Japanese food can have a lot more meat in it than you might expect! For not-too-picky pescetarians, navigating Japanese menus might come without too much of a headache, but strict vegetarians and vegans may find themselves in a bit of a minefield. Not to worry, though—Kyoto has many vegetarian cafés and restaurants to try!
See a selection of Kyoto’s vegetarian restaurants below.
Tofu and yu do-fu are traditional dishes in Kyoto, and have roots with the Zen priests in Kyoto’s temples, such as Nanzen-ji Temple. Since tofu is made from soy beans, it’s a popular dish with vegetarians, but you’ve never tried tofu like this… Tousuiro offers tofu kaiseki sets, including vegan options, in beautiful, traditional displays. Vegan and vegetarian dining options are available at Tousuiro’s Gion location, in downtown Kyoto.
This popular vegetarian/vegan-friendly restaurant is located centrally along Kyoto’s Teramachi shopping street, and serves a fusion of Western and Japanese-style dishes. The food is vegetarian, and menus will indicate when a dish contains fish. Be sure to come in advance or make a reservation, though–there is often a wait at Mumokuteki.
6-minute walk from Hankyu Kawaramachi Station, or 9 minutes from Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae (Kyoto City Hall) Subway Station
Just because you don’t eat meat doesn’t mean you have to miss out on some delicious Japanese ramen while you’re in Kyoto! Towzen serves vegetarian ramen in a style that is traditionally Kyoto: with a soymilk broth. Side dishes include more vegetarian Kyoto food, like yuba (made from the thick skin that forms on boiled soymilk).
“Shojin ryori,” or shojin cuisine, is a kind of Zen Buddhist vegetarian cuisine. Originally created in accordance with Buddhist principles respecting all life, shojin cuisine is prepared with no meat or seafood, and instead uses vegetables, beans, tofu, and yuba in artful displays. Some temples in Kyoto offer their own original varieties of shojin cuisine for tourists to enjoy. The following are a few locations where you can taste this traditional Japanese vegetarian food.
This vegetarian shojin restaurant is located right in the gardens of Tenryu-ji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guests must also pay the 500-yen garden entrance fee, but will be treated to its lovely views while dining on a variety of zen vegetarian sets. Shigetsu has also been designated a “Bib Gourmand” in the 2018 Michelin Guide, indicating a restaurant that serves “exceptionally good food at moderate prices.”
15-minute walk from Hankyu Arashiyama Station, 5 minute walk from Keifuku Arashiyama Station
You can find Izusen within the Daitoku-ji Temple complex (it has a second location in the Sagano area, a twenty minute walk from JR Saga Arashiyama Station), where it has been serving shojin vegetarian cuisine since 1963. Enjoy a variety of dishes here within a temple garden setting.