Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Vegan Restaurants in Kyoto

Updated April 2020. Kyoto's government has urged foreign tourists to refrain from visiting Kyoto, so it is unlikely that any of these restaurants are open, and even if they are, I suggest not visiting. Please help Japan to get through the pandemic as quickly as possible, and plan a holiday for after it passes. 

Welcome to Kyoto

Kyoto is the vegan capital of Asia. It has over a dozen purely vegan restaurants, and, unlike Tokyo, most are within walking distance of the common visitor attractions. And while shojin ryori (Buddhist temple cuisine) is a must-eat at least once in Japan -- and Kyoto the best place to do it -- many other vegan restaurants are surprisingly inexpensive. A simple, healthy set meal often costs as little as a thousand yen -- less than a comparable meal would be in most of the world's historic cities.

This summary of vegan restaurants in Kyoto, which I originally wrote several years ago, is being updated with information from my upcoming Vegan Travel Guide to Japan.

Kyoto's Best Meals at a Glance

Links stay in this page.  

Best meal out in Kyoto &
Best Shojin Ryori (Buddhist Temple Cuisine)
Kanga An
Best Non-Shojin Ryori Fine Dining Little Heaven
Best Western Comfort Food Morpho Cafe, Veg Out
Best MacrobioticPadma
Best-value Simple, Healthy Meals  Sujata, Kitten Company
Best International Food Sujata (Indian).  
Work/Study/Hangout Space Cafe Choice



Prices include a drink and dessert if it would be normal to have one at such a meal. $ = inexpensive ( <¥1000)
$$ = midrange (¥1,000-$2,000) $$$ = expensive (>¥5000)

Veg Status

For practical reasons I categorise restaurants by the ‘worst’ ingredients used.

🌱 = fully vegan restaurant.
🐖 = serves meat, dairy and eggs.
(On other pages and in my guidebooks I also have symbols for (non-vegan) vegetarian restaurants, but I don't recommend any in Kyoto.

Kyoto Districts

Like for my page on Vegan Restaurants in Tokyo, this page follows the same outings as in my Vegan Travel Guide to Japan. In it I divide Kyoto up into four sections: the Kyoto Station Area, Northern Kyoto, Higashiyama and Arashiyama. These sections are selected to be useful for tourists, but they are not formal city districts. I recommend spending two days in Higashiyama (one day in Northern Higashimaya and one day in Southern Higashiyama, although these can be combined into one long summer's day) and one day in Arashiyama. There are several attractions and restaurants within a few kilometres of Kyoto Station in all directions, which can be easily reached from Kyoto Station, so I call this area the "Kyoto Station Area". That leaves an area dense in historical sites and some good vegan restaurants to the north of Kyoto Station, which I simply call "Northern Kyoto" (see map below). 

Most travellers to Kyoto choose to visit only a few tourist attractions and vegan restaurants in the Kyoto Station Area and Northern Kyoto, but everyone should at least visit Gion (and the nearby Shirakawa Minami Dori Street) and Kinkakuji (the famous Golden Pavilion). For visitors with only three days in Kyoto, I recommend fitting attractions in Northern Kyoto and the Kyoto Station Area around the other itineraries. If you have four or more days in Kyoto, then the Northern Kyoto attractions can be comfortably visited together in one day. For travellers who stay in Kyoto while visiting nearby cities (eg Osaka, Nara) I recommend visiting the Kyoto Station Area attractions in the morning before leaving Kyoto.

Kyoto Station Area

These three restaurants are all suitable for a quick meal after arriving or before leaving Kyoto Station. I present them in order of preference, the least convenient and best meal, to most convenient and 'worst' meal, though all serve reasonable food.

Kyoto Station Area Map

Organic House Salute ($$, Macrobiotic, Vegan, オーガニックハウス サルーテ, 🌱)

Fri-Tue: 11:30-14:30, 17:00-18:45; closed Wed-Thu.
Four minutes’ walk northwest of Kyoto Station (Central Exit).
600-8216 京都府京都市下京区東塩小路町600-31
Shimogyo Ward, Higashishiokojicho 600-8216
Delicious, inexpensive vegan food within a short walk of Kyoto Station.
Unreliable hours and little English spoken makes calling ahead difficult.

This friendly and usually very crowded vegan café serves typical fusion/macrobiotic meals, with sets starting at around ¥1,000. They also serve common macrobiotic mains such as tofu quiche, and some delicious raw sweets. They sell a good range of takeout snacks which are good for train rides.
Being a few minutes’ walk from Kyoto station, but with its own comfortable dining space, Salute offers a nicer dining experience than Kanna (see below), but it’s slightly less convenient to get to, and it has much shorter and less-reliable opening hours, because they are often full or booked out for private functions.
Staff don't speak much English, but the menu board contains (just) enough English for the non-Japanese speaker to order. If in doubt, order Today's Vegetarian Set (ベジ菜定食). If you have time near Kyoto Station, I recommend making the effort to walk here, and if you find it full or closed you can always head back to Kanna or Veg Out.
As you enter the restaurant take your shoes off, step up into the carpeted dining area, and then order and pay first at the counter adjacent to the dining area – not the one between the entrance and the kitchen, which guests first encounter upon entering the restaurant.

Vege Deli Kanna ($, Ramen, Curry, 🌱)

Enter the Kyoto Tower building (opposite Kyoto Station), and take the escalators down to the basement food court.
075 353-2399
Quick, inexpensive, long, reliable hours.
Unimaginative food; small portions; food court dining.

Meal sizes appear to have gone down, and are now smaller than this, and cost around ¥1,000. 

At first sight this deli in the food court is a little like the famous T’s Tantan in Tokyo, and at first I thought it was a new branch using a different name. Unfortunately, while it serves similar food, it has much less flair and flavour than T’s, and costs a lot more. A small bowl of ramen costs at least ¥1,000, and it won’t be your favourite or most filling in meal in Kyoto – a hungry gaijin might need two whole meals. But if you need a meal beside the station, perhaps late after a day exploring the city, this place will be here, and probably open. It appears that the menu is all vegan, but some dishes contain onion and garlic, which is not considered ‘pure vegetarian’ in many Asian vegetarian communities; I think this has led to it being sometimes listed as not being vegan. If you find that it is serving non-vegan food (meat, dairy, egg or honey) please let me know from the "Update this restaurant" attraction above; thank you.

Veg Out ($$, Western, 🌱)

Wed-Mon: 8:00-11:00, 12:00-17:00, 18:00-20:00; closed Tue.
Veg Out is on the west side of the Shichijo Bridge over the Kamogawa River, on the north side of the road.
Ten minutes’ walk northeast of Kyoto Station, on the way to Southern Higashiyama.
Several buses cover some of the route from Kyoto Station (please use the Directions link below) but it’s usually faster and easier to walk the whole way or take a taxi.
Two minutes’ walk west (straight across the bridge) from Shichijō Station on the Keihan Line (which connects with several restaurants and attractions in this itinerary, and with Osaka, but not with Kyoto Station).
Six minutes’ walk west of Sanjusan Gendo and the Kyoto National Museum.
600-8133 京都府京都市下京区 七条通加茂川筋西入ル稲荷町448 鴨川ビル.
600-8133 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, Shichijō, Naricho 448, Kamogawa Building.
Good food; open for breakfast; on the way to southern Higashiyama; beautiful view over the Kamogawa river.
Moderately expensive, but good value for the location.

