Sunday, October 21, 2012

Dairy Allergy in Japan

I have been out of commission for the last week, and unfortunately it is due to my old nemesis... milk. I had a cold three weeks ago, and so I got myself some vitamin C. The cold kept getting worse and worse until Friday when I had to miss a day of work because I was just too nauseous and exhausted (despite my nearly 15 hours of sleep every night). Luckily in my boredom I decided to read the label of my vitamin C, and found out that they had dairy in them. I wasn't sick, I had been poisoning myself.

I have a very bad dairy allergy. Even small amounts of dairy (less then a teaspoon) will have me praying to the porcelain gods for hours. In Japan milk is not a traditional ingredient in most foods, but it's still somewhat difficult to avoid eating dairy. For those of you out there with dairy allergies, the familiar enemies casein  and whey, are snuck into countless processed foods. By and large, I cannot eat junk food in Japan, this is extremely healthy for me.

For those of you with dairy allergies who are coming to Japan here are my tips and tricks for avoiding dairy.
For eating in restaurants your key phrase is:
Sumimasen. Watashi wa gyunyu arerugi desu. Gyunyu  batta  chiizu ya kurimu rui wa mattaku taberaremasen.
which means
Sorry. I have a dairy allergy. I cannot eat things with milk, cheese, cream, or anything like that.
You are not safe just saying I have a dairy allergy. The term for lactose intolerance is dairy allergy, so they assume that butter and cheese are safe.
If they say "______ haiteiru" or "dame". That means you cannot eat it.
I really recommend getting a dairy allergy card if you do not speak much Japanese.
Dairy Allergy Card

Luckily, since dairy is not a traditional ingredient in Japanese foods, eating a very traditionally Japanese diet will be safe. Western style foods will almost never be safe, and western restaurants usually use copious amounts of butter in their foods. The few times Ben and I have gone to a western restaurant, I have not eaten anything. I recommend if you are visiting, to just avoid western restaurants. It is also very risky to eat in fast food places, chain restaurants often have whey in their batters to keep things cheap but satiating. Do not eat curry here, they always have dairy.

When selecting a restaurant I recommend looking for places with very limited menus, and places that are very traditionally Japanese. Mom and pop style restaurants are almost always safe from my experience.

Grocery shopping is very tricky. All chocolate, breads, and chips tend to have dairy in them. I have drastically changed my diet here, I eat very little processed foods here. The junk foods that I do tend to eat are only a few guilty pleasures: Haribo Gummies, Oreos, and Soda Popsicles. I miss junk foods, but I feel really healthy, so I can't complain too much. I tend to buy all of my western food at costco, where the labels are still in English.

Dango and mochi are usually dairy free, avoid the big chain brands though. They are very tasty dessert, and found everywhere in Japan.

Overall I think it is easier to eat out in Japan then in the US. Food is very delicious, and unless you dislike Japanese food, Japan is a wonderful place for people with dairy allergies. I feel far less restricted here then I do in the US. I am a pretty good cook, which makes my life really easy. As long as I am eating delicious food, I generally don't miss what I can't eat.


  1. Glad you figured it out, honey.
    I hope you are 100% soon.
    Feeling 47% is no fun.
    Love, Mom.

  2. Thank you so much!!! I am allergic to milk and will be going to japan in 2 months. Very helpful!

  3. I am suffering from IBS, so there is so much food I cant have... i am going to japan in december and january and I am quite scared of not beige able to eat anything... for Example, i cant have soy, curry, onions, garlic, bbc, dairy etc... can have rice and chicken and fish though. Do you thing I will be okay in the streetkitchens etc? Or the supermarkeds? And... dear god... do they have lactosefree chocolate? �� or yoghurt?

    1. Line,
      I recommend finding health food stores when you come to Japan. It's hard to think of anywhere I at that doesn't have soy, onion, or garlic.
      I never found lactose-free chocolate or dairy-free yogurt, but I was in a rural area so there may be more options in larger cites. Good Luck!

  4. Thank you for this post. It was helpful!

  5. Thank you for the post. I am also allergic to milk, but didn't knew it could be that dangerous to eat something you think is save in Japan

  6. For anyone reading this, Oreos in Japan are NOT dairy-free. I had a small bite of one and it set off my rather severe dairy allergy. Just so you know!

    1. It's outrageous!!! OREO are boasting worldwide that their cookies are dairy-free, but not Japan, no, it must be different again, here they are boasting that it DOES have milk in them (written in big letters on the package)...disgusting.

  7. Hi thank you for the link to the dairy allergy card. I also have allergies to crustaceans for example crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimp. I could not find it as a translation card at the site you gave, brokerfish. How can I find a translation card for this?


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