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Veganuary: What Is Like to Be Vegan in Japan?

By Margherita Jan 11, 2024

Japan has traditionally been a country with a diet heavily centered around fish and other animal products, and vegetarianism and veganism faced challenges due to cultural and culinary traditions. However, the rise in global awareness about environmental issues, health considerations, and animal welfare has influenced a shift towards a more vegan lifestyle, especially in urban areas.

How Vegan is Japan?

Unofficially baptized as “Veganuary” by the vegan community, January is a month to reset, embrace, and try a vegan diet for an entire month (hopefully more).

Let’s discover more together about what it means to live as a vegan in Japan

How Many Vegetarians and Vegans Are There in Japan?

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Frembassy, a company affiliated with the Euglena group, a renowned bio-venture company, and the operator of a plant-based food portal site, has unveiled the findings of a survey conducted in January 2023 on Japan’s vegetarian and vegan population.

Among 2,418 respondents aged 20 to 60,  “low sugar and carbohydrate restriction” was Resources to Explore Veganism in Japan at 13%. The second most common preference was “additive-free/organic” (8.3%), trailed by “vegetarian” (4.5%), “gluten-free” (4.3%), and “fasting” (3.3%) (with multiple responses allowed).

Combining “vegetarian” and “vegan” (2.4%) and eliminating duplicate responses revealed a total of 5.9%, marking an increase of 0.8 points from the previous survey approximately a year ago (5.1%).

Even if many people do not define themselves as vegetarian or vegan, driven by an increasing focus on health and environmental concerns, there is a rising demand for plant-based protein sources as alternatives to animal-based meat and dairy products. According to industry estimates, the Japanese market for plant-based protein ingredients, including tofu and soy milk, reached around $323 million in 2021. This marks a notable 14.2 percent surge compared to the figures from 2019.

Soybean vegetarian and vegan derivates are still the most common ones to be found in Japan, given Japan’s long history of consuming soy-based products.

Even though meat and fat consumption got higher and higher in Japan when gradually moving to a more and more Western diet, the government has tried to regulate the definition and labeling of vegetarian and vegan products to keep up with the market developments and to specify if a specific product is suitable for vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarians and so on.

In larger cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, you can find a rising number of vegan and vegetarian restaurants. Additionally, there has been an increase in vegan-friendly options in supermarkets, and some international food chains are introducing plant-based menu items.

Resources to Explore Veganism in Japan

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The growth of veganism in Japan is driven by locals but also by an increasing number of expatriates and travelers who follow plant-based diets. Social media and online communities also play a role in connecting and supporting individuals interested in or practicing veganism.

Forums such as Reddit, the app “Happy Cow” or Facebook groups like “Vegan Japan” are some great platforms to connect with fellow vegetarians and vegans not only to discover places to eat, but to share recipes and where particular vegan-friendly foods are available.

Tools like Google Lens can help people quickly scan product labels to figure out if any animal products are to be found.

Vegewel” stands as Japan’s pioneering portal site dedicated to plant-based products, offering two distinct services: the “Vegewel Restaurant Guide,” facilitating restaurant searches, and the web magazine “Vegewel Style.”

Even with the variety of information and tools available in 2024, it is still hard to travel to and live as a vegan in Japan, like in many other countries in Southeast Asia excluding India, which has a huge vegetarian population. 

Especially if you do not speak Japanese, the language barrier can be overwhelming. While Japanese people are very kind, it is not a trait of their culture to change the status quo to accommodate the dietary preferences of a single person (such as preparing or arranging something not on the menu).

To A More Vegan Japan

The landscape for vegans in Japan is evolving, with a growing awareness of plant-based lifestyles. From Vegewel’s restaurant guide to the expanding market for vegan products, there’s a positive shift in catering to diverse dietary choices. The journey to a more vegan-friendly Japan is underway, offering new possibilities for conscious living.

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