This sister café of Tamisa Yoga Café has two great things going for it: it’s open early, and it has a prime location right on the Kamo River, beside the picturesque old bridge, between Kyoto Station and Southern Higashiyama, where most people begin their Kyoto sightseeing. Much like the nearby Café Choice (which is also open early) Veg Out can be a lifesaver when you need it. Prices are slightly higher than at comparable restaurants in Kyoto, with simple lunches costing around ¥1,700, but this is very reasonable given Veg Out's location. I suggest enjoying a coffee and light breakfast on your way to Southern Higashiyama, and perhaps taking out a baked snack or two for if you haven’t already prepared something.

Soup Stock Tokyo Porta Branch ($, Soup, スープストックトーキョー 京都ポルタ店, 🐖)

11:00 – 22:00
B1 Food Court, Porta underground shopping mall, opposite Kyoto Station (Central Exit).
Exit Kyoto Station by the Central Exit, and just to the left are stairs leading down into the Porta shopping mall. Walk down the stairs and continue in a straight line until you reach Soup Stock Tokyo.
600-8216 京都府京都市下京区 塩小路下ル東塩小路町902
Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, 600-8216
Also see Soup Stock Tokyo in Chain Restaurants.
Fast, cheap and safely vegan, with ingredient lists for all products; take-out soups available.
There are better vegan places nearby (see above and below).
Update this restaurant or tell me if I should remove it with Kanna nearby (see above).  

I originally listed Soup Stock Tokyo (a branch of this now-nation-wide soup chain - see my post on Vegan Survival in Japan) as an alternative near Kyoto Station for when Organic House Salute was closed. I rarely list a non-veg place in competition to a vegan one nearby and was going to remove it after Vege Deli Kanna opened. But I’ve chosen to keep this listing because Soup Stock Tokyo is even closer to Kyoto Station than Kanna is, it’s cheaper and faster, and because their soups can be taken out (frozen or heated); these can be great for Hiroshima or other trips out of the vegan-friendly Kansai area, especially if you have kitchen facilities at your accommodation. 

Northern Kyoto

This area includes many vegan resturants and popular tourist attractions north of the Kyoto Station Area (see above) and west of the Kamogawa River (east of that is Higashiyama - see below). Most tourists visit some of these attractions and dine at some of the restaurants after a day in Higashiyama or on other evenings, but I don't recommend making a whole day out of these attractions unless you have at least four days in Kyoto.

Kitten Company ($$, Fusion, , キトゥン カンパニー, 🌱)

Mon-Fri: 11:00-19:00
One minutes’ walk from Gojō Station, Exit 4, on the Karasuma (subway) Line, one stop north of Kyoto Station. Continue as you walk out the exit and a small lane will go off to the left. Kitten Company is in the first building after that lane, on the ground floor.
Fifteen minutes’ walk directly north of Kyoto Station.
Thirteen minutes’ walk west of Kiyomizu-Gojō Station on the Keihan Line.
Six minutes’ walk north of Higashi-Honganji Temple and Shouseien Gardens.
600-8170 京都府京都市下京区五条烏丸西入る上諏訪町294-1
Japan, 600-8170 Kyoto, Shimogyo-kyu, Kamisuwa-Cho 294-1
Charming little vegan café in central Kyoto.  

This humble café serves simple, healthy meals at remarkably low prices, especially given its location on the first floor near a busy street corner, within easy walking distance of many of the city’s prime tourist attractions. It has a somewhat alternative vibe (but not to the extent of Natural Food Village) and it’s clear that the family who run it are passionate about promoting veganism, sustainability and other good causes.
The menu changes regularly, but it always includes the typical (but very good) Japanese/fusion/macrobiotic dishes like curries and salads. Their meal sets are excellent value, starting at around ¥1,000, and their cakes and other desserts are also very good. Come expecting a good meal, but not the company of kittens.

Smoothie etc @ Tamisa Yoga Café ($$, Western, Baked Goods, 🌱)

Mon-Fri: 10:00-16:00; Sat-Sun: 9:30-16:00.
Last order: 15:30. 
Seven minutes’ walk west of Sanjo Station on the Keihan Line.
Three minutes’ walk south of Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae Station on the Tozai Line, which is of little use for any of the itineraries in this guidebook.
About fifteen minutes’ ride north of Kyoto Station by Bus 市営205甲, 市営急行104, or 市営4 from outside Kyoto Station (¥230).
604-8082 京都府京都市中京区天性寺前町532-2 北原ビル
604-8082 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Tenshojimaecho, 532-2, Kitahara Building
Nice interior above a yoga studio.
Small portions.

This little café, which is attached to the Tamisa Yoga Studio (which offers classes in English) focuses on its namesake smoothies and healthy cereal bowls. Smoothie Etc serves the perfect light, healthy food for a yogi and is a nice place to spend some time sipping a smoothie, but it is perhaps not ideal for someone who is about to spend a long day walking around Kyoto. If you’re looking a more substantial meal then I suggest its nearby sister restaurant Veg Out, or Choice, although neither of them offer particularly large meals. Ain Soph (see immediately below) serves somewhat larger meals, or for an inexpensive feast head to Sujata or Padma.

Ain Soph Journey ($$, Fusion, 🌱)

12:00-16:00, 18:00-21:00
Two minutes’ walk from Kawaramachi Station on the (private) Hankyu Kyoto Line.
Fifteen minutes’ walk from Yasaka Shrine.
通四条上ル中之町, 新京極, 538-6 中之町 中京区 京都市 京都府 604-8042
Shijo Street,上ルNakanocho, Shinkyoko Street, 538-6 Nakanocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8042
Website, Happycow, Facebook (shared page for all branches)
Fast, healthy, inexpensive food.
You’ll probably try the same food at least once in another branch in Tokyo, and there are more alternatives around here.

Ain Soph, one of Tokyo’s earliest vegan institutions which now runs several branches, opened here in place of one of the city's vegan pioneers, Matsuontoko. Ain Soph serves healthier food than its predecessor, but what’s most important is that this spot lives on as the go-to place for food in the cultural heart of Kyoto. True to its reputation from the capital, this branch also serves healthy, satisfying meals, at a surprisingly low prices for this location, at around ¥1,000 for a small meal.

Taiwan Vegetarian Muku ($$, Taiwanese, 🌱)

Mon-Sat: 11:30-15:00, 17:00-20:00; closed Sun.
11 minutes’ walk northeast of Gojō Station (Exit 1) on the (subway) Karasuma Line (from Kyoto Station).
7 minutes’ walk south of Kyoto-Kawaramachi Station (Exit 10) on the Hankyu Kyoto Line.
600-8047 京都府京都市下京区石不動之町695
695 Ishifudonocho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, 600-8047
Best Taiwanese food in Kyoto.  

