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Beginner’s Guide to Supermarket Shopping in Japan

Common kanji terms that you will find in supermarkets in Japan.

By 3 min read

It can be scary if it’s your first time shopping in a Japanese supermarket if you don’t have a strong grasp of the language yet. The types of dishes you are used to making may require ingredients that are hard to come by in Japan. Moreover, the majority of produce is seasonal. If you want strawberries in January you are probably going to search a little bit longer, and pay a little bit more for them than you would if you wanted them at other times of the year.

Since the packaging and ingredients list is in Japanese, it may also be risky for those with food allergies or dietary restrictions.

To prepare you for your trip to the supermarket, here is a list of some essential ingredients, their kanji and how to read them in hiragana and English. Hopefully, it will help you avoid mixing up the sugar and the salt!

Produce

Item Kanji Reading Kana Reading Romaji Reading
Bamboo shoots 竹の子 たけのこ takenoko
Bean sprout 萌やし もやし moyashi
Cucumber 胡瓜 きゅうり kyuuri
Onion 玉葱 たまねぎ tamanegi
Pumpkin 南瓜 カボチャ kabocha
Spinach ほうれん草 ほうれんそう horenso
Broccoli ブロッコリー burrokori
Tomato 蕃茄 トマト tomato

Meat

Item Kanji Reading Kana Reading Romaji Reading
Beef 牛肉 ぎゅうにく gyuuniku
Chicken 鶏肉 とりにく toriniku
Chicken Breast 鶏の胸肉 にわとりのむねにく niwatori no muneniku
Chicken Thigh 鶏もも肉 にわとりのももにく niwatori no momoniku
Lamb 羊肉 ようにく youniku
Pork 豚肉 ぶたにく butaniku

Seafood

Item Kanji Reading Kana Reading Romaji Reading
Crab かに kani
Fish さかな sakana
Shrimp 海老 えび ebi

Dairy

Item Kanji Reading Kana Reading Romaji Reading
Dairy products にゅう nyuu
Milk 牛乳 ぎゅうにゅう gyuunyuu

Condiments

Item Kanji Reading Kana Reading Romaji Reading
Miso Paste 味噌 みそ miso
Oil あぶら abura
Pepper 胡椒 こしょう koshou
Soy Sauce 醤油 しょうゆ shouyu
Sugar 砂糖 さとう satou
Tofu 豆腐 とうふ toufu
Vinegar su
Wasabi 山葵 わさび wasabi
Rice Wine お酒 おさけ osake
Salt しお shio

Noodles

Item Kanji Reading Kana Reading Romaji Reading
Buckwheat Noodle 蕎麦 そば soba
Ramen 拉麺 ラーメン ramen
Wheat Flour Noodle 饂飩 うどん udon

Food Allergies

The seven ingredients manufacturers are legally obligated to list.

Any vegetarian or person with allergies will tell you that it isn’t enough just to know what something is, you also sometimes need to know what is inside your food. Here is a general breakdown of two common Japanese labels to help you understand more about what you are buying.

Item Kanji Reading Kana Reading Romaji Reading
Egg たまご tamago
Gluten 麩質 ふしつ fushitsu
Peanuts ピーナッツ peanuts
Wheat 小麦 こむぎ komugi
Soy 大豆 だいず daizu

The label below is used to explain what allergies may be triggered by the product if consumed. The allergies that could be triggered are written in black on the yellow background. Most processed foods will have this sign, or one similar to it, to let you know of the possible dangers for those with allergies. Be aware some products simply don’t have an allergy warning.

allergy

Next is the label explaining the origin and important information regarding a supermarket’s fresh produce. A Japanese food label will tell you what a product is, its quantity, its price and, most importantly, its storage instructions and its expiration date.

food-labels-japan

While this list is by no means a complete guide, it’s still important to familiarize yourself with the most commonly used characters to make your shopping experience much easier. If you need to avoid eating any gluten in your diet you can print this card out here.

If you are a seasoned pro when it comes to food shopping, please feel free to add to this guide by adding in the comment section below. And for those who would rather shop online, check out our list of online shopping resources for groceries, vegan ingredients and halal.

  • Treskatae says:

    I need this thanks.

  • lusanda says:

    Wow thank you for this , I just arrived in Japan an have a baby it’s so hard to go buy myself coz am frm S.A. and I understand zero Japanese, have to go with my husband all the time coz he learnd the language at work ,so thank you somuch

  • Card for vegans would be helpful, many don’t know enough Japanese to say so.

