グルテンフリーお菓子教室 milktart

Nao Maeda is the owner and chef of Milktart, the company that she owns that offers lessons in gluten-free baking and dessert preparation.  She is currently based in Tokyo, though she is originally from Osaka.  In March, she plans to relocate to Hawaii to work in a Japanese cake shop/bakery. グルテンフリーお菓子教室milktartのレッスンは1月で終了しました。  She is offering lessons until her relocation.  If interested, please see her contact details at the end of the article. She recently published a recipe book in Japanese. It can be purchased here.

How many years have you baked or eaten gluten-free foods?
2 years

How many years have you lived with celiac disease/gluten sensitivity?
I don’t have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.

If you do not have the above issues, why have you chosen to promote gluten-free food in Japan?
My partner have a Hashimotos disease and is following a gluten-free diet.
I’m supporting my partner’s gluten-free life.

Is your baking following a strict gluten-free diet?
My sweets lessons don’t use gluten. Sometimes we use egg , milk and gluten-free grains. But the lessons I give are held in a public space. I think some baking class take place before my class and these classes use wheat or bread. So it’s difficult to say 100%gluten free sweets due to potential cross-contamination.
レッスンではグルテンを一切使わないお菓子を教えています。時々、卵や、乳製品、穀物を使ったお菓子を作っています。 私のお菓子教室は公共施設のキッチンを使うので、私のレッスンの前の人が小麦粉を使っている場合があり、道具やテーブルなどに少しついていたりする場合もあります。使う前きれいにしますが、重度の小麦粉アレルギーやセリアックの方には厳しいかもしれません。


What is your approach to offering food for those with cd/gs?

What do your baking lessons offer?
My lessons include the preparation of gluten-free sweets, vegan sweets and less sugar sweets.  I sometimes host tea parties with people who has celiac disease or some gluten sensitivity.


How do you think Japan can become more friendly for those with celiac disease/gs?
I think restaurant and hotel staff should study and learn more about the gluten-free diet.

More information about Maeda-san:
My name is Nao Maeda
I live in Tokyo
I studied the pastry chef school in Osaka
大阪あべの の製菓専門学校でパティシエの勉強をしました。
I have worked cake shop for 9years in Osaka .
I was vegetarian for one year.
Also I tried to make lots of vegan foods and baking.
And after that my partner and I started following a gluten-free life, though I sometimes eat wheat bread.

I don’t have own bakery shop and I do not sell sweets or baked goods. But I can host classes for 6-10people come to my lesson each time.
I can make English recipe for a lesson for foreign students.
Main language is Japanese.
I’ll support your gluten-free life!!!


日本に住んでいる外国の方で受講したい場合、必要であれば英語のレシピを作る事ができます。 レッスン自体は日本語での授業となります。
Homepage: http://milktart.simdif.com
Twitter gluten free milktart



明けましておめでとうございます!Happy Gluten-Free New Year!

あけましておめでとう!今年もよろしくお願いします.  I wish all of you a wonderful, joyous gluten-free 2016 and hope your travels to Japan are memorable, fun and healthy.

To start 2016 off right, I’ve decided to offer up some link love.  The following links have a ton of information that may be helpful for those traveling (or in the process of moving to) Japan.

First off, there has been a ton of information collected in the Gluten-Free Expats in Japan Facebook group. If you are not already a member, please consider joining it. You can ask questions and offer insight on traveling through Japan or living there long term.

A project I had been working on with another member of the GFEJ group was to create a clearing house site that would offer lists of restaurants that had been verified as safe for those with celiac disease. After living in Japan for four years, one thing that I learned was that restaurants have a difficult time serving those of us who require strict gluten-free diets. I have a difficult time recommending restaurants that might be gluten-free or that allowed someone to eat there but didn’t really understand the importance of eating gluten-free for those of us with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.  That being said, it’s very difficult to travel without being able to pop into a restaurant or know that the city or town (or tiny island) you’re staying has somewhere you can find sustenance.  The following links may help those of you traveling.  Be aware that you will still need to convey to the chefs/waiters that you absolutely cannot eat anything with gluten due to health concerns.

Satsuki Miki-san, a savvy entrepreneur living in Tokyo, has started this clearing house site for restaurants in Japan who can serve gluten-free food to those with celiac disease/gluten sensitivity.  The site is called Gluten-free Restaurant.  Feel free to check it out and offer feedback.

