The Ultimate Guide to Reading Food Labels in Japan

food label, nutrition label, Japan, Japanese, English

When I first came to Japan, attempting to read food labels and understand what things were and what was IN what I was buying and eating was a huge obstacle. I could read hiragana, katakana and some kanji, but the majority of the food labels were confusing and I spent extensive amounts of time at the supermarket, smartphone in hand with a Japanese-English dictionary open, trying to decipher ingredients and information. I'd also use the smartphone app, ShinKanji, to search for various kanji and words I couldn't read.

The work paid off, and though now I can't read every single Japanese word without consulting a J-E dictionary or looking up certain kanji, I can usually quickly scan most labels to find what I want to know.

A guide to reading food labels in Japan is also one of the most popular post topic requests I've received. It's something most of us struggle with when we first arrive, and I'd imagine even some of those who are fluent may not have known every word or kanji at first. Deciphering Japanese food labels, the entirety of them anyway, isn't particularly easy, but I've attempted to break them down for you here. Note that I have not covered various ingredients aside from common allergens, as that's something to cover in a separate post (or more than one). This one is already long!

I should note that food labels in Japan aren't always consistent, as you'll see below, and although, for example, you'll usually see information about the total calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates and similar main nutrients, you won't always see much about other minerals or vitamins (though things like fortified cereals, breads, etc., often list these).

I've also tried to include a variety of words you'll see, but some terms/phrases are worded slightly different, although the meaning is generally the same, e.g., "賞味期限" and "消費期限" both mean "best before; best eaten by" or the expiration date.

Also note that throughout the post I have not broken down kanji and words as I normally do - instead, the vocabulary charts break them down, so please reference the charts for a breakdown. (You can also use the "find" feature on your browser and copy/paste a word you want to see in the chart to find it quickly.)

So let's get on with it: how do you read food labels in Japan?

Click any of the links below to go to that section. After each section is a "back to top" link.

Japanese Food Label Vocabulary Chart
Japanese Nutritional Information Vocabulary Chart
How to Understand the Nutritional Information List on a Food Label
How to Understand the Rest of the Food Label
How to Read Food Labels on Imported Goods
Meat and Seafood Labels
Fruit and Vegetable Labels
Allergy Information on Food Labels

Japanese Food Label Vocabulary Chart

Kanji Hiragana RomajiEnglish Where/how you'll see it
種類別名称  しゅるいべつめいしょうshuruibetsumeishou(item/type of product) name At the beginning of a label
名称  めいしょうmeishou(item/type of product) name Same as above.
種類別しゅるいべつshuruibetsuclassification -
種類  しゅるいshuruitype/category 種類 + 別 or "種類別" to mean "classification"
商品名 しょうひんめい                        shouhinmeiproduct name Usually at the top/beginning of a label
品名 ひんめいhinmeiproduct name Same as above.
商品  しょうひんshouhingoods 商品 + 名 or "商品名" to mean goods/brand name
原材料名       げんざいりょうめい                                       genzairyoumei      "raw materials" or ingredientsSomewhere right after "名称" or "種類別"
内容 ないようりょう naiyouryou quantityUnder 原材料名, but sometimes elsewhere
内容 ないようnaiyou contents/
内容量 or the quantity
of that item
りょうryou quantity内容量 or the quantity 
of that item
賞味期限     しょうみきげんshoumikigen best eaten by/expiration
Usually a date is listed,
but sometimes they
might say "on the side of the box" or something like
that in Japanese
消費期限     しょうひきげん shouhikigen best before/consume by/expiration
Same as above
保存方法 ほぞんほうほう       hozonhouhouhow to store (after opening) Listed after the above information.
保存 ほぞんhozonpreservation 保存方法 or
"preservation method"
方法ほうほう houhoumethod保存方法 or
"preservation method"
主要栄養成分                                  しゅようえいようせいぶん shuyoueiyouseibun(main) nutritional information  Listed at the top of the nutritional information section
栄養成分                   えいようせいぶん eiyouseibunnutritional
 Same as above
栄養成分表示                                            えいようせいぶんひょうじ                        eiyouseibunhyoujinutritional
information list
 Same as above
主要しゅよう shuyoumain 主要栄養成分 or
"nutritional value/nutrition facts"
栄養えいよう eiyounutrition 主要栄養成分 or
"nutritional value/nutrition facts"
成分せいぶん seibuningredients 主要栄養成分 or
栄養成分 "nutritional value/nutrition facts"
表示 ひょうじ hyoujilist/chart栄養成分表示 or "nutrition facts"
産地さんち sanchiproduction center/growing area/originUsed to indicate where an item is from
原産国名げんさんこくめい gensankokumeicountry of originThis is typically listed on imported products.
国産こくさん kokusandomestically producedThis is usually listed on domestic products.
さん sanoriginOn signs in the store, product labels, etc., you'll see the name of a place plus 産 to indicate where
the product is from.
加工年月日かこうねんがっぴ kakounengappiprocessed dateOn seafood/meat/things that are cut/butchered
養殖ようしょく youshokufarmedYou might see this
on fish/seafood
解凍かいとう kaitou"thawed" or previously frozenOften seen on the
label for seafood/meat
if it was previously frozen
加熱用かねつよう kanetsuyouadd heat (cook before eating)On seafood/meat
刺身用さしみよう sashimiyoucan be used for sashimiOn seafood/meat
生食用なましょくよう                         namashokuyoucan be eaten raw/freshOn seafood/meat
味付あじつけ ajitsukeseasonedOn seafood or meats that
have been seasoned
(this is easy to tell just by looking though)
地鶏じどり jidorifree rangeOn chicken
当たりあたり atari"per" or "for"1箱 (100g) 当たりor
"per 1 box (100 g)"
はこ hakobox1箱 (100g) 当たりor
"per 1 box (100 g)"
パック- pakkupack1パック (100ml) 当たりor
"per 1 pack (100ml)"
ーほん, ーぼん, ーぽん -hon, -bon, -poncounter for long, cylindrical objects1本 (53g) あたり
kogeneral counter1箱 (100g) 当たりor
"per 1 box (100 g)"

