Japanese Decoded: Nutrition Labels

Savvy's Guide To Stress-Free Grocery Shopping

A cheat sheet of all you need to know for efficient and safe grocery shopping in Japan.

Have you ever felt like Alice in Wonderland when visiting a Japanese supermarket? Or found yourself spending more time than you have staring at a package, trying to figure out what the heck you’re looking at?

Been there, done that. Don’t feel embarrassed—we’ve all made at least one prayer to the god of labels asking for some secret knowledge. For those of you who shop regularly and are regular label readers—either because of dietary restrictions, allergies, or things you want to avoid for your health—but find yourselves lost in Japan, here’s a quick guide to navigating the supermarket and deciphering nutrition labels and ingredients.

Japanese Decoded: Nutrition Labels

Navigating The Supermarket

Most Japanese supermarkets are not difficult to navigate as they are more or less the same as in other countries. At times, though, it’s easy to get lost when searching for the perfect soba or ingredients for that home-inspired gravy sauce. You can orient yourself by looking at the product category sections, usually separated by green banners hanging from the ceiling. Below are the names of the most common ones.

Japanese Rōmaji English
青果 seika Fruit & vegetables
鮮魚 sengyo Raw fish
食肉 shokuniku Meat
加工肉 kakoniku Processed meat or in other words sausages, ham and other goodies
生肉 namaniku Everything from chicken, pork, and beef to ground meat and the like
菓子 kashi Snacks and cookies
麺類 menrui Instant noodles, soba, udon
デリカ or 惣菜  delika or sozai Appetizers, ready salads, fried bites, finger food and ready meals
パン pan Bread
加工食品 kakoshokuhin Canned and packaged food

kome
Rice
冷凍食品
reitoshokuhin
Frosted foods
漬物
tsukemono
Pickles
和日配
wanippai
Japanese bits and bites, including tofu, oden, salads
洋日配
yonippai
Dairy products: milk, ice cream, yoghurt, cheese, butter
ドライ飲料
dorai inryo
Juice, canned coffee, mineral water

Product Labels

Now that you’ve found the proper grocery category, let’s look at the product labels! 

Below is the back of a bag of rice crackers (senbei) carrying a standard Japanese nutrition label. On the top left, we see the nutritional information (栄養成分表, eiyou seibun you), which contains all the basic nutrition facts about the product, such as grams of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. On the middle left, above the bar code, we see a list of common allergens, with those contained in these particular rice crackers highlighted in black. On the bottom right we see a box with a variety of info, including the ingredient list.

Japanese Decoded: Nutrition Labels

Here are common terms you can see on those labels.

Japanese Rōmaji English
エネルギー/熱量 enerugi/netsuryoui Calories
たんぱく質 tanpakushitsu Proteins
脂質 shishitsu Fat
炭水化物 tansuikabutsu Carbohydrates
ナトリウム natoriumu Sodium
糖質 toshitsu Carbohydrates/Glucides
食物繊維 shokumotsu sen-i Food fiber
カルシウム karushium Calcium
食塩相当量 shokuen soto ryo  Sodium chloride amount
Japanese Decoded: Nutrition Labels

A standard ingredient list on a Japanese processed food product

Food Restrictions & Allergens

Ok, you have the right product in your hands, it looks familiar, but you’re not quite sure if it contains potential ingredients you may be allergic to or simply want to avoid. Refer to the list below, which contains useful phrases for food restrictions and ingredients to avoid if you have allergies or restrictions—or to this guide if you need more detailed terms for natural foods and dietary restrictions. 

Nutrition Restriction

Japanese Rōmaji English
糖質オフ/低糖質 toshitsu-ofu/teitoshitsu Low sugar
カロリーオフ/低カロリー karorii-ofu/teikarorii Low calorie
脂質オフ/低脂質 shishitu-ofu/teishishitsu Low fat
塩分オフ enbun-ofu Low salt
カロリーゼロ karorii-zero Calorie free
脂質ゼロ shishitsu-zero Fat free
糖質ゼロ/無糖 toushitsu-zero/muto  Sugar free

Allergens

Japanese Rōmaji English
卵/玉子/たまご tamago Egg
牛乳/乳 gyuunyuu Milk/Dairy products
小麦(粉) komugi(ko) Wheat/Flour
落花生/ピーナッツ rakkasei/pinattsu Peanut
蕎麦/ソバ soba Buckwheat
海老/エビ ebi Shrimp
蟹/カニ kani Crab
あわび/アワビ awabi Abalone
いか/イカ ika  Cuttlefish
いくら/イクラ
ikura
Salmon row
鮭/サケ/しゃけ/シャケ/サーモン
sake/shake/saamon
Salmon
鯖/サバ
saba Mackerel
牛/牛肉/ビーフ
ushi/gyu-niku/biifu Beef
豚/豚肉/ポーク
buta/buta-niku/pooku Pork
鶏/鶏肉/チキン
tori/tori-niku/chikin Chicken
ゼラチン
zerachin Gelatin
大豆/ダイズ
daizu
Soybean
キウイ(フルーツ)
ki-u-i(furuutsu)
Kiwi fruit
胡桃/クルミ
kurumi Walnut
バナナ
banana Banana 

Price Labels

Price labels usually contain information on when the product had been manufactured, the best before date, net quantity, production area, and, uh, the price. Below is a prime example. And if you see anything written in yellow and red, it’s usually a special promotion or a discounted product.

food-labels-japan

And if you’re cautious about where your food comes from, pay attention to the following words:

Japanese Rōmaji English
原産地/原産国 gensanchi/gensan koku Produced in/Made in
日本/国産 nihon/koku san Made in Japan
中国産 chuugoku san Made in China
米国/アメリカ産 beikoku/amerika san Made in America
オーストラリア産 oosutoraria san Made in Australia
カナダ産 kanada san Made in Canada
ニュージーランド産 nyuu jiirando san Made in New Zealand 
タイ産 tai san  Made in Thailand

With new products and imports increasing on a daily basis, this is by no means a complete guide, but we hope your shopping will be slightly more efficient and less stressful. And if we’ve missed any of your favorite products or important ingredients, leave us a comment. We also welcome your funny stories related to reading those labels wrongly…we certainly have our fair share too!