肉は食べません vs. 肉は食べないんです

hey y’all. i’ll be traveling to Japan in a month and, as the thread title suggests, i don’t eat meat. as grammar really isn’t my strong suit, i wanted to ensure that i understood the difference between 肉は食べません and 肉は食べないんです – since i expect i’ll probably find the need to use at least one, and maybe both, while i’m in Japan.

my understanding from the Tae Kim grammar guide is that the -んだ or -んです form suggests that the preceding statement is being offered by way of explanation. so, as opposed to 肉は食べません, which is more of a stand-alone statement, 肉は食べないんです (or even, 肉は食べないんです、から), might be more appropriate as a way of declining an offer of meat (or an invitation to a yakitori stand, etc.). is that more or less on track? or are there other things i should be aware of?

of course, if there are any nuances concerning respect or politeness that i should be aware of, i’d be grateful for any guidance there as well. thanks, y’all!


I wonder if 菜食です (or 絶対菜食です) is something the average Japanese person would understand (or if that’s something a vegetarian/vegan Japanese person would say)

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I probably wouldn’t say that, because that’s “vegetarianism.” (Kind of; it’s more like “eating vegetables,” and searching seems to show that 菜食主義 is more common for strict vegetarianism.)

I see a mix of results online for both 菜食主義者 (which is a mouthful and probably more of a formal text definition than something for everyday speech), and ベジタリアン as a loan word. But I have no idea how in-common-parlance either is.

Re: Thread: You’re probably fine with either. You’re right that technically んです is more of an explanatory statement/qualifier/response, but in practice it’s also just a thing people do all the time when they forget to switch immediately into ます or are just speaking somewhat casually in situations that still call for polite forms. Since you’re qualifying your orders with it (I’d imagine), it wouldn’t be that weird to use んです either way. They’re both clear, so I wouldn’t worry about which one you end up saying in the moment.


thanks. would 肉は食べないんです be considered more casual than 肉は食べません? i would think that since it uses んです( rather than んだ) it would maybe still be the formal form? but maybe the understanding is nevertheless more informal? i certainly don’t want to imply any degree of disrespect, especially as i would already be in the situation of declining an offer.

(You’re) not eating sushi?
As for me, (I practice) vegetarianism.

I feel like that might work just fine, given how flexible topics and です are. I have no idea how a native speaker would express this idea though.

Not in any way that matters in the bulk of situations. (This is, granted, just my impression as a learner who’s been living in the country.)

If you want to be courteous to someone in, say a non-restaurant scenario, maaaaybe lean toward ません, and you can also append either with が. You’re not actually saying you’ll break–just softening the delivery. (Edit–Or lead into it with a が phrase like “I’d really like to eat it, but…” Either way should get your point across without sounding like such a flat and firm statement.)

Yeah; thinking of it like that, it would probably work. I’m also not sure, since I’ve never heard anyone actually do this.

Edit edit–

One last thing, since I missed this in your opening post:

Yes, んです is definitely the more natural way to turn down a specific invitation. I was thinking more about just stating your preferences when ordering or before a meal or something, in which case either would work.


ah, thanks so much. i should hopefully be able to remember this, as it’s basically the same form as -欲しいんですが.

From my experience, you’ll also want to specify fish as well. Unless you’re pescetarian of course.
I started off with 肉は食べません, but kept getting offered fish dishes. So I had to start going with 肉と魚は食べません.
But, we still ended up with what was clearly a fish based broth.


Be prepared, vegetarianism isn’t really a thing in Japan, so you will have difficulty/may have to do a lot of explaining wherever you go.

I would not say 菜食です。100% no one will understand that. It’s better to say ベジタリアンです. but, as I mentioned, Japanese people often do not understand the concept of vegetarian, so even if you explain that you may end up with a meat dish.