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Japanese Nutritional Information Vocabulary Chart

The following information is listed on the "nutritional information chart" or "nutrition facts." Usually mentions calories, and basic nutrients. Occasionally, various vitamins and minerals will be listed.

Japanese Hiragana RomajiEnglish Notes
エネルギー             -enerugiifood "energy" or calories
熱量ねつりょう netsuryoucalories
たんぱく質         たんぱくしつ tanpakushitsuproteinCan also be seen as "タンパク質" or "たん白質"
炭水化物             たんすいかぶつtansuikabutsu carbohydrates
ナトリウム -natoriumu sodium
脂質 ししつshishitsu fat
カルシウム               -karushiumucalcium
糖類とうるい touruisugarSugar is also "砂糖," which is commonly
used for sugar under
the ingredients section
てつ tetsuiron
亜鉛 あえんaenzinc
葉酸 ようさんyousanfolic acid
食物繊維 しょくもつせんい                     shokumotsusenidietary fiber The kanji for fiber can be listed other ways too.
bitaminvitamin __ Products that add vitamins
such as cereal or some breads
will list vitamins under the
ingredients with the
corresponding vitamin (such as B, C, etc.)
食塩相当量 しょくえんとうそうりょうshokuentousouryouamount of table salt

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How to understand the nutritional information list on a food label

The following is an example of some organic ketchup (or catsup, or whatever you might call it where you're from). The top row in the outlined box says "栄養成分表示," which means "nutritional information list" but essentially can be thought of as "nutrition facts" or "nutritional information." To the right of that you can see (100gあたり), which in this case means "per 100g." So the information and numbers listed in the chart are for every 100g (100g is the "serving size," basically).

"あたり" can also be listed as "当たり" or "当り."

Next is the total calories, which in this picture is listed as "エネルギー", but can also be seen as "熱量". For 100g of this ketchup, that means 89kcal, or 89 calories.

Most labels similar to this type will then list total protein (たん白質), fat (脂質), carbohydrates (炭水化物), and sodium (ナトリウム), and some will list sugar, but many count sugar under the "carbohydrate" category and don't always split them so you can see how much of the carbs are sugars. It varies though. On this bottle, sugar is listed (糖類), as is lycopene (リコピン) and the amount of table salt (食塩相当量). Just to reiterate, you won't see these latter nutrients on every label.

ketchup, food label, Japan, nutrition facts, Japanese, translation

Let's go over another example, shall we? 

Below you'll see a small box of soy milk (individual size). The "nutrition facts" this time is "栄養成分," which means "nutritional information." The amounts listed are for the entire box, which is 200ml, as it says "1パック(200ml)当たり." 

Again we see "エネルギー" for calories, and protein (たんぱく質), fat (脂質), carbohydrates (炭水化物), and sodium (ナトリウム), but there are a few more nutrients listed: calcium (カルシウム), magnesium (マグネシウム), iron (鉄), zinc (亜鉛), lecithin (レシチン), cholesterol (コレステロール), and isoflavones (イソフラボン).

food label, Japan, Japanese, soy milk, nutrition facts

Next, let's look at the nutritional information on a container of yogurt.

Again we see "栄養成分" for the nutritional info, and (100g当たり), meaning the amounts listed are per 100g of yogurt.

This time, calories is listed as "熱量" instead of "エネルギー". This is followed by protein (たんぱく質), fat (脂質), carbohydrates (炭水化物), sodium (ナトリウム) and calcium (カルシウム).

On the right hand side, under 関与成分 (かんよせいぶん, kanyo seibun, "included ingredients"), this particular brand lists the estimated number of the good bacteria strains (the italicized names).

Finally, let's briefly look at this granola label. I've covered the basics above, and as you can see, there are more vitamins and minerals listed. I've listed the corresponding English translation to the Japanese words directly to the left of each word (with the exception of the serving/milk info, which are the headers of the second two columns).

You'll also see that carbohydrates (炭水化物) is divided into sugars (糖類) and dietary fiber (食物繊維) you won't see this all the time).

cereal, Japan, food label, nutrition information, English, Japanese

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How to Understand the Rest of the Food Label

Now that we've looked at how to read the nutritional information on food labels, let's examine another section that's included on a variety of food products, especially anything packaged.

Below, on this bottle of ginger ale, you can see the nutrition facts in the top section, similar to what we've covered above, plus the calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates and sodium information.

Underneath that is information regarding the item or product name (品名), ingredients (原材料名), quantity (内容量), best eaten by date (賞味期限), how to store the product (保存方法), and the company/distributor info (販売者) (all are indicated by corresponding numbers in the image).

food label, nutrition facts, Japan, ginger ale, Japanese

Let's go back to our yogurt example. On the other side of the package we see more information for this particular yogurt (and information on different brands of yogurt labels varies). The info is indicated by corresponding numbers in the image below, but we can find the type of the product (種類別名称), the percentage of non-fat milk solids in this container (無脂乳固形分), the percentage of milk fat (乳脂肪分), the ingredients (原材料名), quantity (内容量), best eaten by date (賞味期限) (this actually says it's printed on the right side of the container), and storage information (保存方法).

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How to Read Food Labels on Imported Goods

Let's take a look at a different kind of food label.

The following is from some imported barbecue chips. At the very top is the brand name and item name (Good Health Avocado Oil Potato Chips - Barcelona BBQ). After that, as indicated by the numbers, we have the item name (type of product) (名称), the ingredients (原材料名), the quantity (内容量), the best eaten by information (賞味期限), storage information (保存方法), country of origin (原産国名), and the importer (輸入者).

Food label, English, Japanese, Japan, potato chips, description

Here's another example of an imported item: mozzarella cheese from Australia.

On the very top is the type of product (Australian mozzarella), this time labeled as "商品名". Next is the type of item or "classification" (種類別), which is "natural cheese." Then we see the ingredients (原材料名), quantity (内容量), best by (賞味期限), how to store (保存方法), country of origin (原産国名), and company information.

The following label is much more simple, and is again an imported product (raspberries) but we got this from our local supermarket. On top is the product name (品名), followed by the (unlabeled) quantity (内容量), the production area (産地), or, where the berries are from, and storage information (保存方法).

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Meat and Seafood Labels

These labels vary a bit depending on the store, but in general, you'll probably see the following information, or something similar.

Below you'll see salmon, with the label items numbered and the translations of the corresponding words at the bottom of the picture (Numbers are to the left of or directly above). First is the origin, in this case it's Chile, followed by the name (number 2), which says "trout salmon for sashimi use." Sashimi use (刺身用) is one you might see on different types of seafood.

