Guide to Vegan Shopping and Plant-based Food in Japan

Being plant-based in Japan can be inconvenient. Central Tokyo does have a growing number of restaurants serving meals marked as vegan. Select health food stores do sell organic items and alternatives to animal products. In typical shops and supermarkets, however, it’s different. 

Some supermarket chains are even referred to on social media as ‘vegan dead zones’. Is all really lost though? You definitely won’t find a dizzying array of mock meats or vegan ice cream in a standard Japanese supermarket. But if your desire is to eat plant-based at home, there are non-fancy ingredients in regular supermarkets that can go a long way. 

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tofu vegan food in tokyo

Tofu (どうふ)

The tofu section of most supermarkets is well-stocked, and probably one of the easiest vegan items you can find in Japan. Four of the main varieties of tofu you will find almost anywhere are silken tofu, firm tofu, deep-fried tofu and tofu pockets. 

Silken tofu: 絹豆腐 (きぬどうふ)

絹 (kinu) actually means ‘silk’ in Japanese, and this kind of tofu is quite soft, as the name suggests. It is mildly flavored and does not require much cooking. It is a popular ingredient in miso soup (added close to the end). Silken tofu is also chilled and served in soy sauce as 冷やし豆腐 (hiyashidoufu), with a variety of toppings. Because of its texture, it can also be liquefied and used in other ways, such as in dips or dressings. 

Firm tofu: 木綿豆腐 (もめんどうふ)

木綿 means ‘cotton’ in Japanese. This tofu is not dry, however, but contains less liquid than silken tofu. It is often used in dishes that require a bit more simmering or cooking. In winter, for example, a grilled form of firm tofu called 焼き豆腐, yakidoufu, is used in nabe hot pot dishes. Firm tofu can be coated, deep fried and served as 揚げ豆腐. In vegan cooking, frozen and defrosted firm tofu that has had the liquid pressed out is used in dishes such as ‘karaage’ fried chicken or as a filling in gyoza. 

Deep-fried tofu pockets: 油揚げ (あぶらあげ)

One of the most common ways this is used is to make inarizushi, or seasoned rice stuffed in these pockets. Store-bought inarizushi might include seafood dashi, but you can always make your own at home. Otherwise, it is not necessary to stuff anything into these pockets. They can be chopped and added to miso soup or stir fries, for a little added flavor. 

Deep-fried tofu 厚揚げ (あつあげ)

Unlike the pockets above, the inside of atsuage is not empty, but white and thick and only the outside appears brownish and deep-fried. Firm tofu is usually used to make atsuage. In cooking, atsuage is used in everything from miso soup to dishes where meat and vegetables are simmered in dashi soup stock. You might also find silken tofu atsuage in some stores. This is still thick-cut, deep-fried tofu, but is softer. It retains and soaks up a bit more flavor than regular atsuage. Both versions, however, can be used like ‘meat’ to make tofu steak or immersed in any kind of sauce using your desired combination of sake, mirin and shoyu

Freeze-dired tofu: 高野豆腐 (こうやどうふ)

Found in the dry goods section instead of in the fridge, this tofu is like a sponge and needs to be rehydrated before it is used. It’s sold in cubes, strips or rectangular blocks. Because it soaks up anything, koya dofu is quite versatile. It can be used in soups or seasoned, battered, and deep-fried for a crispy snack. 

Beans (豆)

Unlike the tofu section, there isn’t much going on in the dry beans section of standard supermarkets. Added to what you can find in the canned section, however, it’s altogether not too bad. Beans can be cooked in a variety of ways and added to almost anything from soups to tray bakes. 

Soybeans : 大豆 (だいず)

Soy is big here, you’ve probably figured out. Most supermarkets stock raw soybeans (green and brown), canned soybeans, soybeans cooked in broth, and soybeans in pre-prepared side dishes. The first two options might be better for those steering clear of animal products. Young soybeans, edamame, are also often sold raw, in the frozen foods section (cooked), or ready-to-eat in the deli section. Hijiki seaweed and soybeans simmered in soy sauce and dashi is a popular dish, and not too hard to whip up at home. 

黒豆 (くろまめ), black soybeans, are most commonly known as a sweet-simmered dish eaten at New Year’s. You can find the raw beans on shelves, as well as the pre-cooked version. 

You’ve at least heard of 納豆 (natto), fermented soybeans. Now, this is the ultimate convenience food, if you can stomach it. The slimy texture and peculiar smell are not for everyone. Offerings vary depending on the supermarket, but you can typically find hikiwari natto, where the beans have been cut into small pieces, and tsubunattou, which uses whole beans. Natto can be mixed to maximize sliminess and eaten as-is, or used in a variety of recipes. 

