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Business trends

Japan's northern island rolls out 'green' carpet for vegetarians

Hokkaido wants restaurants to increase options to accommodate tourists

Vegetarian cuisine is on the rise in Japan, but it still has a ways to go.   © Reuters

SAPPORO, Japan -- The Japanese island of Hokkaido is working to expand meal options for foreign visitors who do not eat meat or fish, conducting a survey of restaurants that offer vegetarian dishes and encouraging other establishments to follow suit.

Japan has seen an influx of foreign tourists in recent years, many of whom are vegetarians because of allergies, religious restrictions and health choices. The country's northernmost main island wants to ensure such travelers do not run into trouble during trips there.

A growing number of restaurants here are already bolstering vegetarian offerings. Half of the roughly 60-item menu at Organic+ in Sapporo contains no animal products of any kind, including eggs and dairy. Those that do are clearly marked on the menu. Vegetarian and vegan options are cooked separately from meats as well.

Organic+ has seen an increase in traffic in the last two to three years. "We need to have more restaurants within Hokkaido that can offer at least the minimum level of service for vegetarians," said owner Yusuke Saito.

Another Sapporo hotel serves vegetarian pasta and curry at several of its restaurants. But such establishments are still far from ubiquitous in Hokkaido, where many restaurants hesitate to tackle vegetarian options due to a lack of know-how and added costs.

Organic+ indicates whether each item on its menu contains meat, seafood, eggs or dairy. (Photo by Kentaro Shiozaki)

The Hokkaido government will conduct a study of hotels, tourist areas and restaurants this fiscal year to gain a better picture of the island's vegetarian scene. It will also survey 100 foreigners at four locations, including the cities of Sapporo and Hakodate, to hear their concerns about food options in Hokkaido.

The island also conducted a survey on Halal food options last fiscal year, launching a dedicated website that outlines its findings.

It will compile an online list of vegetarian restaurants after the next survey in a bid to encourage other eating establishments to offer vegetarian options.

Hokkaido aims to bring in 5 million foreign visitors in fiscal 2020. About 80% of its 2.79 million visitors in fiscal 2017 came from Asia. The island hopes that strengthening the vegetarian food scene will help attract more tourists from Europe and the U.S.

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