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Reading Japanese Food Labels – Allergens and Tips

Reading Japanese Food Labels – Allergens and Tips 

A challenging part of life in Japan is navigating the supermarket aisles and deciphering the labels. You may be wondering how to recreate home dishes using ingredients available at your local grocer, or you may have special dietary restrictions or allergies.

Food labels are 食品表示 (しょくひんひょうじ shokuhin hyou ji) in Japanese.

Let’s take a look at a food label before going on into the various parts of Japanese food labels and how to read them. Below is the label to a popular brand of barley (mugi) tea.

Reading Japanese Food Labels

Lots of text here, but if you look closely the label actually consists of 2 parts.

Let’s take a look at the top section:

JapaneseHiraganaRomanjiEnglish
 エネルギーえねるぎー enerugi- calories
たんぱく質/たん白質 たんぱくしつ tanpakushitsu protein
脂質 しょくえん shishitsu fat
糖質 さとう toushitsu sugar
植物繊維 さかなshokubutsu sen i fiber
ビタミン~ ~にく bitamin~ vitamin ~

*** Reading Japanese Food Labels – Allergens and Tips for Pregnant and Nursing Women***

Now, let’s take a look at the second half of the label:

Reading Japanese Food Labels

 

 

See if you can spot following words on the label.

JapaneseHiraganaRomanjiEnglish
名称・品名めいしょう・ひんめいMeishou, hinmeiProduct Name
原材料げんざいりょうGen zairyouMain Ingredients
内容量ないようりょうNaiyou ryouNet Weight
賞味期限しょうみきげんShoumi kigenBest By Date
保存方法ほぞんほうほうHozon houhouHow to Store
製造者せいぞうしゃSeizoushaManufacturer
~産・産地さん・さんちSan, sanchi Country of Origin

Common countries of origin include:

JapaneseHiraganaRomanjiEnglish
中国ちゅうごくChuugokuChina
アメリカ・米国あめりか・べいこくAmerika, BeikokuUSA
韓国かんこくKankokuKorea
オーストラリアおーすとらりあO-sutorariaAustralia
ブラジルぶらじるBurajiruBrazil

The kanji 国産 (こくさん、kokusan) as well as the name of a prefecture labels domestically made products.

Basic Ingredient List

JapaneseHiraganaRomanjiEnglish
 水 みず mizu water
小麦粉 こむぎこ komugiko flour
 食塩 しょくえん shokuen table salt
 砂糖 さとう satou sugar
 さかな sakana fish
~肉 ~にく ~niku meat
 ~油 ~あぶら ~abura oil

 

*** Reading Japanese Food Labels – Allergens and Tips for Pregnant and Nursing Women***

Watching Out for Allergies

The Ministry of  Health, Labor and Welfare designates 27 ingredients as food allergens:

アレルギー特定原材料等27品目

あれるぎーとくてい ざいりょうとう にじゅうなな ひんもく

Arerugi- tokutei zairyou nijyuu nana hinmoku 

Two groups compose this list.

The first group contains 7 items which must be identified on the label.

Reading Japanese Food Labels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next group is of 20 acknowledged allergens. Special care must be taken with those who suffer from allergies caused by items in the latter group; products containing these items may not be labeled as such.

JapaneseHiraganaRomanjiEnglish
あわびAwabiAbalone
イカいかIka Squid
いくらIkuraSalmon roe
オレンジおれんじOrenji Oranges
カシューナッツかしゅーなっつKashu- nattsuCashew nuts
キウイきういKiui Kiwi fruit
牛肉ぎゅうにくGyuunikuBeef
クルミくるみKurumi Walnuts
胡麻・ゴマごまGoma Sesame
鮭・さけさけSake Salmon
大豆だいずDaizu Soy
鶏肉とりにくToriniku Chicken
バナナ<ばなな/td>BananaBanana
豚肉ぶたにくButaniku Pork
松茸・マツタケまつたけMatsutake Matsutake
桃・ももももMomo Peaches
山芋やまいもYama imo Yams
林檎・りんごりんごRingo Apples
ゼラチンぜらちんZerachinGelatin

Use the label to identify which allergens, if any, are present in a food or drink.