Jodi Ettenberg, the former lawyer turned world traveler/food blogger at Legal Nomads, has put together a gluten-free travel card for those who are traveling through Japan. These cards are comparable to the card I used when I lived there and offer extensive and necessary information for those who do not speak any Japanese and who need to be able to convey their dietary issues to chefs and waitstaff.  She also has a list of restaurants she’s compiled in the link above.

Another blog called Yebtastic! Japan, which focuses on Ebisu, Tokyo, has just put out a list of Tokyo based gluten-free restaurants and places to find food.

The next post will be an interview with Nao Maeda, a Tokyo-based baker who runs gluten-free baking/pastry cooking lessons called グルテンフリーお菓子教室 milktart.

As for me, I’ve returned to the US and am now living in Las Vegas, Nevada where I am pursuing my MFA in Creative Writing. I plan to return to Japan to work after I’m done with graduate school and hope that by the time I do return, Japan will be gluten-free friendly in a way that is different from the way the US has gone gluten-free. I have major issues with how the gluten-free diet has become a huge fad over here and is not taken seriously by chefs or waiters.  There is so little understanding of the insidious nature of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity and its affects on those who have it. I actually feel less healthy living in the US than I did living in Japan, where I followed a strict primal diet mostly because if I didn’t, I would be exposed to gluten. Here, I go out to restaurants that promise gluten-free, but really cannot make good on those promises.  These industries need to be regulated more thoroughly.  I hope that as Japan moves towards its 2020 Olympics, they will approach the gluten-free food industry carefully.

I hope 2016 is the best year yet for you all and hope that your travels through Japan offer you amazing experiences!  Feel free to leave comments and recommendations about any of the restaurants or places you’ve visited while in Japan!

Lots of love.

Hototogisu Bakery and Farm (農園菓子工房ホトトギス)

This past August I interviewed Sara Yoshihara, the co-owner of Hototogisu Bakery and Farm (農園菓子工房ホトトギス) which produces gluten-free bread and baked goods as well as organic, locally produced vegetables.  They are located in Okayami City, though their goods can be found in Tokyo and Osaka.   
My name is Sara, and I moved to Japan about ten years ago with my husband, whose home this is. When we moved here from California, we decided to buy a house in the country-side and take up farming and…some other things, to be determined after we got settled. As it happened, shortly after we moved a neighbor introduced us to a community kitchen where our bread-baking hobby quickly became a bread-baking business. In 2008 we opened Hototogisu Bakery (very gluten-y bread edition), baking bread using our farm-fresh ingredients. However, about two years in to life as a full-time baker, I (with the help of a dermatologist) realized that a gluten free diet was the only way I was going to hold on to any health. We struggled to find ways to continue our by then (mildly) successful bakery, but at the end of 2012 it was clear that the only way I could stay involved and healthy was to make the move to a gluten free bakery. We sold off the equipment we could no longer use, cleaned, scrubbed, and cleaned some more to remove all traces of wheat, rye and barley from the building and in 2013 re-opened as Hototogisu Gluten Free Bakery and Farm, with mobile deli. Over the last few years we’ve developed quite a few recipes based on our own homegrown rice flour and eggs, plus beans and veggies in season. Our fresh menu changes with the seasons (and our moods), and we serve gluten free food to allergy folk and allergy-free folk alike. It pleases me greatly that we’ve been lucky enough to hold on to quite a few of the customers who joined us in our bread days. Our brownie lines are out and about in the world, on shelves in Tokyo and Osaka as well as here in Okayama, and we expect to start distributing a new line of gluten free goodies this fall…!

How many years have you resided in Japan?

I’ve been in Japan just over ten years now.

How many years have you lived with celiac disease/gluten sensitivity?

I first went gluten free about five years ago, in 2010, though in retrospect gluten had probably been a problem for many years by that point. I went off gluten while here in Japan; I had help from a dermatologist in identifying gluten as the problem but I have yet to meet a doctor who has heard of celiac disease, much less offer testing or advice on adopting a gluten free diet. There has been a great deal of trial and error these five years!

What is your bakery/farm’s approach to offering food for those with cd/gs? What does your bakery/farm offer?

All of our products are strictly gluten free out of necessity (to keep me healthy) but they are also developed to be so good that people without food allergies will choose our products (this, too is a necessity, though a financial one). We only make products that are better, or at least as good as, the wheaty equivalent. For this reason our menu is limited, but what we do make meets our high standards.

