Traveling to Japan can be difficult if you have food allergies since many dishes there contain fish, peanut, tree nuts, egg, or soy, and not many restaurants cater to people allergic to foods.
However, individuals with allergies who regularly travel to, and spend time in Japan revealed some helpful safety tips shared in The Japan Times by Louise George Kittaka:
- Research. Before leaving home, research Japanese cuisine and common seasonings; be familiar with what Japanese food frequently contains.
Cards. Always carry a card that has your allergy information printed in Japanese (hotel personnel may be able to help you with this). Keep the wording simple and straightforward as possible. Having documentation of your allergy written in Japanese may also prove helpful.
Kitchen. Staying at a place with kitchen accommodations, and preparing your own food, is highly recommended for those with severe allergies. Services such as Airbnb make this option easier to obtain.
Snacks. You may occasionally find yourself with no safe food options, so always carry some trusted snacks in your day bag or backpack.
Auto-Injectors. Those who carry epinephrine auto-injectors should travel with extras - just in case - and always have at least two of them with you.
Apps. Have an app such as Google Translate on your smartphone or tablet to scan and decipher menu terms, and food labels.
Label-Speak. Be aware that food labels in Japan can be confusing. For instance, milk might be listed as an ingredient not because it was added to the food, but because of possible cross-contamination. Peanut may be printed on food labels using either katakana symbols indicating piinatsu, or using kanji characters for rakkasei.
Soy Sauce. People with wheat allergies and celiac disease should understand that nearly all soy sauce sold in Japanese markets contains wheat.
Halal. Travelers might consider eating at halal restaurants, where foods are prepared according to Muslim law. These eateries may be safer for food allergic individuals because strict attention is paid to the ingredients used.
Guides. Would be travelers may want to print and carry helpful guides for reading Japanese food labels, such as the one shared at Surviving In Japan (link below).
There are efforts being made to raise food allergy awareness in Japan, and to make things easier for allergy-suffering guests in the country. For now, travelers need to remain cuisine-wary and cautious as Japanese restaurants address food allergy on a voluntary basis.