How do you know if something is vegan or vegetarian in Japan?
While the easiest way to confirm if something is vegan or not is to look for certification or label, this isn’t the case for most of the food products you find on sale in the supermarket (not just in Japan, but really anywhere in the world, right?).
Determining what is vegan becomes much harder if you are unfamiliar with the Japanese language and Japanese culture.
This article should have you covered for most of your vegan shopping, lifestyle, and travel, though. Read below for some strategies and practical examples to help you determine what is vegan-friendly in Japan!Vegan Food Guide for Japan: Telling if something. isvegan or not
- Read first: Veganism in Japan
- How to Check for Vegan Labeling in Japan
- Vegan and Vegetarian Terms in Japanese
- How to Read Japanese Food Product Ingredients
- Tips and Tricks
Veganism in Japan
Firstly, definitions are important. For the purpose of this article, food products considered vegan are those that do not contain animal products.
Any unprocessed plant food, however, is vegan, of course. Think fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes.
Processed foods are more challenging. In Japan, information about by-products and auxiliary products is often omitted from food labeling. Due to this, it is, unfortunately, difficult to tell if something is 100% free of animal products and processing using animal ingredients (for example, we can’t really know for sure if animal-based emulsifiers and bone-char processed white sugar are used).
Even if you are able to speak Japanese and contact the food product manufacturer, ingredients and processing methods change all the time in the food industry in Japan, and without notice.
The bottom line: it is up to you to decide what you will eat or not. If you want to play it safe it is advised to stick to exclusively vegan-certified products and unprocessed food. If you have an allergy or food sensitivity do not consume any food before confirming the ingredients and manufacturing processes.
How to Check for Vegan Labeling in Japan
Finding food with vegan labeling and certification in Japan is rare, however, there are a handful of Japanese vegan groups working on certifying products. Examples of these marks are below:
Vegan Certification Mark by the Japan Vege Project
For details see the VegeProject Japan website (English available)
Other common vegan marks in Japan
In addition to the Japanese VegeProject mark shown above, you may also see more common vegan labeling, like the U.K. Vegan Society’s Vegan Trademark (this mark), even on Japanese products. Keep your eyes peeled!
Vegan and Vegetarian Terms in Japanese
Below are some common examples of words and phrases in Japanese that you may see on vegan-friendly products. Please note though that the term “plant-based” in Japan does not mean it is 100% plant-based and free of animal-derived ingredients, however.
|完全菜食主義||pure vegetarian (vegan)||kanzen saishoku shugi|
|動物性原材料不使用||animal-product free||dobutsu-sei genzairyo fushiyo|
Here are some real-life examples of what you might see on food products:
The Coco Ichibanya curry is an excellent example with English and Japanese labeling: above the curry is shown as suitable for vegetarians, and it contains no animal-derived ingredients.
This food product has a label on the back that shows it is free of animal-derived products as it has 動物性原材料不使用 (along with no wheat (小麦) and no chemical seasonings/additives (化学調味料)). Sometimes products will also show this with pictures so you don’t need to know the Japanese, as seen here.
How to Read Japanese Food Product Ingredients
When products aren’t clearly labeled, either with official vegan marks or words/phrases mentioning that they are vegan or animal-product free, it’s time to check the product packaging and look at the ingredients. Usually, this will be on the back of the product, but sometimes it can be on the side.
Checking labels is time-consuming at first, and it can be hard with so many terms to remember. Below are some common ingredients and their meanings.
Common Meat, Seafood, and Fish Ingredients:
|鶏肉, チキン||chicken||tori-nee-ku, chi-ken|
|牛肉, ビーフ||beef||gyu-nee-ku, bi-fu|
|豚肉, ポーク||pork||buta-nee-ku, po-ku|
|ひき肉||ground meat||hiki nee-ku|
|魚介類, シーフード||seafood||gyokai-rui, shi-fu-do|
|かつお出汁, 鰹出汁||bonito broth||katsuo dashi|
|かつお節||bonito flakes||katsuo bushi|
|鮪, マグロ, ツナ||tuna||maguro, tsu-na|
Dairy, Eggs, and other Common non-Vegan Ingredients:
|全粉乳, 脱脂粉乳||powdered milk||zen-fun-nyu, shibo-fun-nyu|
|バター, 乳酪||butter||ba-ta-, gyu-raku|
|卵, 鶏卵||egg||tamago, kei-ran|
|蜂蜜, ハチミツ, はちみつ||honey||hachi-mitsu|
Common Vegan-Friendly Ingredients:
|昆布だし||kelp broth||konbu dashi|
Please note that the terms in the tables above do not cover the entirety of the ingredients you will see to any extent, but they are common.
Here is a real-life example of the back of a food product (pre-made curry) that is suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
There are three main sections you should pay attention to on food products when trying to determine if it’s vegan or not.
- Ingredients List
- Potential Common Allergens
- Info about the Manufacturing Environment (if you have allergies)
- The ingredients list above shows that the primary ingredients are: vegetables (potatoes, mushrooms, baby corn, and carrots), curry rue, sauteed onions, sugar, salt, ground sesame, yeast extract, curry paste, roasted onions, seasoning (containing amino acid), caramel coloring, emulsifier, acidulant, and fragrance. Wheat, soybean, and sesame are contained in these ingredients.
- The potential allergens in this product are listed in the box the green arrow is pointing to. This time the product contains wheat, soybean, and sesame.
- The manufacturing environment is shown below the ingredients list. This time it looks like the product is produced on the same factory line as products containing dairy. While dairy is not listed as an allergen, there may be a minimal chance of cross-contamination due to this.
The other box you may notice above shows nutritional facts (calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates, sodium).
Tips and Tricks
As noted above, it can be challenging to figure out what is vegan or not in Japan. Below are some quick tips and things to keep in mind:
- Since labeling in Japan isn’t the best regarding by-products, sticking to vegan-certified products is recommended.
- Look for keywords in Japanese if you don’t see a vegan mark.
- Read the ingredients list and take a look for allergens.
- When in doubt, avoid processed foods and stick to buying whole, fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts, beans, and legumes.