natural foods store called Natural House in Omotesando, Tokyo. since I had to go home by highway bus and margarine has a tendency to melt, I didn't buy any. I still have not found any vegan butters in Nagoya. Still, the vegan margarines I found in Tokyo were Japanese brands, so there is some hope yet for them coming to Nagoya. in the meantime perhaps I will try to make my own margarine.

another thing I can't find here is vegan cheese. Darn!! Daiya, will you save us? Actually, there is a stupidly simple way to make cheese from two ingredients: tofu and the mysterious Japanese flavouring, "shio-koji." but that's a recipe for another post.
Edit 2014/05/18 The AinSoph chain of 3 restaurants in Tokyo sells a lovely house-made vegan cheese and bread plate. AinSoph is a posh, pricey restaurant but worth every yen you will spend there. Have you ever eaten a four-course meal at an upscale restaurant that was entirely vegan, let alone in Japan? it's a great experience.
on the left are some random food items I found at Max Valu supermarket. the Shiro-ae is a traditional type of vegan japanese side dish that's made from silken tofu, sesame and vegetables. it's pretty good stuff. then theres Goma-dofu, or sesame tofu. most types of Goma-dofu don't contain any soy, but the sauce might (miso sauce). then on the bottom left there's a type of pickle made from Hakusai. Apparently Hakusai is "chinese cabbage" in English, but the chinese name is pronounced baicai. anyhow pickled chinese cabbage is really good, it's not sour but salty. 
Agar-agar ("kanten")
A word to the wise, not all pickles in japan are vegan. some have bonito extract or bonito flakes in them. You even have to be careful with pickled plums (ume-boshi), some are katsuo (bonito) ume-boshi, and some have honey in them. to make sure, you should buy shiso ume-boshi. I've seen shiso translated as "japanese basil" or "beefsteak plant." anyhow it has a unique taste, and some varieties can turn things red.
Agar-agar is also a common ingredient in Japan, and is sold in both powder form and seaweed form at pretty much any supermarket. As you can see in the picture it is very cheap compared to Agar in Canada. All of those items in the picture are 100% vegan agar. but, I got a bigger amount of agar for almost the same price at Amica professional food store in nagoya. as for jello and pre-made jellies, they are often made with gelatine but I've found some made with pectin or other gelling agents. the ones made with agar are usually high quality "wa-gashi" japanese sweets, and more expensive. so what I do is, make my own using fruit juice, agar powder, sugar. and I pour that mixture into little single-serving dessert containers.

Sweets

mochi on a stick covered in red bean paste.
cheap, sweet, and vegan. (like me! ha! haha)
you can find stuff like this practically anywhere.
Ok now on to the sweets. There are so many vegan japanese sweets that I eat every day, so I might make a post dedicated to the various types of mochi and red bean things. (be careful because some red bean things have eggs, milk or butter in them, such as Anpan and Dora-yaki) there are also a variety of other western style vegan cookies and sweets, either imported or japanese, but these are pretty rare.
top: konnyaku jelly in little cups,
apple flavour. Konnyaku is a
low-calorie type of root vegetable.
bottom: soy milk pudding. this is
rather interesting, it is pudding in
a pouch and you basically eat it like
a capri-sun. it tasted really good.

white karinto (fried crispy wheat thingys, no red bean)
also come in brown sugar flavour. watch out!!!!
karinto often contain egg and/or honey.
this one was vegan 
it's a brown sugar cake, kind of like mushi-pan
(steamed bread) but it's vegan!! this is soy-free too.
since this is a traditional snack, it's cheap.
I have never found another vegan cake
or bread at a regular supermarket

found this cake at
Feel supermarket, at Shanpia port shopping centre
in Nagoya
vegan cookies at a health food store in Aeon mall,
Chikusa, Nagoya.
imported vegan cookies I found at Amica.
Actually, you can find them at other import stores, too.

vegan mousse base I found at Amica.
flavours, from left: plain, strawberry,
chinese almond pudding, peach, matcha.
it doesn't gel properly when mixed
with soy milk but rather makes a yogourt-like
drink. would make an amazing milkshake
if you blend it with frozen soy milk cubes!

an amazing honey-like syrup called
oligosaccharide that I found at a drugstore.
it really tastes like a light honey, but is made
from sugar beets. the texture is exactly like honey
but it doesn't solidify in cold temperatures.
apparently it's really good for your digestive system.
Barry chocolate (1kg slab);
and Sweet chocolate (500 g)
on the right, "Cacao mass" and "bitter" chocolate wafers.
this brand also makes a similar sweetened type.
I think it says "sweet" on the package instead of bitter.
watch out because there is also a milk chocolate version.
Vegan chocolate is hard to come by in Japan but if you look in the right places, it's there. in these pictures, the one that said "sweet chocolate" said may contain trace amounts of dairy on the ingredients, so I stopped buying it. Cacao Barry, the one with brown and blue packaging, does not contain dairy but it comes in one 1-kg slab. so, I bought it once but had to melt it down pour it into little cups, and freeze it to make it into manageable portions. also since it's a whole kilo of dark chocolate it's pretty expensive. Watch out because the one with purple and brown packaging is milk chocolate.
edit 2014/01/19 At costco, I found a 1kg bag of vegan chocolate chips. AKA the holy grail.