Kyoto’s newest Taiwanese restaurant serves generously sized meal sets – with a somewhat Japanese twist – in a pleasant and spacious upstairs dining room. The Taiwanese staff are typically friendly and welcoming. Lunch sets start from ¥1,000 and elaborate dinner sets from ¥1,200, making these some of the best-value meals in Kyoto. The owner is passionate about promoting veganism in Japan, and she also runs vegan B&Bs in Osaka and Saitama (near Tokyo) which are advertised on Air B&B; I intend to stay at them on my next research trip to Japan and will probably add them to future editions of my guidebook. She also runs vegan cooking classes.

Meal sets come with bubble tea (also called pearl milk tea). This drink, which was developed in Taiwan in the 1980s and has since become world famous, contains small balls made from tapioca flour. Unfortunately (both in Taiwan and abroad) bubble milk tea is usually made with cow’s milk (despite soymilk being a traditional Taiwanese drink, or perhaps because of it) so Muku offers a rare opportunity to try a vegan version.

As far as I am aware, Muku and the Tokyo Loving Hut are the only fully vegan Taiwanese restaurants in Japan. In my opinion these two are also the best and they are also the most inexpensive, so if you have just one Taiwanese meal in Japan then I suggest that it be at Muku or the Loving Hut.

Veggie Café ($$, Middle Eastern, Macrobiotic, 🌱)

Thu-Tue: 17:30-20:30; closed Wed.
20 minutes northwest of Kyoto Station by bus 市営206, 乙市営26 or 市営28.
Half an hour (or less) by several bus routes from Kinkakuji – please use the directions link below.
A pleasant hour's walk southeast of Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion Temple).
604-8363 京都府京都市中京区錦猪熊町537.
537 Nishikiinokumacho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8363.
Happycow (Yes, Happycow IS his social media, and where most of his visitors come from.)
07-5366-3979 (owner speaks fluent English.)
Unique application of macrobiotic principles to Middle Eastern cuisines.
Tiny portions (even by Japanese standards); requires a special trip from central Kyoto.

Pita pockets are the Veggie Café staple, but the alternative macrobiotic concept has been extended to other dishes.
This one: Spanish Omelette (¥900). 

 This little vegan spot is run by a Japanese American man who is passionate about organic and healthy food. When he returned from the USA to open his restaurant, he chose to apply his background in macrobiotic cuisine to Middle Eastern food, instead of the standard deep fried vegetables, burgers, and raw sweets which are served at most macrobiotic restaurants in Japan. While his focus is still on pita pockets – and his falafel is top notch – his menu has expanded to include more fusion cuisine.

Pita pockets start at around ¥800, but servings are so small that hungry gaijins (foreigners) will probably want to order at least two if not more. On my most recent visit I ordered two pita pockets and left hungry, making my meal poor value for ¥1,700, even considering that the flour in the pita bread and the chickpeas in the falafel were organic.

If the idea of a largely organic, macrobiotic Middle Eastern meal is appealing then it’s worth making a special trip to the Veggie Café, but there is much better value food available in Kyoto at restaurants which are much easier to get to. The café closes during the New Year period and occasionally at other times, and it doesn’t have a website or a Facebook page (most customers are tourists who find it on Happycow) so it’s best to call before going. Food is made fresh – you’ll smell it in its various stages of cooking from your seat – so dishes can sometimes take a while to arrive.

Morpho Café ($$, Fusion, モルフォカフェ, 🌱)

Wed-Mon: 11:45-14:30, 17:00-20:30; closed Tue.
Last order: half an hour before closing time.
It also closes irregularly; days are posted on the website in Japanese; I recommend calling to check they are open.
602-8242 京都府京都市上京区皀莢町309
309 Saikachicho, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, 602-8242
Kyoto’s best Western and fusion food.  

Morpho is probably Kyoto’s most famous café (at least now that Vegans Café & Restaurant, the city’s pioneer vegan restaurant, has recently closed). Morpho is centrally located, and works well with a visit to Higashiyama, Gion, or any of the attractions here in Northern Kyoto, and it serves a wide range of international and fusion dishes, including Thai curries. And, most importantly, it’s one of the few vegan restaurants in Kyoto which stays open for dinner, for which it offers a wider range of cuisines, including ramen (Japanese noodles).The staff are friendly and welcoming, and those I spoke with were clearly knowledgeable and passionate about healthy food.

This new curry noodle dish is an impressive and certainly unusual fusion of Thai and Japanese tastes. I was told to add the rice after finishing the noodles, which worked well.

A regular customer noted in her Happycow review that they serve excellent-value Japanese-style set meals which include many small Japanese dishes, for both lunch and dinner. Unfortunately, they removed this option from their English menu because too many foreigners left parts of it, perhaps not knowing what those parts were (or were made from). If you would like this set meal and are willing to eat it all, please ask for it. If something tastes strange it’s probably made from soybeans, quite possibly fermented ones. Morpho is a famous restaurant in Japan, and its owners are passionate proponents of the macrobiotic diet, so it is very unlikely that they would serve non-vegan food. 

Yama Shokuon ($$, Indian, 山食音, 🌱)

Mon, Thu-Sat: 12:00-15:00, 18:00-20:30; Sun:12:00-16:00; closed Tue-Wed.
Five minutes’ walk southwest of Demachiyanagi Station on the Keihan Line.
Ten minutes’ walk northeast of the Seiwain-Gomon Gate on the east side of the Kyoto Imperial Gardens.
Fifteen minutes’ walk east (along the northern perimeter of the Imperial Gardens) of Imadegawa Station on the Subway Karasuma Line.
602-0841 京都府京都市上京区梶井町448-13 清和ビル F.
602-0841 Kyoto, Kamigyō-ku, Kajiichō, 448-13 Seiwa Building, 2nd floor.
South Indian food at good prices.  

Yama Shokuon is nothing if not unique: how often will you have Japanese chef prepare you a South Indian meal inside a mountaineering store? The space is a joint venture between Plant Lab, who previously served authentic Tibetan and Vietnamese dishes, and the Yamatomichi hiking store, which unfortunately sells and promotes merino wool products. Plant Lab serves the only vegetarian south Indian food in the city (the nearby Sujata, in Northern Higashiyama, focuses more on north Indian dishes, such as curries and roti). The friendly staff speak English, and are clearly passionate about promoting vegan food (even if not clothing). 

Zuishizan Kanga An ($$$, Shojin Ryori, 瑞芝山 閑臥庵, 🌱)

Open lunch and dinner strictly by reservation only.
Three minutes’ walk from Kuramaguchi Station on the Karasuma (subway) Line.
Twenty minutes’ walk (1.6 kimometres) up the Kamo River from Demachiyanagi Station (highly recommended during the cherry blossom season). 
606-8202 京都府京都市左京区田中大堰町168-2
168-2 Tanaka Oicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8202
Best traditional meal in Kyoto, if not all of Japan.
Most expensive meal in Kyoto, if not all of Japan.

There are more shojin ryori (Buddhist temple cuisine) restaurants than I could possibly review in Kyoto; however, most visitors dine at only a few owing to the high price tag. Kanga An is the most traditional, or the ‘real deal’, and at around ¥10,000 yen per person, so it should be. “The best meal I have ever had” is a recurring phrase on its Happycow reviews.

