Got Food Allergies? How to Navigate Japan’s Food Paradise

  • HOW TO
  • Having an allergy to a certain food item can be very difficult. It can be tricky finding food you can eat when packaging and labels are written in your own language! Things can be even more difficult when you are visiting another country, especially if that country is Japan. Kanji can be tricky to learn and you might not have time before you visit. Here is a quick guide on how to navigate Japan if you have some food allergies!

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    Who is affected?

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    It is said that between 4 and 8% of people have a food allergy. This figure increases when you add people who are all sensitive to such foods. 90% of all food allergies are to one of the following: peanuts, milk, egg, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. Recent years have shown an increased rate of the diagnosis of food allergies in Western countries. So this means more and more of us might struggle with finding food.

    Allergies in Japan?

    It seems that people in different countries tend to have different allergies. In central Europe an allergy to celery is common. In Japan, however, an allergy to buckwheat flour, used to make soba noodles is more common. The top seven allergies in Japan are:

    • Eggs
    • Milk
    • Wheat
    • Buckwheat
    • Peanuts
    • Shrimp
    • Crab

    This list was decided by the Japan Consumer Affairs Agency as they have the stronger and most severe reactions. It is actually a requirement in Japan to label all products that contain these allergens.

    How to spot the allergens!

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    It’s brilliant for those of us who suffer with allergies that these products are labelled. However if you aren’t a native Japanese speaker or very hot on Kanji then you still might have a problem. My trick is to simply learn the associated kanji and kana’s for the allergens I can’t have then check, check check! Here is a short list of allergens:

    • Eggs: 卵; たまご; tamago
    • Dairy: にゅう; Nyuu
    • Wheat: 小麦; こむぎ; komugi
    • Buckwheat: そば; soba
    • Peanuts: 落花生; らっかせい; rakkasei
    • Shrimp: 海老; えび; ebi
    • Crab: 蟹; かに; kani
    • Soy: 大豆; だいず; daizu

    On my first trip to Japan I knew very little kanji or kana. So I printed out a list of the foods I can’t eat so I could cross reference! It worked really well for me, so you could try it too! This can also help if your communication isn’t great, you can show it to the waiter in a restaurant to help you pick the right foods. Also if you are visiting a chain of restaurants many of them have online allergy books to show what you can eat!

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