Outside of the gluten free by default nature of our products, we focus on using ingredients we grow on the farm. Homegrown rice flour, black soybeans and eggs are the backbone of our packaged goods, and our fresh goods vary by the seasons according to what is coming out of the garden. We choose our other ingredients carefully and don’t add colorings, flavorings or preservatives to our foods.

Our primary far-wandering packaged products right now are brownies. You can find our chocolate brownies and kurokinako brownies (very dark roasted black soybean powder stands in for the cocoa powder) and rusks in Tokyo and Osaka. Our rice flour is also available in the Tokyo area. Here in Okayama our brownies are in a number of shops around the prefecture and most weekends will find us at various farmers’ markets with brownies, baked custard, donuts, chicken and vegetable tempura, quiche, merengue cookies, cream puffs and starting this fall, a line of puffed brown rice (pongashi) goodies ranging from the usual sweet snack to spicy brown rice and beans snacks. Everything we make is absolutely gluten free, with no gluten-y foods allowed in the bakery at all, and much is dairy-free, though of course the facility also processes dairy.

How do you think Japan can become more friendly for those with celiac disease/gluten sensitivity?

In my experience, the level of awareness about food allergies within Japan in general is alarmingly low (of course I know that celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are not quite the same thing as food allergies medically, but from an awareness standpoint, I think they stand together). I personally think this is something that ought to be addressed in schools, as with the prevalence of school lunches and cooking classes in elementary school there is ample opportunity, and as food allergies are most common (and rising)  among children, the need is there. Beyond that, I’d like to see regulations requiring “shared equipment” and “shared facility” statements. Without that it is very difficult to determine the risk of any given food being contaminated, and it is very easy to imagine such oversights going unnoticed by people buying food for themselves and by chefs preparing foods for people with allergies.

What challenges does the individual with cd/gs face in Japan that they do not face in North America?
I’ve actually not been back to the States since going on a gluten free diet, so I can’t speak very authoritatively on this. I do find, though, that if I’m looking at a food imported from the US I can usually do a quick google to determine if it is a “safe” product for me; even searching in Japanese that information just isn’t available for Japanese products. Beyond that, I think the issue of visibility is probably the biggest – I am constantly explaining the severity of celiac disease and doing my best not to cause offence as I turn down offers of food. Two of my siblings back home also keep structly gluten free but they frequently eat out and buy pre-prepared foods, while I haven’t eaten in a restauraunt in several years now, after too many meals out gone wrong. (I might note here that I fall on the very, very cautious end of the spectrum, trying to eliminate all risk of accidentally consuming gluten – I gather there are other Japan-based folks who do take more risks and probably live fuller lives as a result!)

Sources for Gluten-Free Food in Tokyo

The following blog post is written by Stuart Baker, an expat and long-term resident of Japan who follows a gluten-free diet. He reached out to offer the following advice for those following a gluten-free diet who are currently living in Japan, those considering living in Japan, and those who are traveling to Japan.  Please feel free to leave feedback in the comments for him.  If you are interested in contributing to Gluten Free in Japan, please contact me via email.  I’ll soon be following up with several interviews from individuals in Japan running a gluten-free, organic farm/bakery as well as a gluten-free baker who hosts cooking classes in Tokyo.

Sources for Gluten-Free Food in Tokyo

Below are the 3 main sources I have found for Gluten-Free Food in the Tokyo area:

  1. Gluten-free bread sold at Tokyo markets:  Yes, I discovered to my very pleasant surprise, you can buy gluten-free bread at some supermarkets and specialty stores — “OK” and Seijo Ishii!  It’s made by a company called maisen and you can read about them on their website in English: http://www.maisen.co.jp/en/products/brown-rice-bread/brown-rice-bread.html  They also have a toll-free number and may have someone who can answer questions in English.  Plus they also have GF pasta and Udon!  Haven’t tried them yet, but I eat their GF brown rice bread regularly and it’s quite good toasted.
  1. Costco in Chiba where I live, and Kanagawa where I shopped with friends last month, has gluten-free rotini (a kind of pasta), multi-grain tortilla chips, cold cereals and other items too — and all in large US-sized packaging so it is more geared toward families.  You can also buy organic Quinoa in 4 lb bags, if you are into that extraordinary grain. And if you don’t live close by, or can’t get to, a Costco, there is actually an online buying service that will shop for you and have the products delivered right to your door called The Flying Pig (http://www.theflyingpig.com/tfp/shop.asp). I’ve used it before and it’s fast, easy-to-use and reliable.  You have to pay more than what you would pay at Costco naturally, but not excessively so.  Also, you don’t need to fight the crowds nor pay the yearly JPY 4,000 annual fee to be a member of Costco.
  1. iHerb: iHerb (www.iherb.com ) is a US-based online shopping site for healthy foods and products of all kinds. So while it is not here in Tokyo, the speed of  delivery (usually 4-5 days) makes it a great resource. Plus the costs are surprisingly reasonable, and the shipping is free for orders over $40 (or $4 if the order is under $40).  Among the many gluten-free products are a GF bread from Belgium (pretty good toasted, if you like European-style bread), “Lucy’s” oatmeal, chocolate-chip and other cookies, cold cereals, excellent gluten-free muesli (wow! my first time eating muesli and I really enjoy it), pancake mix, banana-chocolate chip cake mix and many more!  And if you would like to get an extra $5 – 10 off your first order, enter the referral code BAK736 in the box next to Apply Rewards when you check out.  (Full disclosure: This referral code is mine (Stuart Baker), so I too will save a few dollars on my next iHerb orders).

To healthy eating!

Stuart Baker

Gluten Free Expats in Japan

For those of you who are moving to Japan or just planning to take an extended trip, whether for business or for pleasure, you might have many questions about what you can and cannot eat, where you can locate gluten free food and potential safe restaurants, and how to make you life and travels safe and fun while living or staying in Japan.   For over a year, there has been a Gluten Free JET group on Facebook which has significant activity and lots of information, but one of the administrators did not want to open this up to non-JETs since his goal was to start a SIG in order to lobby for Celiac/Gluten Intolerant needs to be taken seriously in the JET/AJET community.   Well, it is now officially considered a Special Interest Group by AJET and thus a separate group for non-JETs (including those who are ALTs but not working via JET) has been born.   Although I co-founded the Gluten Free JET Facebook group and have regularly contributed there, even after leaving the JET Program, I recognize that there are many people who live in and travel through Japan who are not on the JET Program and who need to have access to the same info that is available in this forum.

If you have been wanting to sign up for this group, I welcome you to join Gluten Free Expats Japan.

Please message me prior to joining as I will need to make certain those in the forum are not spambots.  If I see no indication that you live in Japan, this is even more important.

Thank you and see you soon!

Gluten Free in Tokyo

This is the first in a series of guest posts from readers and bloggers who are living in Japan and following a gluten free diet.  If you’re interested in writing for Gluten Free in Japan, please query with an email that includes your article idea(s).  

Today’s guest post is by Kari.  She currently lives in Aomori Prefecture with her husband, Ben, and her dog, Seamus.  She was diagnosed with Celiac disease in 2012 and a corn allergy in 2013.  She and her husband love to travel and photograph their adventures together.  Kari’s blogs at The Part of Everything.

Having Celiac disease is not easy, and having it in a country that does not really recognize it as an issue makes for an interesting situation. While I definitely feel lucky that we figured all of this out while living in a country where the people are extremely helpful and accommodating, it doesn’t help things that most Japanese have never heard of “celiac” or “gluten” and have no idea which foods contain the ingredients I need to avoid. Explaining a “wheat allergy” is simply not enough, since there is hidden gluten in just about everything here.

My diagnosis was a few years ago, and my husband and I have finally figured out our “system” here at home. Traveling, though, has been a different story. We originally moved to Japan so we would be able to travel, experience cultures, and see the world. These goals were easy to accomplish pre-celiac, but they have become incredibly difficult now. When we travel these days, 2/3 of our baggage contains food in case we can’t find restaurants that will serve me (this has happened – while it’s frustrating, I’d rather they tell me up front they can’t serve me than to serve me food that will make me sick).

On our first trip to Tokyo, I really enjoyed the city but didn’t plan to visit again. It was too big, and there were too many people. We added other Japanese cities to our list of places to visit, not envisioning a return to Tokyo in the near future.

Then, celiac happened.

