Here is a little cheat sheet that will help you identify meats/fish and foods that you do not want to eat in Japan
Of course the most important one to look for is this 肉 ( pronounced niku) it means meat, anything before this indicates the animal it comes from.
For those who want to avoid fish, avoid this 魚 (pronounced sakana). As with meat , most of the fish have this as the left part of their kanji.
For egg avoiders, please look for this kanji – 卵 (pronounced tamago).
For people with allergies look for the term “arerugi” (アレルギ) which is a japanization of allergy. The main seven allergens which are marked on packaging are egg, milk, wheat, prawn, crab, buckwheat and peanuts (卵・乳・小麦・えび・かに・そば・落花生). The laws are also slowly developing which will require all companies to write down whether there are allergens in the same factory, or on the same line as the food you are looking at. The list of allergens is usually written a few lines below the ingredients and includes the words “工場” (factory) or “ライン” (line); “…を含む” (includes); “….を製造します” (is manufactured). For a longer list take a look at this site:
There is lots of information out there so don’t be afraid to ask or you can search the internet. Japan has a very progressive vegetarian and vegan population and vegetarian based cafes are popping up all the time. Here is a great website which shows many options for vegetarians in Tokyo, and indeed, all over the world. We have made a handy little card that you can take out and about with you. If you’d like a copy please let us know and we’ll pop one in with your next order. This is what it looks like: