Gluten Free Failure

This is an old post from last summer that I’m transferring from my other blog to this blog.  I remembered it recently because I haven’t been feeling well lately.  I had to work at an English camp last week and the other ALTs wanted to go out to eat every day.  I was carpooling with them so I had no other choice but to join them.  I should have been more strict with myself and just brought my own bento, eaten it beforehand, and joined them for coffee or tea.  But it’s been super hot here in Okinawa, nearly 35 degrees everyday, and cooking in this heat isn’t fun.  Still, I have to cook because it’s either that or feel like garbage.  Anyways, I’ve been wishing for a gluten free restaurant to spring up in Okinawa or even somewhere else in Japan.  Or a gluten free tour of Kyoto or Tokyo or even Hokkaido.  In fact, I want to ask my readers for advice on places they’ve eaten at or traveled to in Japan that have catered to their needs.  I think it would be great to get some insight as to how others who are following a gluten free diet are surviving in Japan.  So, if you’re out there and you’re reading this blog, please drop me a comment or send me an email.  I would love to hear from you.

Because I live in a country that doesn’t recognize Celiac Disease (and the USA isn’t much better, to be honest), I have started to dream about living in a country like Italy, where everyone is knowledgeable of it. I just read this article by Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef and this article by Celiac Chicks, and I am ready to pack my bags and trade in my language and culture study from Japanese to Italian.

But seriously, after last night’s failed dinner at La Fonte (a Japanese idea of an Italian restaurant) in Shuri, I woke up this morning thinking that I should I refuse to tolerate food prejudice. Basically, the restaurant refused to serve me dinner, but they waited until I arrived to tell me, instead of graciously phoning me in advance. I had the gluten-free card faxed to them notifying them of what I could and could not eat in advance, so I thought that everything would work out. Being refused by a restaurant would normally be something I could just move on from, but I was attending a dinner that was organized by the English Department on behalf of the prior ALT (who is in Okinawa for a short visit). So, I had to sit through several hours of chatting — which I actually found pleasant enough to stay — while watching other people eat delicious food. This was on an empty stomach, 6 hours after I had eaten my last meal. The restaurant did serve me a big plate of lettuce and tomatoes. I had to ask them to bring a bowl of rice, which they didn’t do until halfway into the meal. It’s ridiculous to eat only a plate of rice in front of people who are eating scrumptious looking pizza and pasta. Basically, it sucked.

I was also rather upset with my (now former) coordinator, who is the person at my school who is supposed to look after me. I had originally planned this dinner and had booked it at a restaurant I knew could attend to both my and the prior ALT’s needs, as she’s a vegetarian and I require gluten-free food. Unfortunately, the restaurant could not fit a party of 10. So, my coordinator took the reigns and booked at La Fonte. I understand why she did this. People don’t want to rush through eating food, and we would have had to do this if we had gone to the restaurant I had booked. Anyways, it isn’t that I feel entitled to have her do things for me, believe me I’d much rather be fully independent and not have to rely on her at all. What got to me was her lack of empathy for my situation. Remember tatamae and honne? I guess the honne was out in full display. Sad. Also recently she’s made a huge deal about my status as gluten intolerant to everyone on the faculty, even though I’ve been at the school for a year and I’ve had this issue since I was 25.

This leads me back to dealing with food prejudice and prejudice towards disabilities. I think I’m starting to develop a sense of inferiority from this disease due to having to explain my issues over and over again and having people say “taihen desu ne” over and over. To have to work around people who treat it as a problem, rather than treat me as someone who is their co-worker who just needs a little extra help in finding places that will cater to my needs, really does affect me.

I guess I need to just accept it and get over it.  Or start advocating for myself.

Addendum to this post:  The majority of the teachers in my department go out of their way to arrange special gluten free meals for me when we have teacher dinners at hotels or restaurants.  I just wanted to make it clear that my school has tried hard to help me out.  This particular post came as a reaction to the harshness that I felt was coming from a particular person regarding my diet.  People don’t always understand what it means to have a disease, disability, or limitation.  We have to advocate on our behalf, especially in Japan where gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease is unknown.


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. paula shadle
    Aug 07, 2013 @ 14:06:17

    I just visited Japan for a week. I brought my own GF soy sauce and was able to get by without getting sick! I ate mostly sushi, edamame, and rice… no soups, sauces, etc. The Hilton in Osaka was able to make me teppanyaki dinner and I had Indian food in yokaiichi which was fine. Keep on trying, it’s important!!


