Tokyo 2014 – Accommodation and food

by Diane on 14/09/2014

When we started planning our trip Kai and I were overwhelmed by the endlessness of options in front of us. Yes, we had already been to Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima, Kyoto and Fukuoka – but there was so much more to explore elsewhere in Japan. And to be fair, all of the places we had already visited were awesome and still had so much more to offer than just the few things we did on our first visits – it was clear that we had to go back to at least some of them. In the end we decided that the most convenient way of holidaying in Japan was to simply stay in Tokyo this time.

Staying in Shimokitazawa

We landed in Narita late in the evening, so we decided to stay at an airport hotel for the first night. After a good night’s sleep we were relaxed enough to move on to the place for our stay. Via Airbnb we had booked a wonderful little apartment in Shimokitazawa. We didn’t know much about the area at the time of booking, but we were really lucky to find the most perfect place to stay. Shimokitazawa is a super cute suburb – a bit trendy and extravagant, but still pretty much down to earth. It’s not overcrowded like the well known areas such as Shibuya, but still has everything you need on offer (food, clothes, opshops, cat cafes, a knitting shop, several supermarkets and an organic food store). Add on top that it’s only a 5 minute train ride from Shibuya, and you have the most awesome area to stay in to start your day trips from. The apartment itself was simply awesome. Super clean, just one minute from the train station (which was far enough away to have it really quiet at night), with a cute little bath/wash/toilet cube insert (I really, really wish I had taken a photo of it) and a small kitchen. Absolutely perfect. And our host was awesome too – she even invited us to her house and we spent an afternoon at her place, drinking tea and cuddling her cat.

Vegetarian food in Tokyo

A vegetarian lifestyle is not really popular in Japan. It’s a fact Kai and I are well aware of, and we’re happy to accept that eating out in Japan will always be a challenge for us. We’re prepared to eat something that may not be purely vegetarian every now and then, even though we’ll try our best to stick to our diet. It mostly means that we totally miss out on authentic food experiences, but that’s ok; we do that in NZ as well (lamb fresh off the BBQ, anyone?). Every person we’ve met during our trips to Japan were super helpful and friendly – I’m sure most places would be happy to serve us purely vegetarian food – but there’s a massive language barrier. Paired with the concept of being a vegetarian being relatively unknown, it’s pretty hard to explain what you will and won’t eat. We’re totally ok to take a risk for a trip to such an awesome place as Japan.

Supermarket food

Instead of indulging in authentic Japanese cuisine, we rather check out the supermarkets. There are fun and strange looking fruit and veggies to explore, and there are cool snacks that often have pictures of the flavours on the packaging (never buy anything that has a chicken printed on it, go for a basket of veggies instead!). If you start off in a very touristy area, you might even be lucky to get English labels for some products. This fact was very helpful in finding unflavoured soy milk: our airport hotel had a little convenience store in which everything was labeled in both Japanese and English. Otherwise we would have probably had to try out all the different flavours (coffee, fruit mix, sesame, …) of this popular soy milk named ‘Silk’:

7 small cartons of soy milk in different flavours.

Various flavours of Japanese soy milk (image via

I can’t imagine starting my day with coffee or chocolate flavoured milk in my muesli!

Eating out

There are four different approaches to eating out:

  1. Only eat at places that offer an English menu. I know, it’s quite limiting, but you’ll find that a lot of places actually have an English menu available, even if they don’t advertise it. Sometimes, if you ask for an English menu and they don’t have one available, they’ll bring out their most sufficient English speaker. That’s a win, take advantage of it!
  2. Use the Happy Cow app, a guide for vegetarian and veggie friendly restaurants across the world. It’s a bit hit-and-miss, since restaurants that were rated a long time ago have often vanished again. Make sure you read the latest reviews before you travel too far to get to a place. Or google if it still exists before you jump on a train or go on a long walk to get there.
  3. Stick to the known. For example you can never go wrong with an Indian restaurant. They get vegetarians, in every country of the world.
  4. Take a friend. By far the easiest and safest option – they can translate for you and make sure you’re not getting any animal products served. They may joke with the waiter about your eating habits, but if you don’t speak Japanese you’ll never know. Bliss.

In Shimokitazawa we dined at 2 places that absolutely stood out. The first one is Spicia, an Indian restaurant just by the train station. We went there twice. The second time they recognised us as soon as we walked through the door and started preparing vegetarian starters for us. Excellent service, and food so good that having takeaways from our local curry place at home now makes me a bit sad. It just feels a bit mediocre now that I’ve tasted Spicia’s food. This might even be the best Indian food outside of India. The second one I really, really loved is a bizarre little place called Magic Spice. We went there with our friend Ken, but we would have been safe without him, since they have English menus available. Their speciality is some kind of curry soup – you choose your broth and then add the ingredients and flavours you like. There are two vegetarian broths on the menu, so it’s easy to build your non-meat version of the magic soup. If you’re vegan, please be aware that both veggie bases come with a boiled egg – not sure how you’d go about negotiating that one, but we were ok with having it in there and just not eating it.


Sometimes, especially during lunch time, finding a vegetarian place when you get hungry can be a bit challenging. I tend to get ‘hangry‘ quite easily, so we usually carry an apple or muesli bar with us. Or we just go into a convenience store or supermarket and buy a banana. It’s a holiday after all, you don’t want to waste too much time looking for suitable food.

Overall I can say that even though being a vegetarian in Japan can be a bit challenging, we never had the feeling we didn’t have enough options. As long as you are ok with taking a small risk when sipping ramen (chicken/fish/veggie) broth from a place where you had to point at a picture to choose your toppings, you won’t starve to death in Tokyo. At least we didn’t.

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