Kanga An is close to the botanical gardens. During the sakura (cherry blossom) season I highly recommend walking there from Demachiyanagi Station, along the Kamogawa River, which is lined with blossoms.

While I haven’t experienced or heard of anyone being served non-vegan food at Kanaga An, it’s important to note that, for most Buddhists, vegetarian (vegan) food is a tradition of their temples, but they don’t share the vegan philosophy, and most monks themselves eat meat.  So, while rare, it’s more likely that a dish contains egg or dairy products at shojin-ryori restaurants than at other vegan restaurants, which are usually run by followers of the vegan or macrobiotic diet themselves. So please bear this in mind, but any egg or dairy would probably be easy to spot in this type of food. 

The restaurant is set back from the street in a quiet neighbourhood, attached to a small but authentic Buddhist temple. In fitting with the shojin ryori experience, diners eat in their own rooms, which can accommodate individuals or large groups. Reservations should be made at least three days in advance. 

For the quality of the food, the setting (the restaurant itself and the private room) and the level of service it’s a reasonable deal, and probably an experience to remember for a lifetime, long after the memories of all the temples blur. I do think, however, that adding a “service charge” (10%) when service is implicit with shojin ryori, and then a tax on top of the service charge, takes things a little far, so be prepared to not get much change out of ¥10,000 for a "¥7,000" meal. Drinks are extra, as is the service charge on the drinks and the tax on the service charge on the drinks.

Stardust ($$, Fusion, スターダスト, 🌱)

11:00-18:00, by appointment only.
Twenty minutes by Bus Shiei 4 from Demachiyanagi Station.
A long ride (around half an hour) on Bus Shiei 9 from Kyoto Station.
41 紫竹下竹殿町 北区 京都市 京都府 603-8412
41 Shichiku Shimotakedonocho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8412
Email for reservations (English is okay).
Incredible meal and dining environment for the price.
Restaurant is a long way from attractions and requires a reservation a few days in advance.

Good writing is about adjectives, a friend once advised me, and I know I use the adjective ‘beautiful’ too often, but it’s difficult not to when writing about Japan. But nowhere deserves it more than Stardust, a fitting name for this café and sustainable fashion store which takes its name from the fact that many of the minerals in our body were created in exploding stars (called supernovae). Material from these supernovae coalesced to form the Earth over billions of years, and then some of these atoms came together and formed the complicated molecules necessary for conscious life. So our bodies are literally the dust of stars of the past – or, as I used to put it to my middle school science students, stars’ nuclear waste, although that description is much less fitting for this beautiful café. “You are a star brought down to earth. Until the time when your light returns back to the universe, you carry that same brightness inside of you” (from their website).

I rarely recommend cafes this far from a city’s main attractions and transport hubs, and this is the only one I recommend which requires an advanced reservation except for shojin ryori restaurants, which always require reservations. But I chose to recommend Stardust because the whole experience here is just so perfect, including the food, the service, and the setting. In some ways, making a reservation and having a meal waiting for you at Stardust offers much of the shojin ryori experience for only ¥1,500, although of course the meal is simpler, and you dine in a rustic old machiya (traditional teahouse) or its beautiful garden, not a Buddhist temple, but I wouldn’t say either is any better than the other. I came away feeling very elated from my experience here, and if you have the time to get here and can make a reservation in advance, I highly recommend it.

Gomacro Salon ($$, Sesame, ゴマクロサロン, 🍯)

Tue-Sun: 11:00-19:00
〒604-8207 京都府京都市中京区神明町67−3
Japan, 〒604-8207 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Shinmeicho, 67−3
Unique focus on sesame.  
Vegan branch of a non-vegan company.
Update this restaurant.

Open Sesame? It's said that this saying from the Syrian classic Arabian Nights has its origins in the powerful health benefits of sesame. True or not, you probably never realised how many ways seasme can improve a meal until you dine at Gomacro  -- literally sesame in Japanese. Here simple vegetable dishes (which in Japan are always cooked to perfection and delicous in themselves) reach a new level thanks to the addition of sesame products.

The restaurant is one of two owned by a major supplier of sesame to the Japanese market; Unfortunately the other one is not vegan. The two restaurants showcase the sesame products; they are also sold in a small shop inside the restaurant. I often find food disppointing at vegan branches of non-vegan chains, but that is not the case here, though of course by dining here we are supporting a non-vegan enterprise.

Higashiyama (東山)

entrance to Kiyomizu Dera, one of Kyoto's most famous temples,  on a rare snow day

Higashiyama has the highest density of famous temples and other tourist attractions in Kyoto, if not in all of Japan. As I explain in my Vegan Travel Guide to Japan, I strongly recommend visiting Higashiyama on a weekday which is not a national holiday. This is especially important during the sakura (cherry blossom) season around April, the koyo (falling leaves) seasons around November, and the new year period (Japanese follow the Gregorian/Western calendar, not the Chinese lunar calendar).

In my guidebook I recommend, if possible, spending one day each in Southern Higashiyama and Northern Higashiyama. They can also be combined in one very long summer's day (when there are longer hours of daylight). Maruyama Park makes a good place to finish one and start the other, although it is somewhat arbitrarily chosen; this is how I divide them up here.

There are virtually no vegan or even vegan-friendly restaurants in the Higashiyama temple route, so I suggest eating well first (see details below) and then eating well at the end. If you finish Southern Higashiyama around Maruyama Koen then there are several restaurants within walking distance or a short subway ride away. After Northern Higashiyama (or after the whole of Higashiyama if you do both itineraries in one day) there are several good opens for dinner between Ginkakuji (the final temple on the Northern Higashiyama itinerary) and Demachiyanagi Station, which is on the way back to Gion or Kyoto Station.

Southern Higashiyama Restaurants

This itinerary includes several of Japan’s most famous temples, and the busiest streets in Japan. I recommend starting out as early as possible. In my guidebook I recommend starting at Kiyomizu Dera Temple if you see all of Higashiyama in a day, or else the Kyoto National Museum and adjacent Sanjusangendo Temple if you spend the whole day in Southern Higashiyama.

The most convenient place for breakfast is Veg Out, which is on the way from Kyoto Station to the beginning of the Southern Higashiyama itinerary. It opens at 8:00 and keeps fairly reliable opening hours.

Unfortunately, there are no vegan-friendly restaurants and barely even any convenience stores in Higashiyama. While it’s not far to detour back to Northern Kyoto for lunch, it might be easier to eat well for breakfast, bring some snack food (or baked items from Apelila), and then have a late lunch or early dinner in Northern Kyoto or the Kyoto Station Area afterwards. This leaves the late afternoon and evening to explore Gion, and perhaps fit in an attraction from Northern Kyoto. The Manga (Comic Book) Museum is the closest attraction, but it closes at 18:00 and is closed every Wednesday (see Northern Higashiyama Map below).

Ninen Zaka, Higashiyama at dawn, the only time it's free of crowds. 

Northern Higashiyama Overview

Northern Higashiyama is one of my favourite districts in Kyoto and in all of Japan. Its most famous part is the Path of Philosophy, which leads to the famous Ginkakuji (Silver Pavillion).  There are several vegan restaurants at the beginning and end of this itinerary.

