Green is clearly in, as the number of vegans and people adopting more heavily plant-based diets is undoubtedly on the rise. According to a report by GlobalData, the number of U.S. consumers that identify as vegan grew by 600 percent between 2014 and 2017. While concrete numbers for the Japanese market are not available, a limited study shown by Vegewel suggests the number of vegans doubled from 1 percent in 2017 to 2.1 percent in 2019.
Plant-based options are springing up all around the city. From the vegan curries at queer-friendly cafe Ryusen112 in Asakusa to thick vegan burgers from Great Lakes Tokyo in Takadanobaba, small vegan-friendly businesses are appearing so quickly it’s hard to keep up. Even traditionally meat-heavy options like steak houses and pubs are becoming friendlier to the veggie population, with The Burn in Aoyama, along with pubs such The Hobgoblin in Shibuya, churning out impressive vegan options.
However the real proof of veganism’s growing popularity is in the pudding. Or rather, the bread. This spring, a new generation of vegan bakeries and cafes have popped up around Tokyo. It’s welcome news for vegans, or even those with milk or egg allergies, who have often been prevented from enjoying many Japanese-style loaves.
One of these new businesses is 1110 Cafe/Bakery, located just across the river from Akabane in the city of Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture. Open since June 27, it’s a little oasis of green among the area’s many steel workshops. The red-brick bakery is situated next to a kombucha brewery run by the same company, Oizumi Kojo Inc. Originally a real estate company, current president Kantaro Oizumi was inspired to create a new side to the family business after a visit to New York in 2018, where he became inspired by popcorn, deciding to share the food trend back in Japan.
Among the cafe’s plethora of options, the anpan (red bean bun) stands out — a fluffy koppepan roll filled with rich coconut-based vegan butter and anko (red bean) — bringing this popular favorite to a whole new market of foodies.
Along with baguettes, pain de mie, raisin bread and other breakfast favorites, 1110’s menu also includes hearty meals such as macaroni and vegan cheese and a delightfully authentic vegetable-based quiche, which can be washed down with lattes made using organic plant-based milks — including oat milk, still a rarity in Japan.
Asked why he decided to open a vegan bakery, Oizumi’s larger goal becomes clear. “I traveled all around the world, but saw that there really weren’t many bakery cafes that focused on both organic and plant-based food, so I decided to start one myself,” he says.
Although not vegan himself, through his discovery of organic farming, kombucha brewing and the effect of animal husbandry on climate change, he recognizes the value of increasing vegan options in Japan, for both residents and visitors.
While the world-wide trendiness of veganism is partly to thank for the rise of plant-based eateries, Saiko Ohsara, the proprietor of Universal Bakes and Cafe in Setagaya-Daita (and sister shop Alaska Zwei in Nakameguro), says that the internationalization of Tokyo is also spurring on the change.
“Although slowly, Tokyo is becoming a much more diverse place — like major European capitals, New York or Melbourne. With all these people with different food cultures coming together, the need for inclusive options like vegan food is much higher than before,” she says.
According to Ohsara, since Universal’s opening in May, local residents have been enthusiastic about her baked goods, visiting several times a week to buy her melonpan (“melon bread”), savory gratin breads and array of baguettes studded with raisin or olives. “One of the most satisfying things is seeing children with milk or egg allergies light up when they are told they can choose anything they want,” she says.
Beyond bakeries, even more encouraging is the fact that major chains have also joined the plant-based party. Ubiquitous curry chain Coco Ichibanya has permanently added a vegan menu, as has the ramen chain Kyushu Jangara. Even burger chain Mos Burger is testing the waters with its Mos Plant-based Green Burger, while massive ramen provider Kagetsu Arashi temporarily brought back its veggie ramen, gyōza dumplings and fried rice for the first time in six years.
Bringing vegan and plant-based options to the mainstream makes dining easier not only for those who stick to the diet for moral or health reasons, but also those who have allergies or wish to avoid hidden animal products for religious reasons.
One anpan at a time.