Number 3 (white on black) indicates the fish is farmed (養殖), while 4 tells us the salmon was previously frozen or "thawed" (解凍). Number 5 is the date the fish was processed (加工年月日) and 6 lets us know when we should have devoured this fish by (消費期限). Number 7 is the cost per 100g, 8 is the total weight (内容量), 9 is the storage information (保存方法) and 10 is the total price.

salmon, Japan, food label, Japanese, English,

Not let's look at chicken. The label is pretty similar to the salmon, and it includes the standard information such as date processed (加工年月日), expiration date (消費期限), price per 100g, total quantity (内容量), storage information (保存方法) and price. The top differs slightly, and as this is a domestic product, it labels the prefecture (静岡県) plus "産." Directly to the right it says "国産," which means it's a domestic product. Then it lists what it is (chicken breast) and also that it's a bargain product (number 3).

chicken, Japan, food label, Japanese, English,

You might see some other words used next to the name or in the part where the black box is on meat or seafood labels (seafood in particular). A couple examples:

Must add heat or "加熱用" (must be cooked before eating/not to be eaten raw) is in the black box in the following image.

This octopus can be used for sashimi, as indicated by "刺身用" in the black box in the upper right hand corner.

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Fruit and Vegetable Labels

Japan seems to have an obsession with plastic, as most items tend to be wrapped, and sometimes wrapped again, multiple times. When I first arrived in Japan, I put unwrapped produce in my basket as I had done in the States (I know not everyone does this, but I was used to shopping that way and not using tons of plastic). But every time I got to the register, the cashier put all the items in plastic bags anyway.

So, whether the item is packaged or not (as the items in the image below are), there will usually be information on the sign regarding the item name, where it's from, the price and sometimes other info.

The following two items, a lemon and some ginger, indicate where they are from (California, USA [アメリカ カリフォルニア州] and Kochi  prefecture [高知県], respectively) and the product names (レモン and しょうが). The lemon label also says it is additive-free (無添加, むてんか, mutenka) and the ginger says it's organic (有機, ゆうき, yuuki).

lemon, ginger, Japan, food labels, fruit, vegetable

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Allergy Information on Food Labels

You might notice some allergy information on packaged items for some top food allergens: eggs, milk, wheat, soba, peanuts, shrimp and crab. It might look something like the table below (outlined in red). The circles mean that this particular item contains those allergens, which in this case is milk (乳), eggs (卵) and wheat (小麦). The notice directly underneath it says that they also process shrimp (えび) and crab (かに) at that particular facility, similar to the peanut notices on items in the US.

food allergies, allergens, Japan, Japanese, food label

This is another example of allergy information on a food label. The red box (outlined by me) tells us that this product (granola) contains milk (乳), wheat (小麦) and soy (大豆). The blue outlined box (also by me), towards the top says that the factory also process eggs (卵) and peanuts (落花生).

food allergens, Japan, Japanese, food label

Some common food allergens in Japan (note that this doesn't include all possible allergens):

Japanese Romaji English
乳 (ちち or にゅう) chichi or nyuu milk/dairy*
小麦 (こむぎ) komugiwheat
そば sobasoba (buckwheat)
落花生 (らっかせい) rakkaseipeanuts/tree nuts**
えびebi shrimp
かにkani crab
あわびarabi abalone
いかika squid
いくらikura salmon roe
オレンジorenji orange
キウイフルーツkiuifuruutsu kiwi
牛肉 (ぎゅうにく)gyuuniku beef
くるみkurumi walnuts
さけsake sake
さばsaba mackerel
大豆 (だいず)daizu soy/soybean***
鶏肉 (けいにく)keiniku chicken****
豚肉 (ぶたにく)butaniku pork
まつたけmatsutake matsutake mushrooms
ももmomo peach
やまいもyamaimo Japanese yam
りんごringo apple
ゼラチンzerachin gelatin
バナナbanana banana

*Dairy/cow milk is 牛乳 (ぎゅうにゅう), but by itself the "nyuu" part (also read chichi) refers to "milk," and in this context, dairy milk.

**The word "peanuts" is also commonly listed as ピーナッツ.

***Chicken is also toriniku (鳥肉, とりにく).

****Soy milk is 豆乳 (とうにゅう, tounyuu).

And for those of your with food allergies such as dairy/wheat/gluten/soy, look for an upcoming guest post on that!

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As for prepared food/deli food, most of the above information should help you out, but they also typically list the time they were prepared. More on that later.

We'll continue this theme in a later post to go over ingredients and such, but as this one took me quite a long time, it won't pop up in your inbox or feed reader for a little while.

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