{food} Vegan in Japan [2]: Useful Vocabulary for Grocery Shopping and Eating Out

Bonjour! As I already mentioned in the first part of this little Vegan in Japan “series” (lol), living vegan in Japan can be pretty challenging, especially with regards to food. For some reason, there are so many different animal-derived ingredients in so many different products (that normally don’t even require animal ingredients [example: bread]) that grocery shopping and eating out can often turn into a pretty challenging endeavour … even more so if you cannot read Japanese. Therefore, I thought it might be kind of nice to put together some sort of list of all animal-derived ingredients and their names in Japanese. Hopefully, this will be of some help to any vegans living in or visiting Japan!

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Please excuse these two extremely un-vegan photos, I desperately needed one for this post and these two were the only ones I found that I ever took that are remotely related to grocery shopping, hah.

  • beef  – 牛肉 (ぎゅうにく) – gyuuniku
    • the kanji 牛 means cow; 肉 means flesh or meat – so if you see any of these two, the product in question is (in most cases) not vcegan or vegetarian
    • beef can also be written in katakana as ビーフ
    • Japanese beef also goes by the name of 和牛 (わぎゅう- wagyuu)
  • pork – 豚肉 (ぶたにく) – butaniku
    • 豚 (sometimes read as ぶた or buta, sometimes as とん or ton) means pig, so if you see this kanji just by itself, it also means that a product contains pork and is not vegan/vegetarian, obviously
    • the katakana version ポーク is sometimes used as well
  • chicken – 鶏肉 (とりにく) – toriniku
    • again, same as above: just 鶏 (にわとり or niwatori) can also mean chicken, so look out for this one by itself, too
    • I’ve also seen the katakana version チキン being used
    • although I haven’t seen it on any ingredient lists, 鳥肉 (とりにく or toriniku) can also refer to chicken, so yeah, avoid this one, too
  • gelatine – ゼラチン or zerachin
    • I’ve seen this on a lot of products that looked vegetarian or vegan on the outside – some pre-made noodle dishes at convenience stores contain gelatin, for example; the teriyaki sauce at Mos Burger (which you’re unlikely to ever encounter as a vegan, but might as a vegetarian if you decide to get a burger with the soy patty) also contains gelatine (or might also be some sort of meat extract, but in any case, it’s not vegetarian). Even those milk-, sugar- and egg-free desserts at Mos Burger contain gelatine. Also, you should really pay attention to chewing gum, because almost all types of chewing gum I’ve seen in Japan also contain gelatine. So yeah, TLDR: GELATINE IS EVERYWHERE
  • meat extract – I’ve seen チキンエキス (chikinekisu, chicken extract) or ポークエキス (pookuekisu, pork extract), but I guess there is many other varieties; but basically, the word エキス or ekisu stands for extract, so watch out for that
  • fish – the general word for fish is 魚 (さかな or sakana) – but on ingredient lists, you usually probably won’t find this exact kanji, but different forms of it; but generally, it is useful to remember that most kanji for different types of fish contain this kanji “魚”
    • the kanji for salmon, for instance, is 鮭 (さけ – sake) – see how the first half of the kanji contains “魚”? You might also see 紅鮭 (べにざけ or benizake, a certain type of salmon), for instance – it is often contained in onigiri. サーモン is also a way to say “salmon.”
    • tuna in Japanese is 鮪 (まぐろ – maguro). Here again you can see how the first half of the kanji is “魚”. Often, I’ve also seen this written in katakana – マグロ. ツナ (tsuna) is also often used. Also, a common onigiri flavour in Japan is tuna and mayonnaise, which is often written as シーチキンマヨ (shiichikin mayo or sea chicken mayo), with シーチキン being another name for canned tuna or tuna salad.
    • mackerel is another fish that you might encounter often; its Japanese name is 鯖 (さば – saba)