Azuki beans: 小豆

This tiny red bean is used to make sweet anko bean paste. Anko is a filling in many traditional Japanese sweets and is eaten as a spread on bread. The basic ingredients are azuki, sugar, water and salt. It takes a little cooking time, but it’s not too complicated. Anko can be bought pre-cooked in many stores, however. Azuki beans are the star ingredient in oshiruko, a sweet soup containing chewy mochi dumplings. Along with a similar-looking bean called ささげ (sasage) azuki is sometimes cooked with glutinous rice to make お赤飯, osekihan, eaten on celebratory occasions. 

Canned beans and bean snacks

You might have to try specialty stores for the raw varieties of chickpeas or kidney beans, but canned versions are widely available. There are sometimes also mixed bean cans with soy, kidney and chickpeas. Sometimes, too, cooked beans are sold in little packets intended as a topping for salads. These packets might even contain lentils. Crunchy, roasted black beans and fava beans are marketed as snacks to go with alcohol, and are widely available,as well. 


Types of grains in Japanese
Types of grains in Japanese

Rice: 米 (kome)

People on plant-based diets sometimes also increase their intake of whole grains. In Japan, as you probably know, rice is life. For 白米 (hakumai, white rice) standard, as well as convenient 無洗米 (musenmai) or pre-washed rice, are available in various-sized packages. It’s the same for brown rice 玄米 (genmai). For when you’re really in a time crunch, there’s microwavable, brown and white rice and some supermarket stock is frozen rice balls. While most of the bentos in the deli section might not be vegan in Japan, some of the rice balls, such as 塩結び (shiomusubi, white rice and salt), or お赤飯 (osekihan, glutinous rice and red beans), might be. 

Barley: 麦 (mugi)

Another common grain is barley or もち麦 (mochi mugi).  There are different kinds of barley, and these can be found in the rice section. It can be cooked together with rice or boiled and sprinkled in soups or on salads. Other more exotic grains like quinoa, black rice or amaranth might be available, but in very tiny packages. They are sometimes found in topping mixes for salads, as well. 

Oatmeal: オートミール (ooto miiru)

Oats have really taken off in Japan. In many supermarkets, you’ll find quick-cook and rolled varieties, and oat cereals. There’s also オートミールごはん, oats fashioned into rice-shaped grains, marketed to be eaten in place of rice. 

Soy meat : 大豆ミート (daizu miito)

As you’ve gathered, soy is big. Soy meat is sold in some supermarkets, but maybe not most. If you do find it, it’s either as minced meat, chunks or in strips. These can either be dry or hydrated. For the dry products, instructions vary by manufacturer, but you usually rehydrate them by adding them to hot water. Products that are sold wet can be used as is out of the packet. Soy meat is used very much in the same way as meat. Some people find it has a distinctive smell, but others find it goes away when hydrated. Soy Meat can be used as an alternative in popular Japanese dishes like hamburg, omuraisu, karaage or shogayaki. 

Seasonal Ingredients

This might be obvious when talking about eating plant-based, but the one thing many supermarkets have in common is a decent selection of vegetables. In Japan, emphasis is placed on the freshness of the ingredients that are in season, 旬の食材 (しゅんのしょくざい). They’re not always very affordable, but otherwise, these vegetables and fruits are pretty easy to come by. 


In winter, root and cruciferous vegetable rule. These include daikon radish, kabu (turnip), cabbage, Chinese cabbage (hakusai), and a leafy green called komatsuna. Some winter vegetables tend to be quite sweet and can be enjoyed simply by steaming them. In spring, bamboo shoots (takenoko) and new potatoes (shinjaga) are quite popular and might often be found bearing a half-price (半額 hangaku) sticker. Summer means eggplant (nasu), corn (toumorokoshi), cucumber (kyuuri), pumpkin (kabocha) and if you like bitter food, goya. Fall is satsumaimo (sweet potato) season. Yes, other vegetables, like satoimo (taro root) and pumpkin are around, but sweet potatoes, most widely enjoyed baked as yakiimo, steal every autumn. 

Check out: Japanese Vegetable Vocabulary & Cheat Sheet


Bananas are pretty much the only fruit available year-round in most supermarkets. The top winter fruits include mikan oranges, apples, and strawberries with all their sweet varieties. In spring, strawberries are joined by melons, and summer makes way for a bounty. Watermelon, peaches, grapes, nashi pears, and plums are a few of the juicy fruits in season in summer. Fall only has one king, permissions (kaki). 

Check out: Japanese Fruits Vocabulary & Cheat Sheet

Plant-based milk and deserts

豆乳 (とうにゅう): soy milk

The top plant milk available in most supermarkets is soy milk. You can usually find two varieties: 調整 (ちょうせい) and 無調整 (むちょうせい); processed or unprocessed. The processed milk is adjusted for taste, while the unprocessed version is just soybean juice. These come in multi-use or single-drink packs from a few different manufacturers. In addition to just plain soy milk, there are a number of flavored soy milk drinks. Kinako soybean powder, banana, coffee or strawberry are some common flavors. 

