Growing up, I had dreams to live in Japan. Every day of my life I spent mentally preparing myself for that day. In high school I took Japanese classes and read up on all the cool things you could do there.
One day, I applied to study abroad for two weeks in the south of Japan. Everyone got to go except for me and a girl with diabetes. Despite being told that I could go, even with my severe allergy, the teacher who ran the program decided that he didn't want to be responsible for me or that girl. It was awful. I cried. My Japanese teacher cried. Everyone cried.
I began to change my mind about moving to Japan and worked with a mentor to figure out what I wanted to go to college for.
I felt so crushed.
But I am here to tell you one thing: JAPAN IS SAFER THAN AMERICA WHEN IT COMES TO NUT ALLERGIES!
America uses a lot of peanut oil but Japan rarely uses it. The reason for this is import costs. Peanut oil is very expensive, so it’s often not used in restaurants. Of course, there are still places that use it but it’s hard to come across. I still always ask the restaurant staff about nuts in my food and make sure they check.
When I studied abroad and did my teaching internship in 2012, peanut allergies weren’t so well known. But now, Japan has made the effort to add allergy information to their menus. Don’t get me wrong, there are places that are still unfamiliar with nut allergies so, like you’re in your own country, always be careful and eat the things you're 100% sure about.
Whenever I go to eat at a Japanese restaurant or any restaurant, I always steer clear of sesame (goma) or Chinese salad dressings. Any spicy sauces on meats or ramen I usually ask for the allergy information. Sometimes, I just don’t eat that stuff at all.
In the beginning of my years living in Japan I wasn’t as careful as I should have been and ended up in the hospital. Another time, a restaurant staff member didn’t check the salad dressing ingredients, and It ended in another long day at the clinic. I was lucky to be alive and carrying an EpiPen with me.
Here are things you can do while living or traveling in Japan with a nut allergy.
Carry an Allergy Card
When I first visited Japan, I carried around an allergy card for my fish and food allergies. I am no longer allergic to fish but at the time, I had to be cautious. It was helpful because I was just starting to learn Japanese and was nervous I would communicate my allergies incorrectly. You can have these cards made on a specific website. I will link it below!
Bring Snacks You Know You Can Eat
I am quite used to reading the backs of packaging when I go to the store or purchase a snack but if you are nervous and unfamiliar, bring snacks like crackers, tuna, edamame, Doritos, etc. to tie you over until your next meal. You can purchase all of the above examples at local supermarkets or convenience stores.
Use Google Translate to Scan Food Packaging
The kanji you want to look for when checking a package is either ピーナツ or 落花生. If you’re allergic to cashews or almonds, check forアーマンド (almonds) orカシュナッツ (cashew)
Bring Extra EpiPen’s or Pick Some Up at the Clinic
Don’t forget to bring EpiPens with you when traveling. Get a note from your doctor before boarding the plane. They don’t usually ask for one but you never know. If not, you can get an EpiPen in Japan but you may have to pay extra for it. With insurance here, an EpiPen costs only ¥7,000 or $70. I know! I was shocked too! That’s one good thing to know if you’re moving to Japan, you can 100% purchase EpiPen’s here.
How to ask about nuts in food:
nutsu no arerugi arimasu kara, nutsu haiteimasuka?
(I have a nut allergy, so are there any nuts in this? *point to item*)
If you want to mention how bad your allergies are, read below!
tsuyoi arerugi desu.
(My allergy is strong)
If they don't check, you can ask in this way:
cheku shite kuremasen ka?
(Can you please check?)
If you’re traveling in the Tokyo area, here are some restaurants that I go to for great food without the worry of nuts in my food. Keep in mind, if you’re allergic to beans, sesame, dairy, fish, etc. I would still check with the restaurant staff. Make sure they actually take the time to check and tell them if you eat these things, you can die. They will take you seriously then.
Gyukaku – Yakiniku
Shibuya Gyoza – Gyoza (pot stickers)
Any Kaitenzushi restaurant (conveyor belt sushi): They usually have allergy info on the screens. Ask the staff if you can’t find it
Ichiran – Ramen
Kin no Kura – Izakaya: (all you can eat & drink restaurant)
You can eat everything here and they serve all types of Japanese foods!
Any American Type Restaurants:
Pizza slice – New York Style Pizza
T.G.I Fridays – Family dining
Saizeriya – Italian
Chilis – Mexican
CLICK HERE FOR YOUR ALLERGY TRANSLATION CARD!
Please add to this list below in the comments if you know any great, allergy free restaurants! This will help others out a lot!
I hope you enjoy your travels without any worry. Always go with your gut, if you are unsure about a food item, DON’T EAT IT!