At the edge of the horizon

At the edge of the horizon
At the edge of Japan

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gluten Free Traveling in Japan: More Advice

I don't want to turn my blog into a Gluten Free Japan info blog.
For one thing, my experiences here have not been very positive gluten-free wise.  I desperately want to tell you positive dining experiences here.  I do!   But I've been sick lately from gluten exposure so this article isn't going to be that positive.  Sorry.

Don't even think about eating Japanese curry!  
Another reason is that when I do think too much about my gluten free life, I start to feel the weight of the limitations I have (at least in Japan).  I don't know what to suggest to people traveling to Japan other than to do some serious preparation before coming here and do everything possible to cook your own food.  Yeah, I know that's a bummer.  And you're probably not going to take my advice anyways.  So, if you decide to venture into restaurants just be warned that no one knows what Celiac or what Gluten Free is in this country.  
So, you're venturing into unknown territory.

My advice to you: prepare and cook your own food.  I know, I already said this.  But it's the only way to make certain you aren't eating gluten.   If you cannot do that then you need to do some serious advanced preparation of where you're going to eat in restaurants.  Why?

Here is a good example.  It is just one of many examples of how hidden gluten gets into our meals:

Restaurants might serve you what they think is gluten free (and it might appear that way to you as well), but if they're using consomme (that's bouillon or chicken stock via cubes), it's got gluten in it.  So yes, that soup that you just ate is going to cause you some issues.  The chef won't realize this.  You have to be proactive about it.  If you're not able to speak enough Japanese to ask the million questions you need to ask in order to make certain the food is safe for you to eat, you should just skip eating at restaurants.  Because even with one of those dining cards, these little issues can happen.  And they will ruin your vacation.

Most Celiacs know they cannot safely eat in restaurants.  Not even in the USA.  But those of us who are gluten intolerant take our chances.  You know who you are.  Here is what I have to tell you...I feel like I've run the gauntlet in Japan these past 2.5 years here.  Being ill from food that is healthy and delicious is a depressing thing and it also destroys your health.  There really isn't an easy solution to our dietary woes while living or visiting Japan.  Sometimes I just wish someone would start a gluten free restaurant here in Okinawa though.
But that isn't going to happen because the Japanese don't suffer from gluten intolerance and rarely do they have cases of Celiac.

If you're living on Okinawa, I can only recommend (with extreme hesitation) these restaurants in Naha that may be able to serve you without any issues.  Be warned though that they prepare food with gluten in their kitchens.  If you live in mainland Japan, please share restaurants you have been able to eat at.  I would really love to try to connect to others who are living in Japan who are following a gluten free lifestyle.  Any advice would be helpful.

Here are several places in Naha, Okinawa:

1. 浮島ガーデン or Ukishima Garden.  Their website domain appears to be down, but they still exist.
2. Dining Cure Heart:
3. RIZE.  (Call or visit in advance.  The staff here speaks English and the owner is from Canada).

On Okinawa Hai online magazine, there are a few restaurants listed as potentially gluten free.  Not one of them really is, so just be wary of reviewers who claim that the restaurant they visited has gluten free foods.  I know one Curry Shop in Naha in particular that was listed as gluten free.  The chef, who used to make me special curries, specifically asked not to be listed as such because he didn't want to be responsible for people's health issues since his food has cross contamination issues.  He did some research on Celiac/Gluten Intolerance because of me and realized how difficult it was to serve food safely.

There are a few upscale restaurants at high end resorts in Onna in Northern Okinawa that can prepare foods for you as well.  If you're interested in knowing about these, I can give you that info.  I have never eaten at those places, but my doctor had a dietitian call around to find out if it was possible.

Arrange your meals in advance with these places.  Good luck!

PS:  One good thing!  Family Mart has been selling certified gluten free Italian cookies imported from Italy.  They are called "Senza Pensieri" by Palmisano.  They're in the sweets import food section.  I don't know if all Family Marts throughout Japan have these.  They do in Okinawa though.  Yum!

Third row down, in the white and green package.


  1. I'm gluten intolerant and I've been in Okinawa since August 2009. I've come to realize that the only way to keep from being accidentally "glutened" is to eat at home :/ I love that MaxValue brand foods usually have a label that tell you if there is wheat...I wish more items would do that. There are also some baking mixes (sugar cookies and pancakes I believe) that you can find that are made without wheat.

    I just read on the Pizzakaya Facebook (pizza place in American Village) that they plan on putting a gluten free pizza on their menu soon. It doesn't solve the cross contamination problem though since their primary menu is normal pizza.

    I'm not here through the military so my family plans on being here for a while. I hope that more places will become aware of the gluten issue and make it easier for us with gluten intolerance/Celiac to eat out.

  2. Hi! Thank you so much for reading my blog and for taking the time to reply. I'm actually really happy to hear from someone else in Okinawa who has the same dietary restrictions that I do. I often feel that I am the only person on this island that has to go through the hoops of the gluten-free dance. My diet is basically nearly paleo, though I include rice. It would be great to share some ideas and tips on what and where you've found to substitute for gluten in typically gluten-laden foods.

    I'm surprised that a pizza place is making the efforts to offer gluten free pizza, though perhaps its because of the proximity to the US bases in the Chatan area. Thanks for letting me know!

    It would be great to have a help/support group, even if just online for those of us in Japan who are gluten free. Hmm... :)