Thursday, 22 May 2014

Vegan in Japan: Nikko to Nagoya with some stops in-between!

After the hustle and bustle of Tokyo taking the Shinkansen followed by a slower local train was a perfect way to ease us into the total change of pace we were about to experience. The destination - Nikko.

After stashing our backpacks in the super convenient station lockers we headed in the direction of Nikko's UNESCO World Heritage shrines and temples in search of food. The first place listed on Happy Cow that we came by was Hippari Dako and we decided to stop at this busy traveller spot and wait for a table.

The inside of this place is pretty rad, there are notes and mementos from travellers from all over the world stuck on the walls and ceiling. 

Hippari Dako have a vegetarian menu on which almost everything was vegan but a couple of things did contain egg. Our little vegan card came in really handy here. We each picked something different, I went for the Sosu Yakisoba and Nick opted to go with the Yaki Udon.

We also ordered fresh yuba which in my excitement I forgot to photograph but it was my favourite part of the meal. I am unsure if the soy based dipping sauce it was served with was vegan as a lot of soy sauce in Japan contains fish but we had a tiny bottle of Kikkoman in our backpack in case situations like this arose. I'm sure that our main courses were decent because this was a popular spot and it was also reasonably priced but both of our dishes were so overpoweringly peppery that I couldn't really tell you what else they tasted of. I wish I could have tasted the various mushrooms scattered throughout Nick's dish or the pickles topping mine but all could could taste was pepper. The service was lovely though and we enjoyed the vibe of the place. It was also a super filling meal as we spent the rest of the afternoon walking and didn't get hungry again for a good 6 or 7 hours, almost unheard of for me!

Our walk to Hippari Dako took us most of the way to the Shinkyō bridge where we stopped to take a few obligatory tourist snaps.

From there it was only a short walk uphill to the main temple complex. Sadly the main building in the Rinnoji Temple complex, Sanbutsudo Hall, was closed for refurbishments and it will stay that way until works are scheduled to finish in 2021. We did manage a sneaky walk around the Shoyoen Garden though and we loved walking around the 42 buildings that make up the Tōshō-gū shrine as well as the Futarasan Shrine which the bridge above is part of.

After an exhausting but super fun and fulfilling day we crashed out at the Nikko Mountainside Lodge for the evening. It seemed like a super cool place but we arrived just as it was getting dark and left pretty early the next morning so I didn't get too much of a feel for it. The walk there really wasn't too long and although a good portion of it was uphill it was totally manageable even with our backpacks. Our room had a lovely deep bath and whilst the bed was super solid I slept well. I'll also say that this spot was a personal recommendation from a friend who loved her experience there so if you're in the area looking for a place to stay it's definitely a well loved spot. On our walk back to the station in the morning I picked up some more yuba, I love this stuff and I wish I could buy it here...I know I probably could make it but I'm not going to so don't try to make me!

We headed back to Tokyo for the afternoon and evening as the next spot we were heading to would have made for a hellish travel day and we like to chill and enjoy each day as much as possible especially on a short trip like this. Pure Cafe was our second stop in the city, after dropping off our bags, and we arrived just after they'd finished serving lunch. Thankfully they hadn't sold out of sandwiches so I ordered the Mr Mustard and Nick opted for Peanut Butter & Banana. We also got desserts, Nick picked the cheesecake and I plumped for an Orange and Carob Chip Muffin. We also shared an Italian blood orange soda.

I think we went on to order these sandwiches three or four times each which says a lot about how great they were. I was so surprised by the Mr Mustard, it sounded unassuming bordering on boring and too veggie filled for my tastes but it was a revelation. Stuffed with onion, sliced potato, broccoli rabe, lettuce, tomato and a cream cheese-esque tofu spread combined with excellent bread made this one of the best sandwiches I've ever eaten. Nick loved his Peanut Butter and Banana, a favourite combo of mine whilst at home that he has always been slightly unsure of. I think the toasted bread made it into a concept he enjoyed. Normally I shun carob but in the Orange Chip muffin it complimented the super orangey flavour... I am quite aware that that is a ridiculous description of an orange muffin but seriously this was just the most orangey thing I've ever tasted, more orangey than an orange even! It was like the orange flavour was concentrated but yet totally natural. I loved it!