    • autumnaki
      Aug 11, 2013 @ 03:27:07

      Thanks so much for commenting! I’m really glad you had a good time and that you were able to eat without any issues. If you know the name of the Indian restaurant, let me know. I am thinking of compiling reviews from fellow travelers. It would be super helpful for anyone who is thinking of coming to Japan on a short term trip. It would also help those of us living here long term. By the way, where exactly did you travel to? Did you have a fun time while here? How did you handle last minute hunger or did you bring food with you that you knew you could snack on while you were sightseeing (I’m assuming you were here for tourism)…


  2. GF Kanagawa
    Nov 08, 2014 @ 02:47:27

    I have lived in Japan for almost 11 yrs now, but just this year went gluten free. I Eat ALOT of meat, vegetables and a little rice. I also spend a great deal on shipping products from the States. Kind corporation is a lifesaver!!


    • autumnaki
      Jan 19, 2015 @ 04:22:35

      Yeah, It’s really hard to transition to gluten free if you’ve been eating Japanese food without any issues. I find that eating gluten free though is so much healthier if you opt to eat whole foods/paleo like diet while living there. Good luck and if you need any advice, let me know.


  3. Kari
    Mar 28, 2015 @ 04:08:56

    We’ve lived in Aomori Prefecture for a few years and travel to Tokyo frequently. While I always take my own food just in case, we’ve found a few safe spots while traveling! We’ve also found several not-safe spots…but why mention them?

    Gonpachi (an Izakaya restaurant) in Tokyo has some options. They aren’t necessarily on the menu, but if you go to the one near Roppongi (Nishi Azabu) they have an “allergy specialist” who is very knowledgeable, plus, she speaks English. We go there every time we visit Tokyo and I’ve never gotten sick. I’m celiac (and also corn allergic) and extremely sensitive to cross contamination, so I was pleasantly surprised.

    Also in Roppongi there is a restaurant called Moti – it’s an Indian restaurant and the owners are very friendly. I get the butter chicken curry with rice instead of naan and have also never had a problem. We’ve gone multiple times and are actually going back next week. The owners always remember us (we go every nine months or so) and it’s nice that they know what is and isn’t safe, for the most part. I still go into detail on my food allergies every time we visit, but I’ve never gotten sick there.

    Tokyo Disney is also great about gf – they have several restaurants that have different plates for certain allergies. They have a website with their allergy menus so you can plan ahead as to what you’ll get and which restaurant to visit. We planned our rides and everything around which restaurant we wanted to visit for which meal.


  4. SM
    Dec 17, 2015 @ 23:18:35

    We’re in Okinawa and Pizzakaya in Chatan has gluten-free pasta and salads and was very accommodating. Their marinara sauce is thickened with cornstarch, not flour. My wife has celiac disease and we went out for a big family dinner there. Of course, it was not fun watching other people eat pizza but at least there was delicious food she could eat for every course! I think the attitude you describe about people not treating celiac as a disability is reprehensible and I’m sorry it happened to you!


    • Kari
      Dec 21, 2015 @ 04:32:27

      I’m glad you had a good experience at Pizzakaya, but I wouldn’t trust that restaurant any further than I could throw it. While their sauce is made with corn and not wheat, they don’t have (or at least when I went and asked them about it), a separate area for making their gluten free dough. I could see the flour in the air and I know people who have had reactions just from walking into that place. I know I’m pretty sensitive compared to others as far as what will cause a reaction, but if someone is celiac and not just gluten intolerant, I would recommend staying far, far away. (I hope I don’t come off as mean saying this, but health is an important thing to manage!!) 🙂


    • autumnaki
      Dec 21, 2015 @ 04:41:44

      I want to also second what Kari has written here. I was actually glutened when I ate at Pizzakaya in the spring of 2013. I had called a week in advance to make arrangements so that my gluten-free pizza could be made safely. When I arrived, the staff did not know anything about this (even though I had confirmed earlier that day). One of the staff members had to go to the base to buy gluten-free dough, which meant that I had to wait nearly 2 hours to eat the pizza. Unfortunately, the man who rolled the dough did so in the same area that the wheat flour was rolled (because he was not taught that this dough should be prepared separately in a safe area or even off-site if necessary). It seemed that neither staff member knew anything about celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. I ate the pizza and became incredibly sick from it for at least a week. It was really awful. I would never recommend this restaurant to anyone with CD/GS. Honestly, I think it’s the same deal as with Dominos in the US. The dough is gluten-free but it is not meant for those of us who actually require gluten-free food. Sad.


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