Northern Higashiyama Restaurants, Part I: Breakfast or Lunch

These are the most convenient restaurants to start this itinerary with. There’s a problem, however, that they all serve small, moderately expensive portions. It’s possible to double-back to Padma, which serves large, delicious, inexpensive meals (see below), for lunch, but I would recommend just eating as well as possible at Choice or Veg Out and carrying snack food with you to tide you over until dinner. If you have snacks from Apelila then bring them, because you can get more after this itinerary.

1. Walk to Veg Out (open from 8:00 Tue-Sun, listed under Northern Kyoto). After breakfast walk across the bridge and take the Keihan Line from Shichijo Station to Gion-Shijo Station, right beside Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama Park at the start of this itinerary. But if you’ll only go to Veg Out once, then it’s better to go before the Southern Higashiyama itinerary, since there are more food options for this itinerary.

2. Choice (see below) has something for everyone except a hungry person on a budget, and it opens at 8:30. It’s one stop north of Maruyama Koen Park (also on the Keihan Line) beside Sanjo Station, so it requires doubling back one stop on the train, or a fifteen-minute walk, to start this itinerary.

3. Meal sets at Hobodo Café (see below) are better value, but it doesn’t open until 12:00, and it’s closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

4. Smoothie etc at the Tamisa Yoga Café is an eight-minute walk west of Sanjo Station. It opens at 9:30 every day. But it’s somewhere to come to relax over a smoothie – or do yoga – and it doesn’t sell large meals.

Café Choice ($$, International, Gluten Free, 🌱) 

Mon-Fri: 8:30-15:00, 17:00-20:30; Sat-Sun: 8:30-20:30.
Two minutes’ walk from Sanjo Station, Exit 9, on the Keihan Line. Turn left, walk past the Family Mart, and Choice is one building before the first intersection.
Fifteen minutes’ walk from Maruyama Park (beside Yasaka Shrine), a common start or end point for exploring Northern and Southern Higashiyama.
605-0009 京都府京都市東山区 大橋町89 鈴木形成外科ビル
Higashiyama-ku, Ohashi-cho 89-1, Kyoto 605-0009
100% gluten free; large dining area; workspace; reliable opening hours; convenient location for Higashiyama; very close to Sanjo Station.
Small, sometimes bland portions.

Besides being gluten free, there’s nothing very special about this pasta, and at ¥1400 it’s not nearly as good value as comparable meals at other restaurants.  Go here when you have a special reason to, and there are plenty of those reasons.

Being open early, Cafe Choice is also a good option for breakfast when exploring northern Higashiyama, or for lunch if doing all of Higashiyama in one long day. It's also a reasonable option (perhaps second after Ain Soph) for a dinner before exploring Gion in the evening, but portions may seem a bit small for a hungry traveller after a day of walking Higashiyama.

Like T’s Tantan in Tokyo, it's somewhere most visitors end up sooner or later. It boasts what’s probably the largest interior of any vegan restaurant in Kyoto (if not in all of Japan), and its extensive menu is not just healthy but also completely gluten free. And best of all: it’s open for breakfast (from 8:30), from which it’s an easy walk from Higashiyama. It’s the best place in Kyoto to get a coffee and get some work done, or just chill out, and it’s large enough that it shouldn’t be a problem to stay a long time. It also sells its own vegan cheese, and some alternative health and body care products.

A Place to Get Work Done? 
As a large restaurant with a range of table arrangements, they're unlikely to be full, so while I'd recommend not staying longer than it takes to eat your meal if customers are waiting for tables, they advertise themselves as an "eat and study space" and offer free wifi, so if you need to hang out or get some work done, Cafe Choice makes a good alternative to Starbucks. Restaurants like this generally expect customers to order a drink if staying a long time, even after eating a meal.
No tables? The nearby Hobodo Café also has a small bar table for individuals to read or go online.

Order a coffee and get some work done, using the free wifi. There are also plenty of individual tables in the large restaurant.
My suggestion: Go to Choice for a variety of reasons: it has reliable hours, is open for breakfast, is gluten free and has a large space for both dining and café-style seats for reading or doing study/work. But don't come without any of these reasons if there are other options around, as food is better value elsewhere, and you'll probably end up here soon enough anyway.

Padma ($$, Macrobiotic, Vegan, 平和的ごはんパドマ, 🌱)

Fri-Wed: 12:00-19:00; closed Tue.
Beside Jingū-Marutamachi Station, Exit 2, on the Keihan Line.
606-8396 京都府京都市左京区下堤町82 恵美須ビル 2
606-8396 Kyoto, Sakyo Ward, Shimotsutsumicho, 82 Yebisu Building, 2nd Floor
Happycow, Website (Japanese only)
Best macrobiotic food in Japan.
You might be sick of macrobiotic food, no matter how good it is.

A comparably late arrival to Kyoto’s vegan scene, Padma quickly established itself as one of the city’s favourites among vegans. Compared with other restaurants in Kyoto, it serves a more traditional Japanese menu, and has recently began serving ramen. Their filling lunch sets are especially good value at ¥1,000-¥2,000. If you’ve been travelling throughout Japan and have had your lifetime’s ration of macrobiotic food then you might want to get your burger or Indian fix at Sunny Place or Sujata respectably (see below), but if you’re in Kyoto for Japanese food, Padma is one of the best, and the best value.

The bilingual owner and chef of Padma is friendly and welcoming and enjoys chatting with her customers; this business relationship is common for small restaurants like this in Japan. This friendly environment, however, makes it not somewhere for a quick meal: expect to wait up to half an hour for your meal and at least an hour for your whole dining experience.  I ate the entire meal shown in the photo above in about five minutes, and still almost missed my plane out of Osaka a few hours later. And, going by her Happycow reviews, I’m not the only one to have had this problem. This is just a part of the experience at this type of café and is certainly nothing to complain about, but please don’t come here in a rush as I did.

Padma is in between the beginning and the end of the northern Higashiyama itinerary, but I recommend it for the beginning (or for lunch) because there are so many other options in Northern Higashiyama. It’s also a very good option for a late lunch or an early dinner after exploring Southern Higashiyama.

Hobodo Café ($, Macrobiotic, 喫茶ホーボー堂, 🌱)

Mon, Fri-Sun: 10:00-18:00; Tue: 10:00-15:00; closed Wed-Thu.
Six minutes’ walk from Sanjo Station on the Keihan Line.
Twelve minutes’ walk from Heian Shrine.
606-8353 京都府京都市左京区 東大路西入 正往寺町452 仁王門アパート1F
606-8353 Kyoto, Sakyo Ward, Higashioj, Nishioji,  452 Masatoujicho,  Niomon Apartment, 1st Floor.
Funky café with good meal sets; good place to relax.  

This little gem offers inexpensive food and moderately priced drinks (including Taiwanese tea) in a homely setting with recycled furniture and décor. Their main meal of the day (¥1,000, shown above) is small but good value, and they have a narrow table along a wall where guests can read (old Japanese-language books are available) or work on computers without taking up one of the café’s two tables. It’s difficult to know how to recommend Hobodo Café, because it opens too late to start this long Northern Higashiyama itinerary with, and it’s probably not worth making a special trip back here from elsewhere in Kyoto. But if you’re hungry, thirsty, hot or cold, or just need a break from the temples in Northern Higashiyama, then it can be worth the detour here for a drink or a small meal to tide you over until dinner. If you make the detour to visit Heian Shrine (see below) then it’s only an extra ten-minute walk to get here.

