Friday 2 May 2014

Vegan in Japan: More Tokyo Adventures

Our Hanami experience on day one (read about it here!) left us eagerly awaiting more blossom related fun so we headed out to Ueno Park early the next morning. 

After a long walk made longer by our constant stopping to take pictures we arrived at our destination, Shinobazu pond. The guide book informed us that this was the place to hire a swan boat, and hire a swan boat we did! If you aren't into swans (Why? You monster!) you can also hire little pastel pedalos and more simple rowing boats. 

Obviously I had my heart set on a big pink swan!

We had so much fun pedalling ourselves around the lake, it was beautiful and occasionally we'd spot a big seagull perched upon the head of someone else's swan boat!

Tokyo's Loving Hut branch was the closest spot for lunch and we were excited to head somewhere we knew was entirely vegan. There were a few lunch specials to choose from and of course I went for the one with the most dumplings.

One dumpling was stuffed with sweet barbecued pulled pork and reminded me of the Cha Su Bao I tried at Lucky Creation in San Francisco and the other was veg filled. The mock meaty dumpling was my fave'. Obviously. The little ones at the back were filled with sticky rice and peas and were also quite delicious. My plate was filled with a sample of room temperature dishes including a tofu satay skewer, vermicelli noodle salad, crustless tofu quiche, summer rolls, fried tofu and a sweet and sour mock meat dish which was my favourite part of the meal.

I was also super surprised by how much I enjoyed the tea served with my lunch set. I'm a long time tea hater but this finally brought me around. Ridiculously one of my biggest worries about our trip to Japan was being forced by both social conventions and my own politeness to drink tea, of which I can hardly even begin to explain my hatred. But, as it turns out, I only hate hot tea! The milky tea so beloved by everyone else tastes worse to me than drinking dishwater but cool refreshing flowery flavoured iced tea? Apparently I love it!

Nick ordered a mock fish and rice set that in it's true seafood form is a traditional Japanese dish, I wish I could remember the name. This is why I usually take a notebook with me to restaurants!

Overall our Loving Hut experience was positive, not the best food we had on our trip but definitely a great option either if you're at this side of the city or if your jet lagged self isn't feeling up to trying to ask questions about honey, egg or dairy products.

On the first leg of our trip we were based at the Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku and late on our second day we realised that the Lima health food store was right behind the hotel! We headed there to grab snacks for the next days breakfast and thanks to the vegan card I had printed out (and laminated!) and their super helpful staff we were able to ascertain what was and wasn't vegan. We grabbed a pack of ganmodoki, tofu and veg balls...

...and a couple of doughnuts, one chocolate and one matcha.

These were great portable treats to start the day with although, word of warning, if you're used to American or even European baked goods you'll probably find these (and most other) Japanese cakes a little dryer that you're used to. And a whole lot less sweet. I really enjoyed this break from lavish amounts of buttercream frosting and I gained an appreciation for more delicately flavoured baked goods. The dryness is still an issue!

That evening we headed out to Ain Soph's Journey location for an early dinner and after getting off to an odd start (a woman shouted that they were closed and tried to shoo us away when we arrived!) we were eventually seated by someone who actually did work there and the service was a little on the slow side but perfectly decent for the rest of the evening.

We couldn't commit to one main dish so we just ordered a few things to share including the nachos, deep fried soya meat, the Sheese plate and the tofu omelette.

The nachos were definitely an odd choice in a Japanese restaurant but they were homemade, very lightly salted and delicious. I could have done with more salsa but I'm pretty sure it's imported and therefor expensive so I understood the small portion. The deep fried soy meat is up there with some of our favourite dishes from the whole trip, super juicy mock meat coated in perfectly crisp batter. It didn't even need a dipping sauce. The Sheese plate was interesting, I should have guessed by the name that it would be actual Sheese from right here in the British Isles but my jet lagged brain's not that quick. I love Sheese but when I ordered I was hoping for a Japanese take on vegan cheese nevertheless it was delicious and if you don't come from the land of Sheese it's a super cool option to have. The bread it was served with was fantastic (although for me the cheese to bread ratio was way off) and I adored the pesto. The omelette was not to my taste, I kinda hate ketchup and the combination of super soft tofu and tiny carrot pieces missed the mark for me.

We went to town with dessert and both ordered pancakes which come with rum and raisin ice cream, fruit, jam and whipped cream.

I usually hate whipped cream but this light fluffy rice whip style cream was delicious and I could have eaten a bowl full. The pancakes were fluffy and pillowy and the only part of the meal I was unsure of was the ice cream as rum & raisin is not a favourite flavour of mine, texture wise it was spot on though, creamy and ice crystal free.

I'd definitely recommend Ain Soph, we went back on our last night and ordered a mix of some of the same and some new things and really enjoyed that meal too.