Popsicles, ice creams and ice bars

a few non-dairy ices I found
at Max Valu supermarket. Imuraya's
Azuki bar; Top Value brand
Matcha green tea ice with azuki;
Dole fruit juice popsicles
In japan I have never* been able to find vegan ice cream like "tofutti" or other soy ice creams in america, but there is a wide variety of non-dairy popsicles and other frozen treats. some Konbini even carry what is simply a frozen piece of fruit, like pineapple or orange, wrapped in plastic. those are really refreshing on a summer day. if you are in japan, the one thing you have to try is Imuraya's Azuki bar. it's like crack! delicious crack. they are sold in big bars in many konbini, but also in 6-packs in regular supermarkets. 
Gari-Gari kun pear; Mitsuya lemon
soda ice; Imuraya's Azuki bar
One popsicle I really enjoy is Gari-gari kun but you have to be careful because some contain dairy. The vegan varieties are: Soda flavour (blue), Cola flavour (red), pear flavour (light green or light orange), yuzu japanese citrus flavour (yellow).  
Don't even think about looking for a vegan ice cream/ice bar that has chocolate. it is Japan's unicorn. (but if you find one, tell me)

*edit 2014/05/18 A couple of months back when I was in Tokyo, I found a cafe/vegan natural food store called Lima Cafe with a chest freezer full of vegan ice creams. (for those in Tokyo, Lima Cafe is a must-visit) They even had rice ice cream. now I'm not a huge fan of ice cream but I was so happy I almost cried! The ice creams were from Japanese companies, so I know they must be sold elsewhere, but I haven't found any in Nagoya so far. And so the quest continues...
from top to bottom
Gari-Gari kun soda flavour;
Gari-Gari kun pear;
salty lychee popsicle,
 grape popsicle balls in a container,
peach squeeze-popsicle.

Drinks

To wrap up this post I will finish with drinks. if you like coffee, you should be wary in Japan because many types of canned coffee contain milk in them. to be sure, get the ones that clearly say "BLACK." once I opened a can that didn't say "contains milk" only to find that it had an amount of milk in it. you can also get the soy milk coffees in juice boxes as I've mentioned above. I think those kinds of coffees are made with chicory so they are actually decaf and natural.
For the most part, pop in japan is vegan. but there are some types with milk or dairy products, like Skal and Calpis soda, and many melon sodas. I have found two types of dairy-free melon sodas, in regular konbini such as 7-11. One is Fanta brand soda in the aluminum can-bottle. the other is this random brand, THE MELON SODA! with a penguin on it. I'm not gonna lie it was pretty good.
two vending machine purchases:
green tea and canned
hot azuki soup in a can
THE melon soda
Your best bet for a vegan drink in Japan is almost any type of tea. All convenience stores carry a huge variety of green, oolong, jasmine, roasted brown rice, and barley teas. even mcdonalds carries "so-kenbi-cha" and all bars and restaurants carry at least oolong tea. these are always unsweetened and unflavoured, unlike the Western abominations such as "green tea with citrus" or "ginger ale with green tea and pear" which are basically juice or soft drinks.

Well that is just an introduction to all the different vegan items you can get here in Japan. not many Japanese are vegan but it is part of their traditional food culture to eat vegan items such as tofu, beans and agar, so many items are "vegan by accident." however a lot of people eat more western food nowadays, and more animal products in general. soon I would like to make a post on how to cook vegan food at home in japan, as it is hard to eat vegan without preparing things by yourself. although in many big cities there are vegan and vegetarian restaurants, so I'd like to cover those too!

since it looks like some of the photos are hard to see, here is the full album. I didn't post all of those pictures here, but everything in this album is vegan.

9 comments:

Quez said...

Thanks for the post! :)

Two questions:
How do most Japanese feel about you being vegan? Is it negative? Positive? Curious? What's the social aspect of being vegan in Japan like?

Also, how difficult is it to eat vegan at restaurants?

Thanks!

Emma Sack said...

hi! thanks for the comment! to be honest, there has been very little negative feedback, if at all. most people are a bit curious, some are concerned, most people react positively and say "that's so healthy!" and whatnot. they also say things like, "oh you must like Shojin Ryori." [that's Japan's traditional buddhist vegan food] Once, a couple of friends were a bit worried or annoyed that we couldn't find a lot of things to eat, but I think that could've been avoided if I planned a bit better. Socially it's okay, I can't really eat at sushi restaurants, but even all-you-can-eat at bars is good because some have a lot of vegan items. I'll try to cover more restaurant stuff in another post!

Anonymous said...

You can find vegan margarine by Sokken in any Natural House shops. Its the one labelled 100%.
I read somewhere else that the Soya Farm yoghurts contain gelatine, do you know whether this is true? Thanks
Jess

Emma Sack said...

hi Jess, thanks for your comment! I'll double-check on the Soya Farm yogourt and update accordingly.

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Anonymous said...

Again, it is in Tokyo, but National Azabu in Hiroo sells But Island vegan cheese!
Jess

Anonymous said...

Bute Island *

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU! I just arrived in Tokyo and I'm happy to find this post. I was in a market today and thought one of the chocolates you posted could be vegan but left it there because I wasn't sure.

Emma Sack said...

As to Jess's earlier comment, yes unfortunately Soya Farm yogurt has gelatine in it, and marusan does not. I'll have to write them about that!