The Best Place in Japan for Vegetarians Is …

A few weeks ago we wrote about Kobe beef, but what if you’re not a meat eater?

As we wrote in the beef post, prior to the arrival of foreigners, Japanese were not big meat eaters. Coastal Japanese ate plenty of fish, certainly, inlanders trapped wild game, and the rest was vegetables (and seaweed!).

Today, unfortunately, it’s not as easy to find vegetarian restaurants as it was 150 years ago. [The good news is, public transportation is much improved since that time!]

Still, Japan is slowly rediscovering vegetarianism, and in the major cities of Tokyo and Osaka it’s not difficult to find vegetarian restaurants.

And in Kyoto, it’s easy.

Because Kyoto is the base for most of Japan’s main Buddhist sects, it has long (since the 13th century) been a center for shojin ryori, traditional Buddhist temple cuisine.

Like a great deal of food in Kyoto, shojin ryori is notable for its beautiful presentation, and for using seasonal ingredients.

You can find casual vegetarian cafes in Kyoto, and more sophisticated cuisine, though travelers on a budget can almost always dine affordably at good restaurants by going there for lunch (and ordering the set lunch) rather than dinner.

One important note: if you are strictly vegetarian, you will want to confirm that the restaurant prepares its dishes with dashi (stock) made from konbu (kelp) rather than bonito flakes, which is much more common. We’re very happy to provide suggestions of vegetarian restaurants in Kyoto and other cities. Hit us up with questions!