Vegetarian in Japan - Impossible Mission?

Dashi, bonito flakes, dried fish... Hidden enemies, our worst nightmares. 

It seems almost impossible to avoid fish and meat in the Land of the Rising Sun. But is it? Let me tell you... It is possible! But it is somewhat hard. So here is my little vegetarians' survival guide for y'all to enjoy. 

In this article, I will not talk about vegetarian restaurants or bars since I wanted to make an article to help you to find vegetarian things everywhere, not in vegetarian / vegan places only.  First of all, you have to bare in mind that the japanese culture is not very keen on changing things of the menu. In Spain, we do it all the time, but changing, removing or adding ingredients to a certain dish will most likely bother your waitress and cooker and it simply will not be done. You have to accept this cultural difference and adapt to it, since you are the one visiting: if something has meat on it, then chose another dish from the menu!
However, there are ways to avoid meat and fish. Let me teach you 13 easy sentences for your vegetarian soul:

 1) Watashi wa bejitarian desu - I am vegetarian 
However, bare in mind that "japanese vegetarians" are "allowed" to eat fish or dashi, so a japanese person might understand that you also eat fish if you just say this
 2) Niku ga haitte imasu ka? - Does this contain meat? 
Simple and clear

3) Tamago to cheezu ga taberaremasu - I can eat eggs & cheese
For your allergies or if you are vegan!

4) Niko to sakana wa taberaremasen - I can't eat meat or fish
An alternative to "Watashi wa bejitarian desu", a more precise one

5) Yasai - Vegetables
Our dear friends!

6) Katsuobushi nashi de onegai shimasu - Without bonito fish flakes, please
This is a pretty usual petition, however, since a lot of people prefer their okonomiyaki without bonito flakes

7) (...) wa arimasu ka? - Do you have (...) ?
"Yasai wa arimasu ka?" :)

8) Shojin Ryori wa yatte imasuka? - Do you serve vegetarian foods?
"Shojin Ryori" is a typical food served and eaten by a variety of monks that do not support violence. It is very easy to find in temples and almost everyone will understand that you want vegetarian / vegan options.
9) Doubutsu wa taberemasen - I can't eat animals
Another option to express that we do not eat meat or fish

10) Oishii // Oishiikatta desu - Yummy
Complimenting your food is always a good way to make everyone smile. Do not be shy!

12) Hitotsu onegaishimasu - One, please
A good way to ask for something if you do not know the word for the food or item

13) Kore wo hitotsu onegaishimasu - One of these, please
Another way to express your hungry desires

Also, here is a difficult hint for everyone. I know that every vegetarian might be different and some of us do not eat anything that was made with fish or meat, like soups or the infamous dashi. However, I have to say that dashi is hidden in many dishes, sometimes even in soja sauce. So I would advice you to be a little ( just a little ) flexible regarding dashi if you accept it, of course.

Here is a list of 19 foods that you can eat in almost every place, even in some Izakaya, that are vegetarian. Take a look!

1) Shojin ryori
A Buddhist dish typically served in Temples, vegetarian and vegan only!

2) Conveyor-belt Sushi
It might be obvious, yeah, but there are plenty of vegetarian options over there :)

3) Okonomiyaki
Very tasy but beware of shrimp and bonito flakes, typical Okonomiyaki ingredients!

4) Tofu
Our old friend. But beware of the soy sauce that comes with it, it usually has dashi on it!

5) Zaru Soba
One of the most common vegetarian dishes. But beware of the dashi as well.

6) Tempura
Deep fried vegetable goodies <3

7) Japanese Curry ( Kare Raisu )
Curry is very typical and soft in Japan and you really should try it!

8) Ramen
There are many vegetarian Ramen options but, most likely, they will have dashi on it. Be careful.

9) Kushiage
Also known as Kushikatsu. Japan loves its food on sticks!

10) Tsukemono
Or pickled stuff. Literally. YUMMY.

11) Udon Soba & Soba Noodles
Enjoy the big vegetarian noodles variety but, as usual, beware of dashi :P

12) Miso Soup
A very singular and great taste. A vegetarian's dream!

13) Nasu Dengaku
Eggplants are easy to be found as a side dish and are really tasty

14) Yaki / Umeboshi / Sekihan Onigiri
Umeboshi Onigiri, my all time favourite!

15) Oyaki
Everyone loves dumplings! Right?

16) Kabocha Korroke
Japanese Pumpkin Croquettes... MmMmMm!!

17) Rice Cakes
You can find these little fellas almost everywhere <3

18) Mochi & a variety of sweets / bakery
The taste of these little buddies is SO GOOD, you have to taste their unique sweetness!

19) Mame
Or Edamame. This might be the most common side dish in Japan


I hope that this article was helpful and that you step into Nippon without the fear of eating only rice :)! Please leave a like and a comment if you liked my work and until the next time :D

Gochisousama deshita! \(^_^)/

Sara López