Northern Higashiyama Restaurants, Part II: Dinner

After walking through the temples, most travellers end up at Ginkakuji (see photo immediately below). There are then several options for a good large meal which most people need by then.  

Ginkakuji, the Silver(less) Pavilion, Northern Higashiyama

Cacao Magic ($$$, Raw Chocolate, 🌱)

Sat-Mon: 12:00-17:00; closed Tue-Fri.
One minutes’ walk from the northern end of the Path of Philosophy.
Three minutes’ walk from Ginkakuji (the Silver Pavilion).
606-8406 京都府京都市左京区浄土寺石橋町41-1
41-1 Jodoji Ishibashicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8406
07-5757-8914 (Staff speak English; please call if coming from further away than the Path of Philosophy.)
Best chocolate of your life.
Most expensive chocolate of your life.

This boutique raw chocolatier churns out the bite-sized delicacies it sells online; however, during less-busy times it also functions as a small café, where it serves up delectable raw vegan desserts. Its owner discovered raw food while living in the USA, and after various attempts to bring the diet back to Japan, she found that chocolate was the most effective way to reach the masses with the raw message. The café sits at the end of the Path of Philosophy, where visitors might be so elated from the beauty of the path (and thus so detached from their bank balance) – or so ravenous from walking it – that they might be willing to part with over ¥2,000 for a small box of raw, organic, vegan chocolates such as the one shown in the photo above.

Natural Food Village ($$, Fusion, 🌱)

Tue-Sun: 12:00-15:00, 18:00-24:00; closed Mon.
This is the only restaurant in this section which isn’t on the route between Ginkakuji and Demachiyanagi Station.
Fifteen minutes by bus from Ginkakuji (several bus routes – please use directions below).
Twenty-five minutes’ walk (two kilometres) north of Ginkakuji.
Ten minutes’ walk northeast of Chayama Station on the Eizan Main Line, two stops northeast of Demachiyanagi Station on the Keihan Line. 
606-8175左京区一乗寺築田町95 第一メゾン白川202
95 Ichijōji Tsukidachō, Sakyō-ku, Kyoto, 606-8175
Facebook, Happycow, Website (Japanese only, not much here)
Good vegan food until midnight; chill vibe.
A bit of a hike from central Kyoto, but close to Ginkakuji, and worth visiting for a late meal.

The most authentic Pad Thai I have had outside of Thailand. 

Reportedly the oldest vegetarian (now vegan) restaurant in Kyoto besides the temple kitchens, Village has the vibe to match its age. The talented owner plays the roles of chef, barman, waiter and dishwasher, but he has such a chill, zen vibe about him that you wouldn’t know it. Limitations in space and time still apply, however, so orders can sometimes take a while to arrive. Dishes tend to be small (but still excellent value) so it’s usually best to order a few (except for the Daily Plate for lunch, which is a bargain at ¥1,200) and the first dish will usually arrive quite quickly. The menu features a range of Japanese, Indian and Western dishes, mostly from ¥1,000-¥1,500. A filling meal for two hungry Higishiyama explorers is likely to come to around ¥2,000-¥4,000.

The website has little information, Facebook is an old one dating back to before businesses could have “pages”, and the ‘unofficial’ listing on Google Maps has more information than the official one. It appears that the owner here doesn’t need to market or even update his profile at all to stay in business. If coming by bus, please watch your location carefully and get off if the bus turns away; I have had buses veer off course from Google Maps, as some buses use the same number but take different routes out of the city and Google doesn’t know which are which because they don’t run to strict times. After the last stop follow signs to the restaurant on the second floor.

Gorey Cafe ($, Italian, 🥚)

Tue-Sun 11:00-23:00
10 minutes’ walk (700 metres) west of Ginkakuji.
10 minutes’ walk (800 metres) northeast of Yoshida Shrine.
82-1 Jodoji Nishidacho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8417
07-5203-6296 (staff speak English).
Large, satisfying meals at very low prices.
Long, reliable opening hours.
Very simple food, befitting the price.

If there is such a thing as a vegan tourist trap, this is it. But even tourist traps are sometimes welcome, especially vegan ones. Gorey serves generously sized portions of pasta just up the road from Ginkakuji for as little as ¥650, making it hands down the most inexpensive meal out in Kyoto. And they can be supersized for a few hundred yen if that still isn’t enough.

The average chef could probably make most of this menu themselves at home – and would probably be more generous with the sauce – but what’s not to like about a large, inexpensive bowl of vegan pasta after a long day of walking, especially when you’re tired of tiny portions of expensive macrobiotic food? The décor is simple and homely, and they sometimes host music and dance nights. While the friendly staff understand veganism well, I recommend specifying while ordering that you are vegan, so you don’t want cheese.

Sujata ($, Indian, Japanese, 🥚)

Tragically, Sujata will permanently close her "Nest"'s doors at the end of May, but with the current (voluntary) lockdown, it may have effectively closed already. Sujata was a legend in Kyoto for serving up affordable, delicious vegetarian (mostly vegan) Indian and Japanese cuisine for decades -- well before most vegan restaurants appeared on the scene. I am leaving this page here until details of the lockdown and her final opening days are confirmed, but it appears unlikely that anyone will be able to visit Sujata again. 

Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri: 12:00-18:00; Sat-Sun: 12:00-17:00.
Fifteen minutes’ walk west of Ginkakuji and the northern end of the Path of Philosophy.
Ten minutes’ walk east of Demachiyanagi Station on the Keihan Main Line.
Several buses ply this route in both directions; please use the directions link below, although their times given by Google are not reliable, so it may be faster and more pleasant to walk. 
606-8225 京都府京都市左京区田中門前町96-2
96-2 Tanaka Monzencho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8225
Delicious, home-style Indian and Japanese meals; excellent value; kind vegetarian owner.
Irregular opening hours, but you’ll probably walk past it on your way.

Sujata is a charming little restaurant run by a devoted disciple of Sri Chinmoy, an Indian guru who taught his followers to be vegetarian and encouraged them to run vegetarian restaurants. She also serves some traditional Japanese foods, making for an unusual mix of flavours. While the occasional egg is offered in some dishes, the rest of the menu is vegan by default, and she has a very good understanding of veganism.

If you like Indian food and/or are travelling on a budget, then I highly recommend Sujata. Her samosas, which are made from scratch, are the best I've ever tasted outside of Indian homes.

Sujata closes for the occasional long period (often in January) and is now usually closed for dinner, so it's best to call first. She has in the past been an absolute life saver for me during the new year period, although as a chain the new branch of Ain Soph may stay open, as will the (also new) Kanna in the mall under Kyoto Tower.

Sujata's new year's meal was delicious. 