The next morning we got up bright and early, munched on our breakfast snacks and headed to The Ghibli Museum. As a long-time Studio Ghibli fan this place was high on my list of reasons for wanting to visit Tokyo and it lived up to all of my expectations. If you'd like to visit you need to book tickets online around three months in advance, we picked ours up via JTB the company we also ordered our Japan rail passes through.

Once inside the museum cameras are banned and people respect the rule. It would be less of a magical experience if you'd seen a tonne of pictures all over the internet already and this way you aren't quite sure what to expect.

After our museum visit we had lunch at Hanada Rosso. If we'd planned it better this would have been a great time to eat at DevaDeva Cafe but unfortunately they're closed on Thursdays which is the day we'd picked for our visit. If you're a better forward planner than I am DevaDeva Cafe is just a short walk (around 1.5km) from the museum. Hanada Rosso turned out to be a wonderful choice for lunch though and we ended up eating there three or four times during our trip.

We both ordered the Teriyaki Burger which comes with two side salads, miso soup and potato wedges.

The burger was ridiculously good and we were very pleased that there were burger bags on the table to hold your bun and stop the mess escaping as this piled-high burger got messy fast! For dessert we both opted for the Black Rice Chocolate Cake.

Nick enjoyed his with ice cream for a few hundred extra yen and I had the standard rice whip and chocolate sauce. These cakes were not-too-sweet, slightly moist and really delicious. It certainly wasn't the last time we ate them during our Tokyo adventure.

After a long afternoon exploring Takeshita Street, my favourite place to shop ever, we had an early dinner at Brown Rice Cafe. This is a super healthy macrobiotic spot located in Harajuku. They have set menus to choose from alongside their à la carte options and I just ordered what the person next to me was eating because it looked delicious!

I was very pleased with my meal which consisted of steamed veggies and tofu with two types of dipping sauce - sakura and miso, brown rice, veg filled soup, pickles and seaweed salad. This was a surprisingly filling meal and I'd recommend this place to anyone who likes to eat at the healthier end of the spectrum.

On our way home we swung by Natural House health food store where the vegan card came in handy again. We left with plenty of snacks for our day trip the next day including miso brown rice crackers, mandarin jelly made with agar, French chocolate filled breakfast bars, deep fried tofu, more ganmodoki, fruit, a couple of drinks and some imported gummy sweets.

As well as tasty take-out snacks Natural House also has a juice bar... 

...and more interestingly right next to the juice bar is an ice cream counter. 

Somehow Nick and I managed to miss the opening hours for both of these sections of the store about five times during our trip. I know! I feel like I've failed you! If anyone goes please tell me about it.

The next day's day trip was one of the things I was the most squeaky and excited about and if you've met me you can probably imagine how high pitched I got during the day because we were visiting, wait for it.... Puroland!! Aka, Hello Kitty World!!! It surpassed every one of my expectations and was the silliest most squee-inducing day trip I've ever been on. We were the oldest people there without children by fact I think we were the only people there without children but whatever, we didn't care!

The whole day was brilliant! I think Nick enjoyed it too but maybe more because of how overexcited I was than because of a genuine love for Kitty and friends. The Sanrio Character Boat Ride was our first stop, aimed at people aged 3-7 it was just the kind of gentle ride I like (no going upside down for me thank you), we also got to tour Kitty's home, watch a play about Kitty and her family going on a disastrous picnic, and meet Kitty herself but the Arigatou Hug You parade was definitely the highlight. Just look at the cute spangly brilliance!

I can't really think of a more adorable way to end this post so I'll leave you with that twinkly picture of Kitty and Mimi in their matching bear dresses. I'll be back soon with more Tokyo adventuring and the start of our super fun rail journey.


  1. EEEEEP! So much goodness in this post. I want to go so bad!

  2. So much pink!!!

  3. Who WOULDN'T go for the pink swan!?

    I glad you explained how good everything was, bc judging by the looks of things, I have to admit that I was thinking you should have taken that weird woman's heed and skipped Ain Soph's; those are the lamest "nachos" I've ever seen and YES, the bread/cheese ratio was WAY off.

    A "burger bag"? That sounds really confusing!

    I can't believe I"ve never heard of Puroland; I need to get out more.

    So much extra credit for laminating your veg card.

    1. Haha, I will laminate anything!

      The burger bag is like a folded piece of greaseproof paper with an opening for your burger, then the sauce doesn't run down your arm! Does that make any sense?!

  4. This looks like the most fun trip EVER! I have always wanted to go to Japan but still haven't made it yet. You have created my dream vacation itinerary!

    1. Yay!! I hope you make it to Japan sometime, it was seriously amazing.

  5. !!!! I want to go, and basically do the exact same tour as you. From the big pink swan to Hello Kitty World. Amazing trip!

  6. What beautiful pictures! I would love to see those cherry blossoms in real life. One day..!

    Looks like you've been enjoying some tasty food too..."of course I went for the one with the most dumplings" - girl after my own heart! :)

  7. omg - totoro! some interesting food - esp the sweets! :) i am hungry now!


Talk to me!