Eating in Japan : How to Read Food Labels and Nutrition Facts
Japanese food has a reputation for being healthy for a reason. The Japanese have one of the longest life spans in the world, with meals based on a variety of vegetables, complex carbohydrates, fish, and antioxidant-rich tea. I have had a great time in my first week exploring Osaka with my stomach and trying to cook Japanese foods (though I accidently mixed up salt for sugar the first time I went grocery shopping!). But as a busy college student, it’s pretty easy to start relying on ready-made and instant meals. Japanese nutrition labels are not the most straightforward (even if your Japanese is pretty good), so I will try to explain them.
You can understand quite a bit if you can read katakana, but there are a few things that have difficult kanji.
Protein – たんぱく質（tanpaku shitsu）
Fat – 脂質（shishitsu）
Carbohydrates – 炭水化物（tansuikabutsu）
Sugar – 糖（tō）
Fiber – 繊維質（sen ishitsu）
Vitamin – ビタミン（bitamin）
Iron – 鉄（tetsu）
Whole wheat – 全粒粉（zenryūfun）
Most breads in Japan are not whole wheat but if you see these kanji, snag it!
Be sure to pay attention to the serving size listed. Many times the nutrition labels are for portions of 100g / 100ml (or some other arbitrary amount), even if the container is 80ml or 2100g. This requires a little math to find out exactly what is in your serving.
Luckily not all aspects of eating healthily in Japan are difficult. Ready-made meals and even menus often have the total caloric value of the meal listed. Just look for “## kcal” (which are the same as calories — we just drop the “k” over in the US).
Other labels to pay attention to are
## 割引 – this is an “on sale” sticker in increments of 10% off. For example, ３割引 is 30% off.
## 円割引 – this is an “on sale” sticker with the indicated number of yen off the listed price. For example, ５０円割引 is 50 yen off.
消費期限 （shōhikigen）– expiration date (do not eat after this date). Dates are usually listed YY/MM/DD.
賞味期限（shōmikigen）– best if eaten by date (safe to eat, but the flavour is not as fresh). Dates are usually listed YY/MM/DD.
With a reputation as “the kitchen of Japan,” Osaka has tons of delicious and affordable foods to look forward to. Good luck and happy eating!