I recommend calling Sujata first, or if you are walking just continuing to Sunny Place if Sujata is closed. I don’t recommend any of the several nearby (non-vegetarian) Indian restaurants, none of which appeared to me to be willing to make the effort needed to provide vegan food, as much as they were willing to take in customers who arrived disappointed to find Sujata closed.

If Sujata is closed and you really want Indian food, Yama Shokuin, just across the river towards the Kyoto Imperial Palace (listed under Northern Kyoto), serves the city’s only south Indian meals.

Sunny Place ($, Western, 🌱)

Official hours: Mon-Thu: 11:30-15:00.
Five minutes’ walk east of Demachiyanagi Station, the terminal station of the Keihan Line.  
606-8202 京都府京都市左京区田中大堰町168-2
168-2 Tanaka Oicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8202
A pioneer vegetarian and vegan restaurant in Kyoto. 
VERY irregular opening hours.

Sunny Place is the last vegan stop along the 2.4-kilometre walk from Ginkakuji to Demachiyanagi Station and it has by far the most unreliable opening hours, so if you’re walking back it’s probably best to stop at Gorey Café or Sujata along the way – if you find them open. But should you still be hungry as you get near Demachiyanagi Station, it’s only a short diversion to see if it’s open – or call first (the owner speaks English).

Alternatively, Sunny Place is only five minutes’ walk from Demachiyanagai Station, so if simple, inexpensive Western food from this Kyoto institution appeals to you it’s easy to reach this area from anywhere in Higashiyama or central Kyoto, and it’s also worth coming to the area to stock up on baked goods from Apelila (see below). When you find it closed there are several options around (besides Sujata and Gorey Café). If you’re not tired of macrobiotic food then Padma (one of the best macrobiotic restaurants in Japan, with some of the best prices) is one stop south at Jingu-Marutamachi Station.

Apelila ($$, bakery, アペリラ, 🌱)

Wed-Sat: 10:00-16:00
Please check the calendar on their Facebook page for temporary closures.
Seven minutes’ walk northeast along the Takano River from Demachiyanagai Station, Exit 9.
606-8101 京都府京都市左京区高野蓼原町 高野蓼原町36-3
606-8101 Kyoto, Sakyo Ward, Takanotadeharachō, Takano Kashihara-Cho 36-3
Best bakery in Japan; also serves lunch.
Sometimes sells out of bread early.

This all-vegan bakery seems too good to be true. The owner cooks a wide range of delicious, vegan breads and sweet treats to perfection, on site. Apelila also has a small café attached, where visitors can enjoy fresh coffees and other soy-based drinks, with the aroma of the baking wafting into the dining room. This is by far the best place in Japan to stock up on fresh food for travels. Many of the simpler breads should last for a few days, especially during the cooler months. 

Unfortunately, if you’re following this itinerary, then it may be closed before you arrive, in which case it’s worth making a special trip back another time. I suggest making a special trip here to stock up before you leave Kyoto, and then eating them in order of perishability. They will be especially useful for Koyasan and anywhere else you are travelling outside the range of this guidebook except Tokyo. It’s best to arrive as early as possible as many of the best creations usually sell out first, although I have never come away empty handed. 

Falafel Garden ($$, Israeli, ファラフェルガーデン, 🐖)

Beside the river, one minute’s walk northeast of Demachiyanagi Station, Exit 9. 
606-8205 京都府京都市左京区田中上柳町15-2
15-2 Tanaka Kamiyanagicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8205
07-5712-1856 (Staff speak English, Japanese and Hebrew.)
Always open; great falafel.
Plenty of fully-vegan places around here – when they are open. 

Falafel Garden has been looking after vegans in Kyoto for over a decade, but I was reluctant to recommend it because so many new vegan restaurants have opened around it or a short subway ride away. And for a planned falafel fix in Kyoto, I would recommend prioritising the organic, vegan, macrobiotic Veggie Café, although portions are smaller and it’s more expensive.
But virtually all of these vegan places within walking distance of Falafel Garden keep irregular hours, some of them very irregular. And Demachiyanagi is quite a hub (for both vegan food and attractions) because it’s the last stop on the Keihan Line, beside the fork in the river, and a stop on the way back to the city from northern Higashiyama. So, if you just need a satisfying vegan meal in the area and find nearby options closed, then Falafel Garden is always there, always open, and always willing to serve hearty, inexpensive meals to hungry vegans.


Arashiyama is Higashiyama’s quieter cousin. It doesn’t have its fame or its big-ticket temples like Kiyomizu Dera, but, being so much less crowded, in many ways it better resembles the Kyoto of old, and thus in my opinion it offers a richer Kyoto experience overall. Arashiyama is home to Tenryu-ji, one of Kyoto’s top Zen temples, which is conveniently attached to the Bamboo Grove and hosts Tenruji Shigetsu, the least expensive place to try real shojin ryori (Buddhist temple cuisine) in Japan. Also nearby is Little Heaven, which is probably Japan’s top ‘non-shojin ryori’ vegan restaurant. Little Heaven offers a similar cuisine and standard of service to shojin ryori, but in a Western-style restaurant.

The focal point of Arashiyama is the beautiful Togetsukyo Bridge across the Katsura river, which is especially popular during the cherry blossom season. Equally famous and iconic is the Bamboo Grove. As simple as its name sounds, wandering this ancient road through the bamboo forest can be quite surreal, especially at dawn and dusk, when the effects of the sun shining through the bamboo are the most pronounced.  It’s much more peaceful early in the morning.

Several smaller temples dot the mountainside to the northwest. I highly recommend the three-kilometre walk between them, although few tourists venture this far. The historic Daikaku-ji, one of the highest-ranked Shingon Temples (founded by Kōbō-Daishi, of Koyasan) lies a kilometre east of the mountains, and is a good place to finish a walking tour. The Sagano Romantic Train is the key drawcard for children (of all ages) and young couples (of all ages).

Besides Kanga An (in northern Kyoto), most Shojin Ryori restaurants are in Arashiyama, so this is the place to reserve ahead and (if it's part of your plan and budget) spend up on dining.  

Arashiyama Restaurants

Tenryugi Shigetsu ($$, Shojin Ryori, 🌱)

11:00-14:00; reservations usually required.
In the Sogen Garden, inside the grounds of Tenryuji Temple.
616-8385 京都府京都市右京区嵯峨天龍寺芒ノ馬場町68
68 Sagatenryuji Susukinobabacho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8385
Lowest priced shojin ryori meal in Kyoto (or Japan).
Not the same experience as at more upmarket shojin ryori establishments.

Shojin Ryori (from Tenryuji Shigetsu, 3300 Yen + 500 Yen temple admission)

Tenryuji Shigetsu is the kitchen and restaurant of the Tenryuji Temple (beside the Bamboo Grove) and is located within its grounds. While the most economical way to enjoy shojin is at Koyasan, where you can stay and dine at the same temple, Tenryuji Shigetsu offers the least-expensive shojin ryori meal in Kyoto, with lunches starting from ¥3,300. Shojin ryori is defined as food free of animal products (and onion and garlic), but on hearing the word most people envisage a very upmarket dining experience, like what is offered by Kanga An. Here at Tenryuji, compromises are made in the mass production of its meals, and in how diners eat in one large tatami room, with other guests coming and going, instead of in their own private dining room like at the more expensive temples. This is perhaps not to be taken too lightly, as the only complaints I can find about Tenryuji Shigetsu are about fellow diners being loud and rude. But the food here is certainly ‘real’ shojin ryori because it’s is authentic, vegan Buddhist food served inside a temple, and a famous one at that.

