Japanese Decoded: Nutrition Labels

Japanese Decoded: Nutrition Labels

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.

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

Frosted foods
Japanese bits and bites, including tofu, oden, salads
Dairy products: milk, ice cream, yoghurt, cheese, butter
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 …continue reading