Navigating Japan with food allergies
March 24, 2012 2:26 PM   Subscribe

I'd love to visit Japan for a week or two with my wife, but I have some food allergies that will make it difficult. Will it be possible to survive and even find some nice meals with my soy and (pea)nut allergies?

I really have little knowledge of the modern food allergen labeling situation in Japan, or how aware restaurants are of what they are serving. I'm also somewhat unaware of regional variations in cuisine. I have some other mild allergies that aren't a major concern (crustaceans, some other legumes). Excepting this, my wife and I both love seafood.

I was of intermediate proficiency with Japanese a few years ago in college, so I would be able to inquire about these things, and my wife is Chinese so she could help me somewhat with kanji ingredient lists.
posted by Earl the Polliwog to Food & Drink (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not useful with the cuisine/phrasing, but Epi pens need to be registered with the goverment ahead of time. That was a bit of a suprise/scramble to set up. (Shellfish are out to kill me)
posted by larthegreat at 3:20 PM on March 24, 2012

It's not impossible. I can't speak to the soy allergy, but when I lived there a friend with a peanut allergy came to visit and had no problems whatsoever on that front. It's just not a common ingredient in anything.

The caveat is that allergies are sort of 'regional' The big allergen over there is buckwheat, so I don't know if there would be warnings for trace amounts of soy or peanuts on products, as those aren't as common an allergy as it is here.

That said, even if you pass on some Japanese cuisine, you won't starve. I knew a girl with a seafood allergy that lived there for two months and did fine, she just ate a lot more McDonalds than she was used to. Japan has some truly excellent Italian restaurants and French-style bakeries.

If you have an iphone, there's a good dictionary app called 'Midori' that I would suggest. You should be able to type in and show a waiter or waitress what you're allergic to.
posted by Caravantea at 3:30 PM on March 24, 2012

If you buy food in Japan, in many locations they will label common allergens. Soy and peanuts are one of the top 8.

I think there would be 2 things to watch out for.
(1) Cross contamination in restaurants, especially from processed food. The restaurant should be able to tell you whether there is soy/nuts in a dish, but they may not be aware that an ingredient (like cheese) was processed at a facility with soy/nuts.
(2) I am not sure if food in convenience stores (which are EVERYWHERE) is labeled with allergens, and the employees may not be very clear.
posted by xmts at 3:30 PM on March 24, 2012

As I'm sure you know, soy is in everything in Japan. People here in general are much less aware about food allergies than in the States, so just because someone says that something is soy free, or there is no cross-contamination, that doesn't necessarily make it true. Just be forewarned.

(This is similar to meat--There's hardly any vegetarianism in Japan, and they put meat in everything, so every American vegetarian I know who has spent time in Japan has stories about asking at restaurants if something has meat in it, being told no, and then having to pick the meat out themselves.)
posted by zachawry at 3:57 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Although the prospects based on this thread are not so good for me, I've begun looking into helminthic therapy as it's one of the few things that can modulate abnormal immune system reactions. If I wind up going through with it, I'll update with results.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 7:58 PM on April 24, 2012

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