Our first post-diagnosis visit to Tokyo was very different than our previous time. My husband’s parents were coming to visit and we had plans to join them in Tokyo for a week before traveling with them back up to our home in Aomori. This trip, I had to research EVERYTHING ahead of time. Our schedules and destinations revolved around the few “safe” restaurants I had researched. The time leading up to our departure was full of anxiety, as there were not many resources and blogs out there to help. Those that did exist gave conflicting information. (Examples include whether plain combini onigiri or senbei are always safe bets… FYI, they’re not.) Looking back, though, our trip wasn’t half bad! We found a few restaurants that were able to accommodate my dietary restrictions, and even one that specifically had fluent English-speakers to help in situations like mine. The city has become one of my “safe places” and we are always excited to travel there now. We have since visited Tokyo multiple times, and continue to go back to our tried-and-true favorite places.

Sadly, some of these restaurants are no longer open. A few are, though, and I wanted to make sure to write about them in case this information can help anyone traveling to Tokyo with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.  I am extremely sensitive to cross contamination, and have never gotten sick at the following restaurants.

The first restaurant I’d highly recommend is Gonpachi. I have visited several locations of this Tokyo restaurant, and haven’t gotten sick at any of them, but my favorite is the location in Nishi Azabu. I have written about this place before, but didn’t really go into much detail about their allergy protocols. I was a baby celiac at that point, and I’ve since learned that I was doing so many things incorrectly at that point. I have, however, been back to this restaurant several times since, and have still had wonderful experiences every time.

While Gonpachi is an izakaya style restaurant, they use very good quality meats and vegetables in their cooking. Their noodles (which aren’t gluten free) are made by hand each day, and they try to source from local farms. I won’t eat at most izakaya style restaurants, but this one is my exception because of these reasons. Another reason is that Gonpachi Nishi Azabu has an “allergy specialist” to help people like me figure out what they can eat safely.

At the time of the writing of this blog, Gonapchi Nishi Azabu’s allergy specialist is named Teresa. She is fabulous to work with and we always check before heading to Tokyo to ensure she will be working when we visit. Teresa speaks English and is well-versed in finding foods that are safe for those with allergies. She is willing to go back and forth between the customer and the chefs to ensure that the correct ingredients and protocols are taken to keep someone from getting contaminated.

If you go, make sure you ask her to remind the cooking staff to clean the surfaces before cooking your food.

Here are a few of my favorite things off the menu:

  • Asparagus wrapped in bacon. This is quintessential izakaya food if you eat pork. So delicious!
  • Rice bowl. Gonpachi has a few rice bowls, but none of them (as they are on the menu) are safe for someone who is very sensitive. They will, however, make one for you that is, as long as you let them know exactly what you need! I get a modified “takana meshi” – without the pickled mustard leaves and with an addition of grilled chicken and fresh avocado. They bring out all the seaweed and spices separately, so I can see exactly what will go into my bowl before it’s done. I mix it up and add my safe soy sauce myself, and it’s delicious!
  • Gyutan. I love beef tongue when it’s done correctly, and it’s definitely done correctly here. I ask for the gyutan without the sesame oil, as I have not been able to confirm that it’s safe. I just use my safe soy sauce for dipping instead.
  • Chicken on a skewer. I’m not sure that this one is on the menu by itself, but they’ve never had an issue with making it for me. I love yakitori and rarely get to order it, because it’s so difficult to find restaurants with safe cooking practices in terms of cross contamination! I order it shiodake (with salt only) and then use my soy sauce.
  • Yuzu Lime Iced Tea. I look forward to coming to Gonpachi for the yuzu tea more than anything else, especially in the summer. It’s so delicious! The first post-celiac time we visited Gonpachi, I was very nervous about trying this again, but I’ve never had a reaction from it!

 All in all, Gonpachi is definitely worth a visit!

My other favorite restaurant in Tokyo is Moti. This is an Indian restaurant near Roppongi Station. The owner speaks some English and while he doesn’t know much about gluten or celiac, he is very willing to go over all ingredients with you. I can’t say I’ve branched out as far as the menu goes, because the butter chicken curry is so good that I get it every time.

 We have visited every six months or so, and the owners always remember us when we walk in. Just make sure you check every ingredient and let the owners know what you’re avoiding so they can check it. Also, ask for rice instead of the naan and you’ll be good to go. They have offered sticky rice in the past, so you will need to make sure you opt for plain rice (the sticky rice is not safe).

 I hope this is able to help you as you navigate your way through Tokyo! Let me know if you have any great gluten free experiences at either of these (or any other) restaurants in Tokyo!

