Dealing with dietary requirements and food preferences in Japan

Some travellers may have specific dietary requirements because of allergies, religious beliefs, or being vegetarian, while other people may dislike certain foods, such as shellfish. If you are one of these people, you may be worried about how you will cope in Japan. Japan is increasingly catering to diverse dietary requirements, and there are various helpful resources available to help explain specific dietary requirements in Japanese.

Catering to diverse dietary requirements

If you’re staying in accommodation where meals are provided, it is sensible and polite to ask beforehand if they can cater for your dietary requirements. With advance notice they may be able to do this, and if they can’t, they will let you know.

Dinner served at a gassho zhukuri house in Shirakawago
Dinner served at a gassho zhukuri house in Shirakawago

More establishments now provide vegetarian, vegan and other options. Popular curry restaurant chain Curry Ichibanya has vegetarian/vegan options on their menu at most of their stores across Japan. At Camellia Tea Ceremony in Kyoto, all the sweets served are vegan, gluten-free and contain no nuts.

Some people are worried that because they don’t like fish, there won’t be anything for them to eat in Japan. There are plenty of dishes using beef, pork and chicken to choose from. If you wish to avoid all fish products, be aware that a fish broth called dashi is often used in Japanese cooking, even in vegetable dishes.

Useful resources for specific dietary requirements.

Allergies

This allergy card lists specific foods which you tick if you wish to avoid them, plus it has useful phrases to aid communication between the diner and the server. Food Allergy Card Japan is a similar idea with a slightly different assortment of foods.

Visitors wanting gluten-free food in Japan will find these guides to gluten-free dining in Tokyo and Kyoto useful. There is text in English and Japanese to explain coeliac disease, and foods that you need to avoid.

Vegetarian and vegan

Although as noted above, dashi (fish broth) may be used in vegetable dishes, Japan does have some excellent vegetarian food. Ingredients such as tofu and miso originated in Japan and are widely used. Vegetarians may like to try shyojin ryori, the vegetarian meals served at temples.

This vegan and vegetarian guide to Hiroshima not only lists restaurants in Hiroshima and surrounding cities, it also has a card along the lines of the allergy cards above, but designed for vegetarians. Other useful sources for places to eat are Happy Cow and Tokyo Cheapo.

Low carb

Eyesandhour.com has information on healthy eating in Japan with an emphasis on low carb food. The section on snacks is particularly useful.

Religious requirements

Central Japan for Muslim visitors covers halal food in and around Nagoya, and also other cultural advice, while this Muslim Friendly Guide does the same for the Hiroshima area. Both have cards listing prohibited foods in English and Japanese.

Kosher Japan provides guidance on keeping kosher in Japan, focussed on Tokyo.

If you have particular dietary requirements, it will take a bit of organisation to stick to these. Do have a look at the cards I’ve linked to above and work out what best meets your needs. Don’t hesitate to use it when eating out around Japan

Do you have any questions about food and restaurants in Japan? Please feel free to contact me.

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For further information, the ebook Japan Just for You is a practical step-by-step guide to planning your trip to Japan, starting with developing your own personal trip concept. It’s now available on Apple, Amazon and Kobo, and other stores.