An items that does not contain any of the 27 allergens may have the following text:

アレルギー特定原材料等27品目不使用。

あれるぎー とくてい ざいりょうとう にゆうなな ひんもく ふしよう。

Arerugi- tokutei zairyou nijyuu nana hinmoku fushiyou.

This product does not contain any of the 27 designated allergens.

Reading Japanese Food Labels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Items containing one of the 27 designated allergens are identified by a boldly colored rectangle or square:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While food allergy awareness is growing in Japan, it’s better to err to the side of caution when going out. Consider contacting a restaurant in advance to put in a request for special dietary requirements or allergies.

Inquire about the ingredients in your meal by asking:
I’m allergic to ○○; Does this contain ○○?
○○のアレルギーがあるんですけど、○○が入っていますか?
○○ の あれるぎー が あるん ですけど ○○ が はいっています か?

○○ no arerugi- ga arundesukedo, ○○  ga haitteimasu ka?

*** Reading Japanese Food Labels – Allergens and Tips for Pregnant and Nursing Women****

Special Tips for Pregnant and Nursing Women

You may be keen to avoid items with caffeine, or in search of items that contain folic acid or iron. The following table will help you identify nutrients that are vital to you and baby – and help you avoid harmful ingredients as well.

JapaneseHiraganaRomanjiEnglish
カフェインかふぇいんくCaffeineCaffeine
酒・アルコールさけ・あるこーるSake, aruko-ruAlcohol
葉酸ようさんYousan Folic acid
てつTetsuIron (Fe)
カルシウムかるしうむKarusium Calcium (Ca)

Pregnant women may also want to check out this article on being pregnant in Tokyo:

Information on Being Pregnant in Tokyo

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Reading Japanese Food Labels – Allergens and Tips for Pregnant and Nursing Women

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Written by: Teni Wada. American by birth, Japanese by choice, and traveler at heart. Tokyo-based content creator who enjoys browsing combini shelves for limited edition drinks and snacks. Discover her travel adventures and life as a first-time mom on her lifestyle blog babykaiju.com and Instagram @wadateni.

 

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5 comments

  1. Great article! Just noticed a typo. You’ve got Brazil and Australia’s Katakakana mixed up in the common countries box.

  2. Hi,

    Would you be helpful to point out on a natto packet where it says genetically modified or not?

    Thanks

    • Thank you for your comment. I had to do a bit of research and here’s what I found.

      95% of soybeans on the Japanese market are imported, and 70% of that is from the US.
      GMO soybeans are not (yet) commercially cultivated in Japan, so if you stick to natto made in Japan you should be in the clear.
      HOWEVER, companies use legal loopholes to label their product as non GMO.

      First, GMO products MUST be labeled in Japan, where you can find it as 遺伝組み換え=iden kumikae on the packaging.

      Here’s the tricky part. Even though you can find natto made in Japan with the following labels:

      *国産大豆=kokusan daizu/soybeans grown in Japan

      *大豆 (国産)= daizu (kokusan)/ soybeans (product of Japan)

      If it is followed by 遺伝子組み換えでない, you have a problem.

      *遺伝子組み換えでない=iden kumikae de wa nai products in this category can legally include up to 5% of GMO!

      Here’s a photo from Sankei News with actual labels that include 大豆 (国産)= daizu (kokusan) immediately followed by 遺伝子組み換えでない=iden kumikae de wa nai: http://www.sankei.com/life/photos/171106/lif1711060034-p2.html

      So you have to be extremely careful when looking for natto that does not include GMOs.

      Hope this helps!

      Teni

  3. Thank you very much for taking time to look into this in depth. It has been helpful.

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