Gluten-Free Tokyo and Hong Kong Options

お久しぶりですね。 元気ですか。  It’s been a while since I last posted.  I hope all of you are doing well.  If you’re traveling through Japan or moving on to Hong Kong during your tour of Asia, I have some link love to share with you all.   First off, I still want to place a disclaimer on dining in restaurants (unless the restaurants have a certified isolated kitchen or area where they prep and cook all gluten-free foods separately from those with gluten).   I cannot make any recommendations, nor can I be held liable if any of these restaurants is unable to provide you with gluten-free food.  When choosing to eat in restaurants, you’re taking a risk.   That being said, I know how hard it is when you’re traveling and you cannot find any food to snack on or eat, and you’re desperate to find a restaurant that offers something…anything that is safe for consumption.

I’ve found a few links online that may be able to help you!  Please let me know if you do visit any of these places and if you’d like to post a review of them here.

Tokyo and Japan:

Yasuko Imabeppu’s website offers links to restaurants that apparently do offer gluten-free options.  One of the links is the cafe in Aoyama that I mentioned in a prior post.

In addition to these, Jodi Ettenberg, of the travel blog Legal Nomads, is currently on a tour of Japan where she’s documenting her gluten free travels through the country.  You can follow her via her blog above or her Facebook page.

Hong Kong:

If you’re traveling through Hong Kong, you should check out Urban Health.   They also have a Facebook page you can follow.  While I never had the opportunity to visit Hong Kong while living in Asia, I have heard that it has more options for gluten-free foods and Urban Health proves this right.   Their co-founder recently reached out to me with the intention of connecting those of us traveling or living in Asia who need to follow a gluten-free diet.   If you happen to live in Hong Kong, or you plan on visiting, definitely get in touch with them.

That’s it for now.  I will be back with more updates and more tips on how to stay healthy while living or traveling through Japan.  And, just so you know, I may soon be starting a new life in Korea in the near future, which will require learning how to live gluten-free in Korea.

Lots of love to you all.  Stay healthy and happy while you’re in beautiful Japan!

Tokyo Cafe Serving Gluten Free Options

After I posted last week that I didn’t know of anywhere to eat in Tokyo that was officially gluten free, I read on a blog that the gluten free trend has finally hit Japan and that there is a cafe in Tokyo that is offering food we can eat.    Cafe Three in Aoyama, which looks like it is attached to a spa, has food that appears to be safe to eat.

While the majority of restaurants and cafes do not know what gluten is, it’s good to see that some healthy cafes are now starting to serve gluten free options for those of us who cannot eat gluten.  I cannot offer a first hand review of this cafe, but the menu lists that it has both gluten free pancakes and French toast as well as lunch and dinner options!  If you happen to go there and want to review it for GF in Japan, please contact me.

It just dawned on me that I remember hearing about a raw food cafe in Okinawa that was rarely open and located outside of Naha (which is why I never managed to get there) that offered gluten free crepes.  Apparently gluten free food is being offered alongside raw foods in these health oriented cafes.  I think that’s even better than eating somewhere that serves processed food and has the potential for cross-contamination.

If you live in Tokyo or you’re traveling through or to it, check out the cafe.   In the meantime, I’ll dig up the name of the cafe in Okinawa in case anyone plans on traveling to the islands and wants to eat a sweet gf dessert.

Hotel Anteroom in Kyoto

Hotel Anteroom Kyoto

Art exhibition at Hotel Anteroom Kyoto

If you plan on traveling to Kyoto and you’re not on a shoestring budget, I highly recommend staying at Hotel Anteroom.  It’s relatively cheap to stay at for a boutique hotel  that is also a contemporary art gallery! and the food! OMG, the food is amazing there.  The chef went out of her way to prepare gluten free healthy meals for me that were fit for a king/queen.  This in itself made my stay in Kyoto amazing.  I’ve traveled enough in Japan to know that half the battle is finding a place to eat where you can eat more than undressed salad and boiled eggs.  If you do stay there, contact them and let them know you have a dietary issue, bring your dining card, or fax it in advance. 

5 star recommendation.

