If you are a vegan and are going to stay in a Western style hotel in Japan, you won’t have much problem. Many of these hotels serve buffet breakfast and you can eat what you can eat.
On the other hand, ryokans – traditional Japanese hotels – serve dinner as well as breakfast. You can ask them not to serve dinner for you, of course, but most ryokans serve traditional and regional dishes, which are often fantastic, and it’s shame if you cannot enjoy them. Some ryokans can serve vegan dishes and I strongly recommend you try asking if they could prepare something for you.
Ryokans are pretty popular among Japanese for their kind and sophisticated services. There you will be able to experience some other traditional features of Japan, such as sleeping on futon (mattress) used directly on tatami (flooring material made of straw), as many Japanese people have traditionally been doing.
In hot spring areas, most ryokans are equipped with hot spring baths. There are also lots of Western style hotels in many hot spring areas but the quality of baths is generally much better at ryokans than at hotels.
In short, you will feel you are really in Japan at a ryokan.
Would you be interested in staying at a ryokan? If you are a vegan, vegetarian or have any dietary restrictions, you have to explain what you request very carefully so that the ryokan can really understand what you do not eat. But, unfortunately, there are not many ryokans that have English speaking employees.
Another problem is that some ryokans cannot offer vegan / vegetarian meals because, as you may know, dashi – soup stock mostly made from fish – is so important in the traditional Japanese cuisine.
For these reasons, it is recommended that you contact the ryokan before you book.
Following are some expressions that would be useful when you write to ryokans.
I would like to make a reservation but I would like to ask you a question. Would you offer vegan meals? I do not eat any animal products, including fish, egg and dairy products. ==> 部屋の予約をしたいのですが、お聞きしたいことがあります。ヴィーガン向けの料理をお手配いただくことはできますでしょうか？魚や卵や乳製品も含めて、動物性のものは一切食べられません。
I do not eat soup stock if it is from fish or chicken. ==> 出汁についても、魚や鶏からのものでしたら食べられません。
It would be much appreciated if you would let me know if this is possible. ==> ヴィーガン向け料理のお手配の是非について、ご返信いただけますと幸いです。
If the ryokan responds to you in Japanese, you will have to use Google Translate or another similar service. However, machine translation still cannot be 100 % correct.
In addition, Japanese people prefer to say negative things in a very indirect way. This would make it more difficult for you to decipher the response.
To avoid such a problem, I would recommend that you add one (or both) of the following sentences.
We do not speak Japanese, so it would be appreciated if you could answer with simple expressions so that we could understand it by machine translation, or in English. ==> 私たちは日本語が話せませんので、機械翻訳できるよう簡単な表現か、英語でご返信いただけるとありがたく思います。
If you could offer vegan meals, please start your response from “yes”; if not, please start from “no”. ==> もしヴィーガン向けの料理をお手配いただけるようでしたら、ご返信を「はい」から、そうでなければ「いいえ」から始めていただけますでしょうか。
I know it is very complicated to customize these expressions if you are not familiar with Japanese (or even if you have studied Japanese for a few years…). Google Translate would be able to help you but it would be better that you have your email native checked to avoid any misunderstanding.
If you are not hurry, you can leave a comment here. I will check (or translate) your sentences.
Following is an example email and its literal meaning.
2 [number of people] 人向けの部屋を6 [month] 月の1 [check-in date] 日から3 [check-out date] 日まで2 [number of nights] 泊予約させていただきたいのですが、お尋ねしたいことがあります。
私たち [or just 私 if singular] はヴィーガンで、魚や卵や乳製品も含めて、動物性のものは一切食べられません。
I would like to book a room for 2 people for 2 nights from 1 to 3 of June but I would like to ask you a question.
We are vegans and we do not eat any animal products, including fish, egg and dairy products.
I imagine this could be complicated with Japanese dishes but we do not take dishes made with soup stock from fish.
Could you let us know if you would be able to offer any meal without animal products?
We do not speak Japanese, so it would be appreciated if you could answer with simple expressions so that we could understand it by machine translation, or in English.