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A FOOD GUIDE: TRAVELING TO JAPAN WITH DIETARY NEEDS
Article | March 5th, 2024 | May Hamamoto
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Vegan options at T’s Tantan in Gransta Tokyo

Traveling to Japan is an exciting adventure filled with rich cultural experiences and delicious cuisine. However, for those with specific dietary needs, it's important to plan ahead to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey. Whether you have allergies, follow religious dietary restrictions, have personal dietary preferences, or choose a lifestyle free from animal products—such as being vegan, vegetarian, or pescatarian—this guide will provide valuable tips and resources to help you navigate Japan's many restaurants and cafes while maintaining your dietary requirements.

Gold Leaf Matcha at Kanazawa

RESEARCH JAPANESE CUISINE:

Familiarize yourself with the basics of Japanese cuisine, including common ingredients, cooking methods, and traditional dishes. Learn about the typical components of Japanese meals, such as rice, noodles, seafood, vegetables, and tofu, and how they affect different dietary needs.

For instance, those with seafood allergies should be mindful of dashi stock or bonito that are usually made with fish. If you avoid gluten, please be wary of soybean derived products like soy sauce (shoyu), miso soup, and tofu. Wheat can be found in noodle dishes such as ramen, udon, tempura, and sauces. Those who cannot consume eggs should be mindful of popular dishes such as tamagoyaki (rolled omelet), okonomiyaki (savory pancake), and some ramen dishes. Many pastries and trendy new Japanese snacks and desserts contain dairy products. Nuts can be found in toppings, desserts, and certain sauces like sesame-based dressings.

Memorizing the Kanji (Japanese characters) for any food that you want to avoid is highly recommended, but can be (understandably) difficult for those not familiar with the Japanese writing system. You can carry a print out or take a screenshot of the characters for reference.

COMMUNICATE YOUR DIETARY NEEDS:

Learn some key phrases in Japanese related to your dietary restrictions or preferences. Notify your airline, hotel, and restaurants in advance about your dietary needs to ensure they can accommodate you appropriately. Carry a dietary alert card written in Japanese to effectively communicate your requirements to restaurant staff. Just Hungry offers simple and free printable dietary related alert cards here.

RESEARCH RESTAURANT OPTIONS:

Japan's major cities, including Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, have an increasing number of restaurants that cater to various dietary needs. Look for specialty restaurants that offer gluten-free, vegan, or allergen-free menus. Utilize online resources, such as HappyCow or Google Maps, which provide listings of vegetarian, vegan, and allergen-friendly restaurants in Japan. There are also many social media accounts dedicated to specific eating lifestyles. Explore traditional Japanese cuisine options that naturally align with specific dietary requirements, such as vegetarian-friendly Buddhist temples (shojin ryori). The popular multinational chain, Starbucks, can be found all over Japan and is good about dealing with allergies and dietary preferences. From their plant-friendly curry sandwich to dairy free tiramisu, Starbucks is a reliable place to eat and drink due to their strict allergen protocols. For other examples, check out these highly rated eateries:

For vegans: Mumokuteki Cafe & Foods Kyoto offers a wide range of plant-based dishes, including starters, main courses, desserts, and beverages, all thoughtfully crafted to cater to vegan dietary preferences.

Japan, 〒604-8061 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Shikibucho, 261 ヒューマンフォーラム本社ビル 2F

For those who eat Halal: Wagyu Yakiniku Panga specializes in meat dishes and ensures that their ingredients, cooking methods, and overall dining experience comply with halal standards, making them suitable for Muslim diners.

3 Chome-27-9 Taito, Taito City, Tokyo 110-0016, Japan

Starbucks dairy-free tiramisu and coffee

EXPLORE ALTERNATIVE DINING OPTIONS:

Visit local supermarkets or convenience stores to find suitable pre-packaged meals or ingredients for self-catering. For example, those who cannot consume gluten can replace soy sauce with tamari. You may also opt for international cuisine restaurants that offer a wider range of dietary options, such as Indian, Mediterranean, or Western cuisine.

PACK SNACKS AND SUPPLEMENTS:

Carry your own snacks that align with your dietary needs, especially if you anticipate limited options in certain areas. Get to know your local convenience stores (konbini), grocery stores, and vending machines for their typical offerings. Thankfully, konbini and vending machines are available 24/7 and can be commonly found throughout Japan! If required, bring necessary dietary supplements or vitamins to ensure adequate nutrition during your trip.

TRAVEL WITH A GUIDE:

Joining a tour will alleviate much of the worry that comes with traveling to a new country with food related requirements. At All Japan Tours, we are committed to providing an exceptional travel experience for all, including those with dietary needs. We do our best to ensure that you can explore Japan's rich culture and attractions while enjoying meals that suit your requirements. We notify the restaurants on our tours in advance and provide knowledgeable guides who will gladly check any ingredients that you are unsure about. Check out our tour offers and contact All Japan Tours to see how we can help you navigate your specific needs.

Overall, traveling to Japan with dietary needs doesn't have to be challenging. By understanding your requirements, doing thorough research, and effectively communicating your needs, you can enjoy the wonders of Japanese cuisine while staying true to your dietary preferences or restrictions. Remember to be open-minded and embrace the opportunity to discover new flavors and experiences along your culinary journey in Japan.

Note: While we do our best to accommodate our guests' needs, All Japan Tours and its employees, agents, and representatives shall not be held liable for any allergic reactions, incidents, or complications arising from allergies or dietary restrictions during the tour. Participants who join our tours assume full responsibility for their health and well-being during the tour.


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