In our Tokyo Vegan Guide, we covered the 10 Best Vegan Restaurants in Tokyo where you can find tasty plant-based foods like vegan ramen, vegan burgers, and vegan curry, but if you have a more adventurous palate, try shojin ryori. While the ascetic life of abstinence isn’t for everyone, you’ll find that shojin ryori, Japanese Buddhist cuisine, is a diverse cuisine full of flavors, textures, and aromas.
Shojin ryori refers to the food that is served in Buddhist temples and eaten by Buddhist monks and nuns across Japan. Adhering to the tenants of Zen Buddhism, shojin ryori is 100% vegetarian and sometimes vegan, made without killing any living beings and without animal products. This uniquely Japanese style of cooking has since evolved, and the term can now be used to refer to any type of Japanese-style vegetarian cuisine, though you don’t have to be vegetarian to enjoy it.
If you want to discover how Buddhist monks and nuns eat, read on to find out where to try shojin ryori in the Tokyo area. We cover all types of establishments serving shojin ryori, from the elaborate fare at a Michelin-starred restaurant to a humble meal in the heart of Tokyo, to the best from temples offering this authentic vegetarian Buddhist cuisine.
Itosho is a hole-in-the-wall shojin ryori experience that you won’t want to miss. Located in Azabu-Juban, this small and unassuming restaurant holds a Michelin star for its shojin cuisine. The humble establishment serves dishes that are perfect in their simplicity, so you can enjoy the natural flavors of seasonal ingredients. The set menu includes 14 courses including tempura, seasonal vegetables, stew, pickled vegetables, and even sushi (that’s right, vegetarian sushi)! The owner/chef gives a truly personal experience, greeting guests upon their entrance and explaining the courses in detail. The presentation of the food is simple and beautiful, and the atmosphere of the restaurant is peaceful and serene.
Just an hour away from Shinjuku, Mt. Takao is the perfect place to go if you want to take a day trip to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. While you’re here, make sure to pass by Yakuo-in, a Buddhist temple that was established in the year 744, where you will be able to get a taste of authentic shojin cuisine. After you have made your way up the mountain to Yakuo-in, and taken in the natural splendor surrounding the temple, you can drop in for lunch right at the temple and eat a variety of vegetarian dishes that follow the principles of shojin ryori. The meal comes in small dishes to give you a little taste of everything; some even resemble meat in their flavors and textures, but they are all 100% vegetarian.
If you aren’t looking to go too far for a temple experience then head on over to Koganei, home of the Studio Ghibli headquarters and the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum. There you’ll be able to get a delicious shojin meal at Sanko-in. Gorgeous, carefully presented dishes, highlighting the bounty of the season are served up at this temple and nunnery. Incorporating local vegetables along with the nuts and berries that grow on the temple grounds, you will get a one-of-a-kind meal at Sanko-in. Here, the abbess will welcome you and explain each dish that is served, while at the same time teaching you about the history of shojin ryori. Note that Sanko-in does not accept walk-ins and the lunch meal begins exactly at 12 noon. It’s a really unique place to start your trip to Koganei, so remember to make a reservation ahead of time for a delicious vegetarian meal at this historic establishment.
Bon, located near Asakusa Station, practices Fucha cuisine, a Chinese variant of shojin cuisine. The two kanji for “Fucha” translates to, “Drinking tea together with all people.” Like shojin ryori, Fucha cuisine arose from Buddhist principles, originating in China before coming to Kyoto, Japan. Fucha cuisine follows the same vegetarian principles as shojin ryori, but it also places emphasis on a community feeling, and often food is served in a large bowl and shared amongst the group, to create a communal bond. At Bon, you will be treated to a seasonal menu that will emphasize the bounty of the current season. No matter what time of the year you visit, you will be in for a treat!
5. Komaki Syokudo
Komaki Syokudo is a hidden gem in Akihabara that showcases shojin ryori, located in Chabara among the many stores of the “electric town.” But unlike most of the previous shojin ryori establishments listed, this restaurant is not housed in a temple and won’t be too hard on your wallet, either. Rather, the setting is more casual, with home-cooking style meals, simple wooden chairs and tables, and a self-service water station. So, if you’re looking for fantastic vegetarian food, a friendly atmosphere, and Japanese-style home-cooking while shopping in Akihabara, come to Komaki Syokudo. This is one restaurant that proves that you don’t have to trek up a mountain or go on a temple retreat to enjoy a shojin ryori experience.
Francisco is a student who is currently studying abroad in Japan. He enjoys walking around the streets of Tokyo and discovering great places to eat.