    • another one you might see relatively often is イクラ or いくら – ikura, salted salmon roe
    • also: a more general name for seafood products in general is 魚介類 (ぎょかいるい, gyokairui)
  • shrimp – 海老 (えび, or ebi in romanized letters)
    • the katakana versionエビ is also often used
  • squid – formally 烏賊 (いか – ika), but on food, I’ve seen the katakana version イカ being used more often
  • crab – the kanji is 蟹 (かに or kani), but on food you’re more likely to see the hiragana version or even the katakana version カニ
  • shellfish – generally 貝 (かい or kai) – here too you can find a lot of different types, but they usually contain this kanji “貝” so just study and remember this one and you should be able to recognize most of them despite not being able to read their names in their entirety
    • a well-known example is the Japanese scallop – 帆立貝 (ほたてがい or hotategai); you can see that the last kanji is that of shellfish mentioned above
  • fish/bonito flakes – 鰹節 or かつお節 or かつおぶし or カツオブシ, all read as katsuobushi (just written in different ways)
    • bonito flakes are also known as おかか – you are most likely to find this on onigiri
    • also watch out for カツオエキス or katsuoekisu, which is essentially something like bonito extract
  • fish soup stock – 出し or dashi – other forms include 出汁, だし or ダシ, all read in the same way
    • this is a super common ingredient in Japan, and you will probably find it on a lot of ingredient lists
    • however, not all dashi is actually made of fish; sometimes dashi can also be made of seaweed (昆布, こんぶ, konbu) or some other, non-animal-derived ingredient. The fish-derived stock is the most common though, so if you see just “dashi” written somewhere, it’s safer to just assume that it is made from fish and avoid the product
  • fish oil – 魚油 (ぎょゆ – gyoyu)
  • egg – 卵, たまご in hiragana and tamago in romanized letters
    • whole egg is 全卵 (ぜんらん, read as zenran)
    • the word for egg white is 卵白 (らんぱく- ranpaku)
    • the word for egg yolk is 卵黄 (らんおう or ran’ou)
  • milk – the usual name for milk is 牛乳 (ぎゅうにゅう or gyuunyuu); however, on ingredient lists, you are likely to find numerous variations of this ingredient
    • ミルク (read as miruku) is also used, often also in combination with パウダー (paudaa) to make ミルクパウダー (mirukupaudaa – milk powder)
    • sometimes you can see just “乳” which means milk in more general terms
    • 全乳 (ぜんにゅう – zennyuu) means whole milk
    • then there is also 脱脂乳 (だっしにゅう – dasshinyuu) and 低脂肪乳 (ていしぼうにゅう- teishibounyuu) which mean non-fat and low-fat milk respectively
    • condensed milk is also often used in sweets etcetera – the Japanese word is 練乳 (れんにゅう- rennyuu); sometimes you may also see コンデンスミルク or kondensumiruku
  • butter – バター, bataa in romanized letters
  • cream – クリーム or kuriimu
    • 乳脂 (にゅうし – nyuushi) is another word, meaning cream or butter fat
    • whipped cream is ホイップクリーム or hoippukuriimu
  • yogurt – ヨーグルト or yooguruto
  • [a more general name for dairy products is 乳製品 (にゅうせいひん, nyuuseihin); I used this word a lot when on the hunt for desserts and the like; oftentimes soy milk-based ice cream may contain nyuuseihin]
  • honey – 蜂蜜 (はちみつ – hachimitsu)
    • sometimes you may also just encounter ハニー – hanii

These are all the things I can come up with at this point! If you can think of any ingredients or names that I missed or happen to spot a mistake, please, please let me know and I’ll add/correct/whatever it. The main purpose of this post is to make life in Japan easier for vegans or vegetarians, so I’m more than open for any ideas or (constructive) criticism that might aid with this!

Anyway, I think I’ll try to make a second part soon about the more “tricky” animal-derived ingredients – chemicals, colourings, and so on. But until then, I hope that this is of some help to somebody out there. Thank you for reading, and see you soon!

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