If you've never travelled to Japan before, one aspect that may be slightly intimidating is the potential language barrier, especially when it comes to finding halal food.
While finding halal food and snacks is much easier nowadays, especially in the bigger cities like Tokyo and Osaka, it can sometimes still be tough when venturing outside of the cities. In addition, the majority of Japan's snacks and food items, including convenience store items and the popular omiyage (food souvenirs that you can find in every part of Japan), often have ingredients lists written fully in Japanese, which means it can be hard identifying the products that are Muslim-friendly!
When we explored the Tohoku region of Japan with JR East recently (check out what we did on our Instagram highlights if you missed it!), we faced exactly that problem - there are fewer eateries there that are aware of Muslim traveller's needs compared to Tokyo, meaning we relied on seafood and vegetarian meals to some extent. We also encountered many food items where it was hard to check the ingredients lists ourselves. Luckily for us, we were travelling with a representative from JR East's Singapore office, Carissa, who is fluent in Japanese, meaning she could help us check many of the items we were unsure about! Following that trip, Carissa helpfully translated this compilation of phrases and words that she used to clarify such ingredients, which we hope can benefit other Muslim travellers when going to Japan.
We'd like to extend our heartfelt thanks to Carissa Loh and the JR East team for helping us translate the following words and phrases ?
A note on this guide
We've come up with questions that would be helpful for Muslim travellers to help clarify dishes or ingredients which are split between questions for restaurants (for example, to ask an eatery whether a dish includes ingredients that contain alcohol like mirin or sake) as well as questions on packaged food items (for example, clarifying whether a product uses gelatine or emulsifiers from animal-derived sources). The translations are provided in Japanese script so you can show it to the staff, and we've also included the romanised version of the Japanese phrases written in blue so you have the option of verbalising it.
#HHWT Tip: If you need help with the pronunciation of the Japanese words and phrases, you can use Google Translate which has a handy function that can read our the Japanese characters you input into it.
We've also included a section at the bottom where we list down ingredients that you can look out for when reading through ingredients lists of packaged food items (including the Japanese words for items like liquor, gelatine, etc.). Where relevant, Carissa has thoughtfully provided a bit more context and helpful additional info. So with all that said, let's dive right into it!
Disclaimer: Please note that for packaged food items, we’re unable to confirm if there’s cross-contamination at the factory and we recommend that you dine at your own discretion.
Questions for restaurants
1. Does this dish contain alcohol - mirin or sake?
Kono ryouri wa aruko-ru ga fukumaretemasuka? Tatoeba mirin toka sake nado
2. Does the soy sauce contain alcohol or mirin?
Shouyu ni wa aruko-ru ka mirin ga fukumaretemasuka?
3. Is the ikura marinated in sake or salt/brine?
Kono ikura wa shouyuzuke desuka, shiozuke desuka? Osake wa haittemasuka?
Tamagoyaki wa mirin nashi de onegai dekimasu deshouka?
5. Do you have vegetarian or seafood dishes which do not contain alcohol or mirin?
Sake nashi / mirin nashi no bejitarian ryouri ka kaisen ryouri wa arimasuka?
6. Do you have vegetarian or seafood dishes which do not contain meat or animal derivations (milk and eggs are ok)?
Niku to doubutsu yurai nashi no bejitarian ryouri (gyuunyuu to tamago wa ka) ka kaisen ryouri wa arimasuka?
7. Does this eatery serve pork?
Kono resutoran wa butaniku no ryouri wo teikyou shimasuka?
Question on food products (e.g. souvenirs or convenience store items)
1. Does this contain alcohol?
Kore wa osake ga fukumaretemasuka?
2. Does this contain animal-derived ingredients like emulsifiers and shortening?
Kore wa doubutsu yurai no nyuukazai ka sho-toningu (yushi) ga fukumaretemasuka?
3. What is this gelatin made of? (For example kanten, plant-derived, animal-derived)
Kono zerachin wa nani de tukurimashitaka? (Tatoeba kanten, shokubutsu yurai, doubutsu yurai nado)
4. Do you have products that do not contain alcohol and animal-derived ingredients (milk and eggs are ok)?
Aruko-ru to doubutsu yurai no shokuzai (gyuunyuu to tamago wa ka) ga fukumaretenai shouhin wa arimasuka?
Ingredients to look out for in ingredients lists (for items like souvenirs, convenience food items and other packaged snacks)
1. Gelatine ゼラチン zerachin
2. Liquor 洋酒 youshu
3. Meat 肉 niku
4. Animal derivations 動物由来 doubutsu yurai
5. Pork 豚、豚肉 buta, butaniku
6. Pork derivatives 豚由来 buta yurai
7. Mirin みりん（味醂）mirin
8. Animal-derived emusifier 乳化剤（動物由来）nyuukazai (doubutsu yurai)
9. Animal-derived shortening ショートニング（動物由来）、油脂 sho-toningu (doubutsu yurai), yushi
For emulsifiers, ingredients lists will usually only write them as [乳化剤] (nyuukazai). They won't usually specify that it is animal-derived, so if in doubt or you cannot clarify further, it's best to avoid. It's worth noting, however, that Carissa has mentioned she's sometimes seen some products specify the emulsifier as [乳化剤（大豆由来] (nyuukazai (daizu yurai)) or [乳化剤（植物由来)](nyuukazai (shokubutsu yurai)), which means "Emulsifier (Soy-derived)" and "Emulsifier (Plant-derived)". So keep an eye out for these! ?
The same goes for shortening, which is usually listed as [ ショートニング] (sho-toning), and often does not specify whether it is animal-derived or plant-derived. Where not specified, it's best to avoid if you cannot further clarify the shortening source.
And there you have it! We hope this compilation of phrases and words will be super helpful for you when exploring Japan! Once again, we'd like to express our gratitude to Ms. Carissa Loh and the team over at East Japan Railway Company (JR East) for taking the time to help us with these translations and phrases.