Traditional Japanese cuisine, also called washoku, comprises of dishes that use ingredients which are very traditional in Japan and were developed as part of Japanese culture through the ages. Some main characteristics of washoku are, that the dishes are prepared with as many fresh, seasonal ingredients as possible, the dishes focuses on bringing out the tastes and flavours of the ingredients themselves, and the traditionl cusines are closely connected with the various festivals and ceremonies throughout the year. Washoku was registered as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2013 for its deliciousness, healthfulness, and beautiful presentation.
In addition to sushi (small balls or rolls of vinegar-flavoured cold rice served with a garnish of vegetables, egg, or raw seafood), a well-known Japanese dish, there are varieties of other culinary styles and establishments serving Japanese cuisine, such as kaiseki (a traditional full-course Japanese cuisine), shojin ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cooking), noodles such as udon (wheat noodles), soba (buckwheat noodles), and ramen (a clear broth containing thin white noodles and vegetables, meat, etc.), okonomiyaki (savoury pan-fried batter cakes including many vegetables), Japanese-style curry, nabe hotpots, tofu (bean curd) dishes, and izakaya (Japanese bar) food.
■ Vegetables and fruits In Japan, with its advanced agricultural technology and fertile conditions all over the country, you can savour a truly great variety of farming products/ agricultural produce. In recent years, with greater concerns for food safety, there is even a growing trend of putting up a picture of the producer/ farmer on the package of fresh food products in an effort to reassure consumers.
■ Processed foods Japan has a large variety of traditional processed foods, which include some well-known soy-bean-based products such as bean curd, paste made from fermented soya beans, soy sauce, and soy milk. These contain no animal products and are very healthy.
■ Seafood and seaweeds Japan boasts some of the highest food safety and hygiene standards in the world. Many food ingredients produced abroad fail to meet Japanese hygiene requirements and cannot be imported to Japan. In particular, seafood used to prepare sushi, etc., is strictly controlled for hygiene as per Japanese standards, making it widely available, fresh and safe to eat in Japan.
■ Sweets and snacks Traditional Japanese snacks such as, karinto (deep-fried snacks coated with brown sugar), sembei (rice crackers), mochi (cakes made from steamed white rice), and dango (dumplings and sweets made from rice flour) are mainly rice-based plant-derived products. They are, of course, easily available at convenience stores and supermarkets, but specialty stores selling especially popular items offer even more delicious and attractive delights.
Unlike in India, few Japanese restaurants clearly mention whether dishes are ""vegetarian"" or ""non-vegetarian."" If you are a vegetarian, therefore, we suggest that you do some research in advance to find out which Japanese restaurants offer vegetarian menus, and which Japanese dishes are vegetarian. Another option is to directly confirm with each restaurant. For instance, the chef in some sushi restaurants may be able to prepare egg or vegetable sushi for you if you ask.
Buddhist cuisine, called shojin ryori, is a type of washoku that may be easy for vegetarians to enjoy without concern. Shojin ryori is made, according to the commandments of Buddhism, without using meat, seafood, or even vegetables such as onions, and can be enjoyed at Buddhist temples or restaurants if an advance reservation is made.
Indian food is also very popular in Japan, and there are numerous Indian restaurants that serve delicious and high-quality Indian food. Apart from that, there are also a large number of establishments serving Western cuisines such as Italian food, as well as Chinese restaurants.
The guidebook below introduces a variety of restaurants offering dishes that are suitable for vegetarians. We hope that you will use it to find restaurants to suit your preferences and enjoy Japanese cuisine.
Vegetarian Restaurant Guidebook (PDF)