Whether it counts as your shojin ryori experience or not, Tenryuji Shigetsu is a great stop for a delicious, healthy lunch. Walk-in customers are allowed outside of the peak sakura and koyo seasons, but they can only order the simplest meal set (shown in the photo above). I recommend making a reservation if you know when you’ll be going to Arashiyama. 

Little Heaven ($$, Japanese, Fine Dining, リトルヘヴン, 🌱)

Lunch or dinner strictly by reservation only (at least three days' notice required). 
Two minutes' walk from Katabiranotsuji Station on the Keifuku Arashiyama Line.
Eight minutes' walk southwest of Uzumasa Station on the Sanin Main Line (from Kyoto Station).
Thirty minutes' walk (2.4 km) from Tenruji Shigetsu or the Bamboo Grove.
〒616-8313 京都府京都市右京区嵯峨野開町8-29 
8-29 Saganohirakichō, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8313 
Best meal out in Japan other than shojin ryori.
Expensive; must be reserved at least three days in advance.
Update this restaurant.  

This upmarket restaurant blends Western-style fine dining and shojin ryori. Like shojin, it requires a reservation at least a few days in advance because local vegetables are sourced and prepared according to the scheduled number of diners. And (also like shojin) meals are presented as a series of exquisite, mouth-watering servings of Japanese and fusion creations. But guests are served at tables in a Western-style restaurant, instead of in a private temple dining room. Multi-course feasts start from around ¥5,000.

Little Heaven is run by a talented and passionate chef who previously ran what was one of my favourite restaurants in Tokyo. The owner grew his own vegetables south of Tokyo, which meant that the food was always fresh and delicious, but, unfortunately, the restaurant was often closed when he was at the farm. He opened this Little Heaven 2.0 restaurant here in Kyoto in 2014.
The owner and his assistant are clearly passionate about healthy, locally-grown food, and they went out of their way to explain to me the different types of daikon (radishes), which were the focus of that day's meal. They even brought out four differently coloured ones to show me and explained where (in Kyoto Prefecture) they were grown and how they were used in the meal. The various courses were also explained on a sheet (in English) which was at the table before I arrived.
If you’ll have just one expensive meal in Kyoto, dining on shojin ryori in a temple offers a more unique cultural experience (I recommend Kanga An in Northern Kyoto). But if you’re just after the meal of a lifetime (at a slightly lower cost) then Little Heaven is a very good alternative.

Little Heaven is an interesting modern twist on Shojin Ryori: food is eaten at western style tables in a traditional, open restaurant, but food is presented as a long series of exquisite, mouth-watering preparations just like shojin-ryori. Little Heaven is run by a talented and passionate chef who previously ran one of Tokyo's best vegan cafes, for which the owner grew his own vegetables south of Tokyo (the time spent on the farm while the restaurant was closed might not have helped the success of that business, but it sure helped the taste of its food). He opened this Vegan Heaven 2.0 restaurant in Kyoto in 2014, where he serves up multi-course feasts from ¥5,000. 

The owner and his assistant are clearly passionate about food, and they went out of their way to explain the different types of daikon (radishes), which were the focus of that day's meal, and even brought out four different-coloured ones, and explained where they were grown and how they were used in the meal, which was all explained on a sheet (in English) at the table before I arrived.
If you’ll have just one expensive meal in Kyoto, dining in a temple offers a more unique and memorable experience (I recommend Kanga An). But if you’re just after a meal of a lifetime, slightly less expensive than shojin ryori, then Little Heaven gives the temples a good run for their money.

Aside: If Possible, Try Shojin Ryori While in Kyoto 

While expensive, if possible I recommend trying shojin ryori (Buddhist temple cuisine) at least once in Japan, preferably in Kyoto. This cuisine has been developed over centuries (after Buddhism was imported from China) and is vegan without onion or garlic. Unfortunately, however, an increasing number of shojin outlets are adding dairy and egg products, or even fish sauces. This is against the Buddhist rules and traditions; however, since unfortunately most Buddhist monks and their patrons eat meat, it isn't seen as serious except by vegan tourists.

Fake Shojin?

Unfortunately the high price of shojin ryori makes it prone to abuse, and there are many 'fake' shojin ryori restaurants (mostly outside of Kyoto) which serve similar food but not with nearly the same quality ingredients or careful preparation; while a foreign tourist may not notice a significant difference it would be a waste of this quintessential Japanese vegan experience (and a lot of money) to try an imitation. It's best to eat at restaurants in or directly attached to temples, also always read reviews first, and NEVER eat "shojin ryori" from a restaurant which also serves non-vegetarian food: it's fake shojin ryori and may well contain fish derivatives.

Staying at a temple at Koyasan is a great way to experience a temple and try shojin ryori. At 10,000 Yen it's much more economic than dining in Kyoto, This meal is at Eko-in.

Temples at Koyasan (Mt Koya) offer excellent deals combining shojin ryori for breakfast and dinner with accommodation (starting at around  ¥10,000, a good overnight trip from Kyoto or Osaka.

Reserve Shojin Ryori and Other Meals in Advance

It's important to reserve shojin-ryori means in advance. The only exception is for single-person visitors to Tenryigi Shigetsu, during the off-season (see above). Little Heaven (the city's best non-shojin meal) and Stardust (see above for both) also both require reservations at least three days in advance. 
It's not only meals: if you'll take the Romance Train in Arashiyama this must also be booked ahead. It's also possible to reserve English-language tours of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, though I don't recommend this to most visitors.

Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion)

Vegan Accommodation: Vegan Minshuku Sanbiki Neko B&B

While in Kyoto I highly recommend staying at Vegan Minshuku Sanbiki Neko, an Autralian-run B&B in a newly-built, traditional-style Japanese home. It offers the benefits of a Japanese homestay without language or food barriers. I usually stay in fairly budget accommodation, but while in Kyoto I splash for a night or two here. For a private en-suite room and a hearty vegan breakfast prices are very reasonable, for everyone but epsecially a solo traveller.

For more information please see my separate page on Vegan Minshuku Sanbiki Neko.


  1. Oh God, this blog has saved me \o/ I can't thank you enough!

    I'm travelling to Japan on July and I was deeply concerned about finding vegan restaurants / meals in Japan. I'm relieved to know I won't need to feed on deep fried potatos during the whole trip!

  2. Thank you Michele! I'm happy if I could help.
    I should say that in much of Japan being vegan is still difficult, but it's getting easier, especially in Tokyo and Kyoto. I'm living back in Taiwan now, but feel free to email me if I can help with anything. Otherwise have a good, safe trip! It's an amazing country!

  3. Great article with a lot information. Thank you so much. I am heading to Kyoto this weekend, and I will definitely go to these vegan places for my meal. Remember last time I went to Kyoto, the only vegan place I can find is Cafe Proverbs. Glad there are so many options now.


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