Art exhibition at Hotel Anteroom Kyoto

Just hanging out at Hotel Anteroom Kyoto

Delicious gluten free food Hotel Anteroom Kyoto

Staying Healthy and Loving Your Experiences in Japan

お久しぶりですよね! It’s been quite a while since my last update on here.  I just left Japan about a week ago and have moved back stateside after spending four years living in this beautiful country.   I wanted to update one last time here because I know a number of people come to this site looking for travel information on how to eat gluten free in Japan.  Because I am no longer living in Japan, I will just leave this information up for others to find.  I won’t be able to offer any updates unless I move back to Japan anytime soon.  BUT, if any of my readers who travel through Japan wants to guest post about their gluten free adventures, please contact me.  I never intended Gluten Free in Japan to be an ongoing blog, rather I wanted it to be a beacon for others who, like myself, were either living in Japan with Celiac Disease/Gluten Intolerance, or intending to spend time in Japan, either studying, working, or traveling.

When I first moved to Japan, as I have written before in former posts, there was very little information on the web about living in Japan while following a gluten free diet.  I had no clue what I was getting into and thus my first year was spent in emotional and physical turmoil as I came to grips with living on an isolated island, going through culture shock and everything that comes with that, all the while destroying my health by eating things that people said were “wheat free” or that “looked OK” to eat, or that seemed to lack gluten in it.  Because I wasn’t prepared for the transition of living in a country that did not label foods as gluten free, and did not have any experience with Celiac Disease/Gluten Intolerance, I lacked the support I needed to transition into a healthy, happy life in Japan.  Somewhere around the 8 month mark, I became severely ill and was in and out of hospitals on that island, trying desperately to get some relief for the physical pain I was facing.  None of the doctors on the small island in Yaeyama knew much about Celiac Disease (“This is a foreigner disease.”  “This is very rare.” “Japanese don’t have autoimmune issues.”) I decided from that point going forward that I needed to reach out to anyone, anywhere who might have more experience in living in Japan and following a GF diet.  I started writing articles to inform others about the issues that we face on a day-to-day basis, because most people I met – including a large number of fellow expats/foreigners/外人 — didn’t understand and really could not relate.

After starting this site, I  met another fellow blogger and JET who has Celiac Disease and who is based in Kobe.  His website had a similar name to mine and because of this and because we both were on the JET program, we decided to form an online support page for JETs and other ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) who needed access to info about the gluten free life while living in Japan.  Having this group on Facebook really allowed me to feel more connected, and gave us all a space in which we could share info and share recipes.  Unfortunately, it’s only open at this time to those who are teaching, working, or living in Japan long term. If you are reading this and you aren’t on JET, but you are living long-term in Japan and you are seeking a support group for CD/GI, send us a message and let us know who you are.  We get too many spammers trying to join the group, so we need to know who you are in advance and why you want to join.  For those of you who visit my blog in preparation for a short term trip, this Facebook group may not be so helpful as it is about recipe sharing and how to locate foods to cook with, discussing other problems that come with living long term in Japan and dealing with dietary restrictions.

For those of you who email me with questions about places to eat, places to stay at, and other ways to enjoy Japan while touring it, I recommend that you do a ton of research in advance.  I haven’t ever lived or spent more than 2-3 days in Tokyo or Yokohama, so I cannot offer in depth advice to that region, or any other region outside of Okinawa, where I lived for four years.  If you currently live in any regions throughout Japan and you would like to contribute to a guest post about restaurants, hotels, and food supplies that people coming to Japan for a short or even long-term stay should know about, please send me an email and we can discuss this.

It look me a long time to find restaurants that I could eat at safely, and even then, I always felt like I was playing Russian roulette with my health.  Still, if you are touring Japan, you will need to find places to eat that can offer you food so you can enjoy your stay.  At this point, I only have two recommendations for hotels that served me food without any hesitation, but I think from these experiences it should be noted that every place you stay at or visit is case-by-case and the Japanese are often willing to accommodate you if you give them advance notice and if you’re able to communicate your dietary needs to them in Japanese.  You can do this with a dining card that is written in Japanese, or you can have others who speak Japanese phone ahead for you, if you do not speak enough Japanese.

