Shopping for Food in Japan
Cooking On Your Own
During the three-week orientation you will be staying in a hotel and will not have access to a kitchen to cook on your own. There will be a hot water heater in your room in case you’d like to have tea, noodles or other items prepared with hot water. Daily breakfast will be provided at the hotel but you will purchase lunch and dinner on your own using your living cost stipend. During the research internship period, students will all have access to a kitchen to cook on your own. Most students opt to eat breakfast at home, lunch at the host university cafeteria which is often quite cheap, and alternate between eating out or cooking at home for dinner.
Remember that Japan uses the metric system which means recipes and measuring cups/spoons for most Japanese recipes will not use cups, teaspoons or tablespoons. If you plan to cook on your own and use U.S. recipes, you’ll need a metric conversion.
Also, be aware that many ingredients that are quite common in U.S. grocery stores may not be easily available at a Japanese grocery store. If you want to purchase foreign ingredients you may need to go to a specialty or international supermarket and the cost for these ingredients may be quite high though stores like Don Quijote often carry a broader array of foreign food items than a typical grocery store.
If there are specific spices you know you will need to cook on your own and that you will not be able to easily find in Japan you may want to pack these with you in your checked luggage. Make sure they are commercially purchased and sealed (no bulk spices). It is not necessary to declare store-bought canned, bottled or packaged food items that are highly processed and do not contain any meat. Some examples may include crackers, dried pasta, candy, jam, tea or coffee. You cannot bring meat and egg products, vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, legumes, nuts into Japan.
Tax Free Savings for Food: Don Quijote and some other stores in Japan also offers a tax-free savings options for foreign non-residents in Japan. You qualify for this as you are on a tourist visa but you must bring your passport with you to qualify for this discount and meeting the following guidelines: If you purchase 5,001 JPY or more of consumable goods (food, drinks, medicine, cosmetics, other consumables) you qualify for tax free savings. Or, if you purchase 10,001 JPY or more of general tax-free items (electronic goods, designer goods, watches and jewelry) you also qualify for tax-free savings.
If you plan to cook on your own during the research internship period, it may be wothwhile to stop by your local Don Quijote and purchase some of your necessary food supplies tax free if you spend more than 5,001 JPY in one purchase.
Easy and Delicious Japanese Recipes & Cooking Videos using American Measurements (cups, teaspoon, tablespoons)
Select Wisely Cards – Food Allergies & Special Dietary Needs
If you have any food allergies or special dietary needs (e.g. kosher, halal, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, etc.) we STRONGLY encourage you to purchase a Japanese-language cards from Select Wisely prior to departure. These cards can be customized for a variety of medical conditions or dietary restrictions, allergies or dietary preferences. Even if you have intermediate or advanced Japanese language skills, it can be very difficult to explain your specific condition or needs in a medical emergency or in a loud restaurant. Being able to simply show the Select Wisely card, in Japanese, ensures that the person you are communicating with clearly understands your condition, needs, or preferences.
You should also notify your roommate, housing manager, and research lab advisor and mentor of severe allergies or medical conditions so that they know what to do in case of an emergency.
We provide cards. We provide translations. We provide knowledge. We specialize in food allergies, drug allergies, diet restrictions and medical emergency translations in more than 60 languages from Italian to Indonesian to Chinese to Japanese. See List of Languages. We serve travelers in over 20 countries and we can help you, too.
Vegetarian & Vegan Food in Japan
Tip: Be aware that many packaged Japanese products (including miso paste, potato chips, and rice cakes) contain some sort of fish seasoning.
Halal Food in Japan
Japan Travel Guide for Muslim Travelers
Kosher Food in Japan
Eating Disorders & Food Issues Abroad
It is very easy when you are abroad to become susceptible to eating disorders or see an exacerbation or re occurrence of any previously existing conditions. You are in a different place and the food is different. Your stomach may not agree with the types of food there, or you may feel like you’re eating too much. You may also be not eating enough if you are trying to save money on food so you can have more money to spend traveling on the weekend. Maybe you’ve never had to cook for yourself and aren’t sure what to purchase at the store to maintain a healthy diet. You may also experience depression or loneliness manifesting itself in the form of an eating disorder or food issues. If you think you may have a problem, notify the Nakatani RIES Fellowship so that we can provide you with additional support and assistance as necessary.
Please also turn to your fellow Nakatani RIES Fellows for support and encouragement during your time in Japan as they will likely be eager to explore new restaurants and types of food with you. They will also be able to better relate to your frustrations about the types of food that don’t agree with you or that you may be having difficulty with while in Japan. Remember, you don’t have to like everything you try and there may be some days when nothing satisfies you but good, old-fashioned American cuisine. Most Japanese cities have a range of international restaurants and you can find a wide array of Western food-stuffs in most large grocery stores; though Western options may be more expensive than their Japanese counterparts.
Your Alumni Mentor and research lab members will also have lots of great tips and suggestions for you on great places to eat and food to try. Don’t be shy about asking someone from your lab to go with you to the grocery store too and help you find the ingredients you need to prepare some of your favorite dishes on your own. Most labs also have times where members get together for pot-lucks or make lunch/dinner together so be prepared to bring some favorite recipes along with you to Japan to share with your new friends. Just remember, Japan uses the metric system so if you plan to bake or make very detailed or specific US recipes you may need to bring your own US measuring cups and spoons with you.