Apr 16

Surviving in Japan: The Ultimate Guide to Reading Food Labels

Posted by Ashley Thompson (Shizuoka-ken, 2008-2010) of Surviving in Japan: without much Japanese and Lifelines columnist for The Japan Times.

food label, nutrition label, Japan, Japanese, English

When I first came to Japan, attempting to read food labels and understand what things were and what was IN what I was buying and eating was a huge obstacle. I could read hiragana, katakana and some kanji, but the majority of the food labels were confusing and I spent extensive amounts of time at the supermarket, smartphone in hand with a Japanese-English dictionary open, trying to decipher ingredients and information. I’d also use the smartphone app, ShinKanji, to search for various kanji and words I couldn’t read.

The work paid off, and though now I can’t read every single Japanese word without consulting a J-E dictionary or looking up certain kanji, I can usually quickly scan most labels to find what I want to know.

A guide to reading food labels in Japan is also one of the most popular post topic requests I’ve received. It’s something most of us struggle with when we first arrive, and I’d imagine even some of those who are fluent may not have known every word or kanji at first. Deciphering Japanese food labels, the entirety of them anyway, isn’t particularly easy, but I’ve attempted to break them down for you here. Note that I have not covered various ingredients aside from common allergens, as that’s something to cover in a separate post (or more than one). This one is already long!

I should note that food labels in Japan aren’t always consistent, as you’ll see below, and although, for example, you’ll usually see information about the total calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates and similar main nutrients, you won’t always see much about other minerals or vitamins (though things like fortified cereals, breads, etc., often list these).

I’ve also tried to include a variety of words you’ll see, but some terms/phrases are worded slightly different, although the meaning is generally the same, e.g., “賞味期限” and “消費期限” both mean “best before; best eaten by” or the expiration date.

Also note that throughout the post I have not broken down kanji and words as I normally do – instead, the vocabulary charts break them down, so please reference the charts for a breakdown. (You can also use the “find” feature on your browser and copy/paste a word you want to see in the chart to find it quickly.)

So let’s get on with it: how do you read food labels in Japan?

— CLICK HERE  for the following:

Japanese Food Label Vocabulary Chart
Japanese Nutritional Information Vocabulary Chart
How to Understand the Nutritional Information List on a Food Label
How to Understand the Rest of the Food Label
How to Read Food Labels on Imported Goods
Meat and Seafood Labels
Fruit and Vegetable Labels
Allergy Information on Food Labels

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