My advice for you is to prepare, prepare, prepare and prepare in advance as much as you can.  And tell everyone you know in Japan, including any hotel concierges or tour group leaders about your dietary needs and your disease.  Use this chance to inform others about CD/GI.   Do not come to Japan thinking you can just pop into any restaurant or any hotel without having done due diligence on them.  Our disease is a complicated one and one that isn’t well known in Japan.  The Japanese also have managed to incorporate so much gluten, most of it in hidden forms like flavorings, salts (Ajinomoto), in the bases of soups, etc.  that you simply cannot afford to play a game with your health by popping into a combini and hoping for the best that the onigiri you’re eating is safe (IMPORTANT:  At this time, NO onigiri at ANY convenience store is safe to consume if you have Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance, because it almost always has a wonderful thing called amino-san added to it for flavoring and that is going to mess up your gut like nothing else).   Be wary of websites that claim you can pick up processed foods at combini/convenience stores that are safe for consumption (besides Soyjoy bars, I did on occasion find imported foods from Italy that were labeled gluten free, but these came and went with the seasonal trends unfortunately).  If the website states that convenience store onigiri are safe for consumption, then it means the authors did not research ingredients, or they are just guessing from scouring other erroneous online blogs/sites. Even if the site/post looks professional, you cannot risk your health.  Do you own research, learn the Japanese words needed to read labels, and assume that anything processed or prepared has gluten in it.  By the way, the only things at combinis that I recommend are juices, fruits, veggies, eggs (you need to cook them), natto (fermented soybeans without the tare/soy sauce packet), cheese, milk (if you consume dairy), and nuts without any added flavoring.  Each combini will have different things so there may be other things you can eat.   I never felt good when eating yogurt in Japan, so I do not recommend it.  I ate chocolate, but I feel like there are too many extra ingredients and places where gluten can be hiding for me to say that they are safe for consumption.  I took some risks for sweets, but I also double checked everything.  Mochi, which should be safe, can sometimes contain unsafe ingredients, when you buy it processed.

A reader once commented on my blog that she/he had no problems going out places and finding restaurants that could accommodate gluten intolerance.  I am uncertain where this individual lives in Japan (I assume Tokyo), but where I lived in Naha (the capital city of Okinawa), there were no restaurants apart from Coco Ichibanya Curry that listed allergens and even they only listed wheat not gluten on their list of allergens.   The majority of Japan does not have allergy lists or chefs who know and understand what gluten is.  Perhaps in some areas of Tokyo/Kanto they are starting to list all allergens at the restaurants, but when I traveled to Yokohama and Tokyo, I did not see this.  Be prepared for restaurants that do no have allergen lists, and even if they are major chains like Ootoya or Coco Ichi, which do have these lists, be prepared to find no foods that you can safely consume (Ootoya has nothing for us sorry.  Coco Ichi’s allergy free curry is iffy because it contains an unlisted starch – though it’s not derived from wheat).

Some Japanese foods that you can eat at restaurants, with caution, are shabu shabu しゃぶしゃぶ and yakiniku 焼肉 as long as no tare or soy sauce/sauce is used that contains gluten/wheat in it.  If you go to a shabu shabu or yakiniku restaurant, bring your own condiments/soy sauce with you and order 塩だけ shio dake (salt only) for the yakiniku and water-kombu for the shabu shabu broth.  Sashimi is always safe, but wasabi isn’t usually unless it’s なまわさび (freshly grated wasabi) which is rare and almost never found in Okinawa.  Check with you sushi chef about vinegars that they use to flavor the rice before indulging.

For those of you starting your life in Japan either on JET, or in another capacity, know that there are plenty of options for us, but these options are usually in the form of whole foods such as meats, fish, eggs, seafood, vegetables, fruits, rice.  You will have to learn to love to cook.   If you want to bake or make foods that are traditionally off limits to us, there are a few options around.  Of course, you can always shop on iherb.com for gluten free snacks, on foreign buyer’s club to import gluten free flours, and in some Japanese grocery stores that have an allergy section (most grocery stores sadly do not have allergy sections).  A few companies (オタフク)(Glico) (イチビキ) in Japan make foods that are made without known major allergens. Glico even has a gluten free flour available by mail order if you use a home bakery/bread machine. They are often marketed towards children, since Japan thinks that only children have allergies.  Ichibiki (linked above) has an excellent wheat free soy sauce that you can order online (or if your local store has an allergy section, it might be located there).   The organization Food Action Nippon promotes Japanese domestic rice production in products where wheat is traditionally used (rice gyoza wraps, rice noodles).  Not all of these products are gluten free though.  If you have other allergies, you might want to check out this article regarding allergens and how to read labels in Japan.  Many wheat free/gluten free food products in Japan are often available online, but you need to be able to write and read in Japanese to order them.  The companies, if they have a corresponding English site, might not have the same products available on their English language sites.

I hope this helps you on your amazing journey to Japan!

I wish you all the best in staying healthy and loving your experiences in this amazing country.

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