How to Easily Read Japanese Food Labels

How to Easily Read Japanese Food Labels

May 31, 2017

Whether you’re on a diet, have allergies, or simply want to be aware of what you’re consuming; it’s good to know how to food labels while abroad. That’s why, as part of preparation for Tokyo, I’ve compiled a simple list of ingredients and a breakdown of labels for my trip.

Staying on a low-carb diet and avoiding processed milk products is a nightmare when travelling. It’ll be especially so when I have a 7-eleven within walking distance. The only bright side is I’ll have an amazing gourmet kitchen to cook in and will be walking/bicycling a ton. There’s also about three or four different markets within 20 minutes’ walk. Yes, I’ve walked longer to get to a grocery store before.

Note that I’m not responsible for your use of the information provided here and that you should consult your doctor if you have food allergies. You should not rely on solely on the information in this post because it’s only for learning purposes.

If you’re not at the point where you can put in the effort to learn Kana or Kanji, I recommend using the Google Translation app that accesses your phone’s camera and translates in real time. While it’s not 100% accurate, no translation app will ever be and if you use android you may already have it installed.

If you’re serious about learning the language but haven’t started, I recommend checking out the following: Why you shouldn’t use romaji and Two years learning Japanese reflection.

Food labels:

We usually check the “best by” or “sell by” dates out of habit. I admit to buying non-meat foods past expiration.

There’s usually two different ways of marking the dates 賞味期限 (しょうみきげん) or 消費期限 (しょうひきげん). 保存方法 (ほぞんほうほう) is also important in that it tells you how to store the product after opening. You wouldn’t want to leave it out of the refrigerator or freezer on accident!

For meat:

The processed date is important 加工年月日 (かこうねんがっぴ). If you’re buying meat at the store make sure to see if you can eat it as is 生食用(なましょくよう) or if you need to cook it first 加熱用 (かねつよう).

Next check the nutritional labels (if you’re watching what you eat). Commonly people watch their calories. This is usually located near the top and can be listed as エネルギー or 熱量 (ねつりょう). Protein content is labeled as たんぱく質 (たんぱくしつ). Fat is 脂質 (ししつ) and carbs 炭水化物 (たんすいかぶつ). With carbs, you should consider the dietary fiber 食物繊維 (しょくもつせんい) and sugar 糖類 (とうるい). Sodium ナトリウム should also be considered.

For ingredients:

Milk – 牛乳 or 乳 (ぎゅうにゅう・にゅう)

Wheat/flour – 小麦(粉) (こむぎ(こ))

Peanut – 落花生 (らっかせい) or ピーナッツ

Shrimp – 海老 (えび) or エビ

Soy/Soybean – 大豆 (だいず) or ダイズ

Walnut – 胡桃 (くるみ) or クルミ

If you have a severe allergy and are not sure if a product is safe, don’t buy or eat it. If you’re confused by the ingredients, ask someone near you or an employee. They can always use a dictionary app or Google on your phone to show you what it is.

Language barriers should not stop you when it includes your safety.

Luckily I also found information on corn syrup in my search. Avoid 果糖ぶどう糖液糖 (かとうぶどうとうえきとう) when possible. It may also be listed as 異性化糖 (いせいかとう) or  液糖 (えきとう). Fructose is labeled as 果糖 (とう) or フルクトース.

While this isn’t an end-all, be-all list, I hope that it helps your adventures in some way. Add to the food labels list in the comments below to help fellow travelers!

Until next time,