After dinner we headed to an early evening baseball game where I enjoyed some vegan Asahi beer before we got a massively early night ahead of the long day we had planned starting early the following morning.

After a swift 7am breakfast at T's Tantan, the only place open at that time of day and our reason for picking the previous nights hotel, we hopped on the train. Our final destination for the day was to be Nagoya for an overnight stop on our way to Kyoto but we decided we'd like to spend that day exploring Tsumago a well preserved edo-era post town in the Kiso Valley four hours from Tokyo. Obviously we packed train snacks as this was going to be a long one.

We each ate pickled plum onigiri from Family Mart, Pure Cafe banana bread and some apple from 7/11. I imagine Nick also had one of his eight thousand Clif builders bars because he's bigger than me and needs more food. Most of the fruit we ate on this trip was pre-cut and packaged like the apple in the picture, it was pretty much the only affordable way we saw fruit being sold and even bananas came individually wrapped in a plastic sheath.

Tsumago was a super enjoyable day trip and we managed to escape the large tourist groups who'd been bussed in and arrived just as we did by just going the opposite way to them when we arrived! It was a beautiful looking village with not much to do apart from wander so that's what we did, it helped that it was probably the warmest day of the trip thus far and I'll take any opportunity to soak up some vitamin D.

After another (thankfully shorter!) train journey we arrived in Nagoya early evening and headed straight for dinner at LOVE Pacific Cafe which is situated underneath a fitness club. We enjoyed one of my favourite meals of the entire trip here, I love bowls and this one was outstanding.

The bowl consisted of brown rice, lettuce, barbecued soy meat, pumpkin, lotus root, cherry tomatoes and cress and it was just bowl perfection. The barbecued soy meat had been fried until crisp on the outside but it was still tender and the choice of veg was spot on for me. I would love to recreate this one at home.

When we were paying we grabbed a couple of these Happy Dates bars, one chocolate and one berry, as we were 99% sure after doing some hand signals and whipping out the laminated vegan card that they were vegan. I confirmed the ingredients with my new pal from the Vegan Japan Instagram account and as well as being vegan we were surprised to discover that they contained a fun and unexpected ingredient, miso!

I was a big fan of the Chocolate variety and a not so huge fan of the berry but that is an ongoing thing with me! I should have known myself better and grabbed two chocolate ones. I also hadn't really noted the price of these Happy Dates bars until now but ¥108 translates to around 65p or $1.05 in American money which is a ridiculous bargain for a delicious date bar (especially by Japanese standards) and I now I'm wishing I'd grabbed a handful especially as we never saw them again!

I hope you're still enjoying reading my posts about Japan! Next stop Kyoto!


  1. I wanna take a nap on those plates of noodles! Loving these Japan posts :)

  2. Did you like the baseball game?! One of my favorite things. Love all your Japan posts!

  3. Beautiful pics.

    I'm very glad to see you say "Normally I shun carob", because otherwise I might have to reconsider our friendship! ;o) xx

  4. This trip sounds like such a blast! I'm really enjoying the recaps. I've only had yuba once but thought it was fantastic. I always look for fresh yuba when I'm in other cities with bigger Asian markets. (We have dried locally.) However, I haven't had any luck. Someday! It made me laugh when you said that people shouldn't force you to make it. I totally know that feeling. Sometimes when you cook so much, people assume you should be open to making anything from scratch. But really, because I cook so much, there are some places I have to draw the line! :)

  5. This morning I was all 'Sweet! another Japan post!" I've always wanted to go snowboarding in Japan.

  6. Loving the Japan posts and I like the sound of the orange and carob muffins. I quite like it in smoothies but I've only ever found carob chips for baking on a trip to the States.

  7. Looks beautiful! As does that bowl. Yum.

  8. I miss Japan so much, looking forward to Kyoto!

  9. I love the notes and mementos at Hippari Dako! That's so cool! Who knew miso and chocolate were good together!? Great post!

  10. I'm overwhelmed with your incredible adventures just by reading the recap- It's hard to imagine how amazing it must have been to actually have lived it. You found such a wealth of vegan eats, I'm truly impressed at the quality and variety!

  11. @carmen, yes! We loved it! It was super fun. If we'd have time we'd definitely have gone more than once.


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