  • Kenny Martinsz Kehinde Martiz says:

    Pretty Interesting.

  • Basudeb Tripathy says:

    Great info✌️

  • Katie says:

    Thank you this is very helpful. I spent many a day feeling hungry in Japan as a celiac.

  • Matthew Borkowski says:

    Another good website if you are looking for specialty meats is themeatguy.jp They have lots of other hard to find in your average supermarket items (cheeses, dry goods, sauces) and they have a good range of payment options. Also, if you have one near you, restaurant supply type supermarkets also can offer some imported, hard to find elsewhere things. I love Japanese food, but sometimes a taco night or big roast is in order. Those can help you with that. Happy eating!

  • Elton says:

    Very helpful! Thanks!

  • Howard Japan says:

    「Firstly, most supermarkets in Japan are actually better described as grocery stores, in that they exclusively sell food. Don’t go in expecting to buy bubble bath, a razor and a few cheap t-shirts because most supermarkets just won’t stock these kinds of items.」

    Really? I live in one of Japan’s least populated prefectures and other than t-shirts, all the items you wrote about are available at every supermarket in town.

  • maulinator says:

    If you are in Tokyo and want access to more “exotic” (read foreign) foodstuffs, go to Kinokiniya, National Azabu or NIssin World Food. Of the three Nissin tends to have the best prices. If you want access to specifically American stuff go to FBCUSA.com. Sony Plaza has some foreign candies and snacks. Kinokuniya and National Az usually have English speaking staff on hand as well.

  • Londoner says:

    Thank you this is very helpful. Do you know what the Japanese word is for M.S.G. (monosodium glutamate)? And what the kanji/ hiragana/ katakana is/are? Many people are allergic to MSG and a couple of people I know ended up in hospital in Japan because of a reaction. Apparently they use it also in flavoring sauces for example as well as in cooking. Do you know in which foods or sauces it is used? It is used in Chinese and Asian food extensively but I wasn’t aware that they use it in Japan as well.

  • Jeffrey Harbin says:

    My first trip to Japan to meet the in-laws, they gave me the honor of being first to use the bath that evening. I had several soaps to choose from and they all had cats or dogs on the bottle, so I chose one and washed up. Afterwards, my wife kept sniffing my hair and giving me a funny look. Turns out I used the dog shampoo to wash my hair. On the bright side, I was flea and tick free for 30 days.

  • annalwin says:

    Many many thanks. Very helpful.

  • Cynthia says:

    Thank you for this post. Super helpful!

  • luan says:

    For those who are allergic, gluten is more グルテン than 麩質, and peanuts may also be written as 落花生 🙂

  • Brian says:

    Good post. Maybe you should include the kanji / Japanese for whale and horse for people who would wanna avoid those meats.

    • Akiko Sakakibara says:

      whale: 鯨肉 くじらにく kujiraniku

      horse: (called two ways)馬肉/桜肉 ばにく/さくらにく baniku/sakuraniku

      (I am a native Japanese, have not seen 鯨肉 in any restaurant or izakaya though.)

    • TheGirl FromIpanema says:

      Or seriously search them..

  • Becca says:

    i have seen the kanji 南京豆 for peanuts before. my main concern when i lived in japan for a semester was my severe allergy to peanuts/nuts. i was relieved when i found out that japan also listed allergens, even ones i was unfamiliar with (bananas, peaches, etc). I also remember looking for this symbol ※ because that is usually where allergens were listed on products.

  • anoymous says:

    just little thing ,dairy products and eggs have the same romanji read form, xD egg is tamago if anyone ask

  • papiGiulio says:

    Great post, I recommend people to learn the kanji where the food comes from asap
    (pointed out with 産 kanji). Especially since some of the food
    comes from 中国産! China or sometimes people are still wary about buying food from Fukushima 福島.  

    6 years here and still dont know most of the food kanji as there are simply too many, anyway adding this to my studylist 🙂

    • fm64 says:

      yup, they were some useful kanjis, kani pls

      • Saman says:

        its like you are narrating my story when i come here in japan it was really frastrating wen i go to supermarket n i am still facing these kind of hurdles as i cant understand kanji yet as a muslim i only eat Halal so Minichi Minich i have to get detail of all main and raw ingredients of products.
        your post is really appreciateable
        Thanx 🙂

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