When I order, I often specify, ハム、ベーコンとか、肉が入っていますか? because if you just ask 肉が入っていますか? They will say “no” and then bring out something covered in ham or bacon. They honestly have no concept of what is and isn’t meat because they do not think about it. If you say you can’t eat meat they just imagine like steak or beef. If you are vegan or very strict you will want to just tell the waiter before you order everything that you can’t eat and then ask for a recommendation. Make sure to specify if stock used in broth is okay or not. There is secret bacon and secret fish in everything here. A lot of vegetarian seeming pastas, etc. actually have chicken or beef broth in the sauces even though there are not any visible pieces of meat.

Source: 5 years living as a vegetarian in Japan.


thanks. these are some great points. i’ve structured my itinerary largely around visiting temples and temple-towns (and an overnight on Koya-san), so hopefully 精進料理 should be an option much of the time. but i’m sort of resigned to the fact that i probably won’t get through two weeks in Japan without consuming some fish along the way, and i’m not going to drive myself crazy about it.

When I was living in Japan last year, this was what I often said:


It can be quite difficult, because it’s not really a common thing at all, and a lot of people will be surprised/confused. You’ll also find there’s so many almost vegetarian dishes, and it’s really frustrating.

Where are you going to be? If you want, I have some recommendations for vege food in Tokyo!


精進料理 Is one of the true delights of Japan. Despite being a meat eater this is something I always seek out. Fun to cook at home as well.

Tofu restaurants are often vegitarian too.

One of the things I struggle with in japan is not getting enough veggies in my diet, and something I do to allievate this is to go and visit the pickle stand in any department store and make a meal of pickles.


By the way, are you familiar with the app Happy Cow? If not, I highly recommend downloading it! You can search for vegan, vegetarian, or vegetarian-option restaurants with it. It’s a life saver for vegetarians in Japan, and can also help you discover some super cute local cafes!


I was a vegetarian when I went to Japan about a decade ago.
I would just say: ベジタリアンです。肉を食べません。" as my Japanese was pretty bad back then.
People understood what I meant.

As others have said, you will need to specify fish as separate to meat.


Hey I am vegan and live in Japan. They dont know what Vegan is for the most part. I useually just say, Niku (meat), Sakana (fish), Tamago (egg) and Miruku (milk) Tabarerinai. (even though you drink milk). I am pretty sure this isnt super gramartically correct but it usually gets the job done. In the big cities you will be fine, but it is difficult. Most things have fish or meat in, including things like salt potato chips, some onigiris (that don`t have meat in, but they actually do) and lots of other stuff. I just try my best haha. Good luck, if you have any questions, feel free to ask.

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True. A few times, even after saying we don’t eat meat or fish, they would suggest chicken.

Just need to find a 精進料理のレストラン, of which there are many now thanks to foreigners visiting Japan.

I’m currently in Japan. I just use ベジタリアン, everyone has understood it so far. If I don’t want to get into that, I just ask if a dish is meat or fish.

I order a lot of kitsune udon, soba, and vegetable tempura. When in doubt, go to an Indian/Nepali restaurant.

BTW what parts are you visiting? That changes your options a lot. I remember the Happy Cow app works well in cities like Tokyo and Kyoto. Not so well in places like Fukuoka.

i won’t be in Tokyo very long – really just one full day and parts of several others. but i’d love to hear your recommendations. (it seems like there are a number of other vegetarian and vegan folks in this thread who would probably appreciate your recommendations as well!) i’ll mostly be based in Kyoto and Kanazawa, though i plan to make a number of day-trips from those areas. the hostel i’m staying in at Kanazawa made a special point of highlighting its well-apportioned guest kitchen – and i love to cook. so i’m hoping to hit some of the local markets there and see what i can cook up at the hostel, at least for part of the trip. and i guess in the worst-case scenario, i can always live on conbini onigiri (and cup sake). :blush:

yeah, i love HappyCow. i’ve been vegan for seven years (and vegetarian for another 10 years prior to that), and that app/website has saved me on many an occasion when visiting new cities.

yeah: milk and eggs too. i didn’t want to make the thread title too long, because i’m really more focused on making sure i understand the proper grammar: when to use 食べません versus 食べないんです(が) . i feel that once i understand the underlying grammatical usage, i can then modify the topic of the sentence accordingly.

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What about