It’s fairly common to hear or believe that vegan food is next to impossible to come by in Japan. While it’s true that surviving on a vegan diet in Tokyo takes a lot of hard work and determination, though, the cuisine is by no means absent from the Tokyo scene. The food is there. And, if you happen to be strolling in the park on the right day, the best of Tokyo’s vegan food options might just come to you!
Tokyo’s Annual Vegan Paradise
Since it first started in 2003, the Tokyo Vegefood Festa (also called Tokyo VegeFesta) has attracted tens of thousands of visitors to its small section of Yoyogi Park. Both foreigners and Japanese attend the festival, which boasts 100 stalls in which organizations, health food stores, restaurants, and anybody with something vegan-related to sell or share sets up on the street for the weekend.
I attended the vegan festival in 2010, when it was held on the weekend of October 16th. I brought a non-vegetarian friend along with me, and we met up with some people from the local Vegan and Raw Foods groups in Tokyo. It didn’t take long for everyone to fill their stomachs, and I started to wonder how I was going to stuff at least one item from every stall through my mouth before the day’s end (I don’t tend to overeat, but when you put a whole street full of vegan food in front of me, things can get messy).
The Tokyo VegeFesta is an annual event that occurs in October. Until 2009, vendors were permitted to sell both vegan and vegetarian products, but the Veggie Culture Network, responsible for organizing the event, ultimately disallowed non-vegan food so that more people would be able to participate in the festivities without worrying about whether the food accommodated their allergies, religion, or personal choices.
Surviving as a Vegan in Tokyo
Vegetarianism is not well-known in Japan. Many of my friends here who were born and raised in Tokyo had never even met a vegetarian before my group showed up, and a clear idea of what vegetarianism and life as a vegan entails is not widespread even in Tokyo. Vegetarian and vegan food is difficult to come by, and just as difficult to explain or specially request, which is what made this event all the more important.
While walking with one of the girls from the Tokyo Vegan group, we started talking about veganism, and what it really is. Of course, it is defined by the laws of what cannot be consumed-no animal products, whatsoever, be it milk, meat, or even honey. But it’s not all about what you can’t eat. In fact, I like to think about everything that I can eat.
“Veganism is not a cuisine,” she told me as we strolled slowly down the road, dodging housewives, backpackers, and smiling hawkers. “Instead, every single cuisine in the whole world either has something vegan, or can be made vegan.”
If nothing else, the Tokyo VegeFesta appeared to be proof of that statement.
It felt like every cuisine under the sun had a stall at Yoyogi Park during the festival, and it was actually somewhat overwhelming knowing that I could eat anything there without questioning what it was made of. Vegetarians, vegans, raw food and macrobiotic eaters, those conscious of their health, and the curious individuals who were simply interested in pursuing new dining adventures all gathered together, crowding the street with eager eyes and hungry bellies.
Friends explored the event together, new friends were made, stomachs were filled (for me, probably two or three times), and everybody went home happy.
View photos of some of the best food from VegeFesta 2010.
What to Expect from Tokyo’s VegeFesta
Admission to the event is free, making VegeFesta unquestionably worth the visit. You do have to pay for the food, of course, typically ￥300 to ￥800 per item (ranging from a slice of cheesecake to a small bento box lunch, and equating in price to about US$3.50 to $10.00, according to current exchange rates), but it’s a small price for the gift of a truly satisfying and memorable afternoon.
This event brings all the major providers of vegan food in Tokyo to one place, helping out those of us who would like to find them, giving us a chance to sample their food, and simultaneously spreading the word about their businesses.
VegeFesta’s location in Yoyogi Park is just a short walk from Shibuya Station in the heart of Tokyo, Japan. In 2010, it took place on Keyaki Street, in front of NHK Hall. Both days, it ran from 10am-5pm, but the event’s website (below) should be consulted for accurate dates and times in the future.
Noteworthy Vendors in 2010
Yotsuya Sanjome 6-15, 2F, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
(Their “chocolate pie” cheesecake is absolutely incredible)
Luz Jiyuu ga Oka, 2-9-6, B1F, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 152-0035
(I had their croquettes in a bento. So delicious!)
Aobadai 3-17-7, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-0042
(Good for lunch and dessert, and apparently popular with vegan Tokyoites)
Whether you’re going to be living in Tokyo, or just passing through, if you happen to be in Japan in October during the next VegeFesta, it’d be a shame to miss it, whether you’re vegan or not.
For more information about VegeFesta, and for the event’s official website, visit tokyo-vegefest.com (English).