Other milk 

For a long time, soy milk was the only non-dairy milk in most supermarkets here. Sweetened, unsweetened, and flavored almond milk has become close to standard, and other milk, most notably oat milk, has established quite a presence. Depending on where you shop, you may find rice, pistachio or coconut milk, but soy is a safe bet everywhere. 


As with milk, soy is the dominant alternative to dairy yogurt. But its presence in the yogurt section is not very strong. Big tubs of plain yogurt and smaller containers of desserts containing soy yogurt are available. Almond and oat milk haven’t quite made it to the yogurt section yet. 


You don’t have to stick to just fruit when shopping for vegan desserts in a typical Japanese supermarket. But do yourself a big favor and forget about ice cream. You might find one brand, maybe two, in some supermarkets, but it’s not commonplace. For hot summer days, there are a good number of sherbets and ice bars. The plant-based version of a popular pudding has also been making its way onto more shelves. 

But to satisfy that sweet tooth in any supermarket, head to the Japanese sweets section. This can be the dry goods section, for things like simple peanut bars made with a sugar called おこし. Or the section with wagashi, traditional Japanese tea-time sweets. The ingredients in these often include rice flour, bean paste and some kind of sweetener. You can find だんご, dumplings on a stick coated in sweet bean paste or a sticky syrup, 豆大福 (mamedaifuku), a chewy mochi stuffed with anko, or わらび餅 (warabi mochi), a jelly-like mochi dusted with soybean powder. 

If all fails and you cannot find anything to satisfy that sugar craving, Oreos are everywhere. 

Where to Find Vegan Food in Tokyo

You might think that vegan food mostly exists in super fancy grocery stores in Tokyo, but you might be surprised to find them in convenience stores — aka the konbini.  Among all the convenience stores, Natural Lawson stands out as the most accommodating to vegans. It belongs to the same company as Lawson, which is another major convenience store chain in Tokyo.

Natural Lawson offers a variety of imported products such as vegan chocolate and plant-based milk. It is not as widespread as other convenience stores, but if you’re in Tokyo, you can easily find Natural Lawson in major areas such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Ginza.

Luckily, if you happen to be in Tokyo, you can find several grocery stores that cater to vegans, offering a range of products like vegan cheese and meat alternatives. The only drawback is that many of these vegan products are imported and may generally be more expensive. Additionally, it is worth noting that although these stores are more accommodating to vegans, they may still carry meat products.

National Azabu houses a lot of imported products, catering to mostly ex-pats. Because of this, the market has what most supermarkets don’t often stock: vegan, gluten-free, halal, and plant-based items. We also recommend going to Natural House, a chain of grocery stores selling vegan-friendly products, sandwiches, and bento boxes. 

Ultimately, many items in regular Japanese stores are vegan or plant-based — you just need to look at the food labels and understand them.

Conclusion: Staying Vegan and Plant-Based in Japan

When shopping for plant-based ingredients in a typical Japanese supermarket, forget convenience and embrace simplicity. You will not find vegan pizza or microwave dinners. Nor will you have your choice of vegan cheeses (a few soy-based options are available, however). What you will have are simple ingredients including tofu, beans, grains, fruits, vegetables, and non-dairy milk. You might not save much time, but with these basic ingredients, who knows what exotic feats (feasts) you can conquer?

If you’re planning to go vegan shopping in Japan, why not take the opportunity to learn some Japanese as well? Coto Academy offers Japanese language classes that can combine your interest in veganism with learning Japanese!

Fill out the form below for a quick level check and free course consultation.

Where can you find vegan shops in Tokyo?

Natural Lawson offers a variety of imported products such as vegan chocolate and plant-based milk. Besides that, grocery shops like National Azabu and Natural House are known for their vegan-friendly items and bentos.

What vegan products can I find in Japan?

Japan, you can find a range of local vegan products such as tofu, red beans, oats, natto and soybeans. There are also plant-based milk, soy meat, vegan cheese, and various plant-based snacks at several stores.

Are there any vegan restaurants in Tokyo?

Yes, Tokyo has several vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants, including Ain Soph Ripple, T’s Tantan, Mr. Farmer, and Nagi Shokudo, among others.

Are vegan products expensive in Japan?

Many vegan products in Japan are imported, which makes them more expensive than non-vegan products. However, there are still affordable vegan options available, especially if you choose locally produced products.

Is it difficult to find vegan products in Japan?

Japanese people mostly follow a plant-based diet. While vegan products are not as widely available in Japan as they are in some other countries, there are still many options available, especially in major cities like Tokyo.

What are some good resources for finding vegan food in Japan?

Social media groups and pages are a start. Some accounts offer restaurant reviews, others recipes and ingredient finds. Even if the accounts are in Japanese, you can get the main idea from the translated posts.  A useful, comprehensive website is Is It Vegan Japan.

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