Eating out in Japan – the healthy option

by Paul Goodchild

Recently I have become very conscious about what foods I eat, especially when eating out.  If possible now I aim for the vegetarian option, and where the option exists, I shoot for the organic / macrobiotic catering restaurants.  The whys and wherefores for this can be followed on my personal blog as I explore and write more about this subject, but for the purposes of this article, I’m going to stick to how we can aim for this in Japan.

What is organic food?

For a good primer on what organic food really is, just check out Wiki.  Basically it’s food that has been grown/produced and certified to a very specific set of standards – typicially (though not always) restricting the use of inorganic pesticides, insecticides and herbicides and where animals are concerned, prohibiting the use of growth hormone and antibiotics.

The merits of this can be discussed over and over, but consider the idea that at the turn of the 20th century there was no such thing as ‘organic food’.  Everything we eat, unless we consciously select our foods carefully, is infused with the toxins and waste that comes from the liberal use of these chemicals.  This has significant implications for your health as your body works to metabolize these and it’s worth factoring this into your diet.

Is organic really better for you?  Well while there are no studies that categorically prove this fact, but simple reasoning and intuitive logic tells us that organic foods lacking these toxins are better for us in the long run given that we don’t consume them.

If you haven’t already, it’s worth checking out the podcast and blog, ‘Stuff you should know’ – more specifically, they have a recent production pertaining to organic foods.  It’s a great intro and full of useful facts and information.

Does Japan have organic food standards?

Yes: Japan Agricultural Standard (JAS).

Foods that are labeled with their logo have met the required production standards.  A lot of information can be found here on these.

For your reference, “organic” in the Japanese language is either denoted by 有機 (yuuki) or オーガニック (ōganikku)

Where are all the healthy food options in Japan?

organic_saladI’ve made it a mission of mine recently to sample and document as many of these as I can, and create a Google map of what I have found.  Through my research I have been provided with a link to a site (currently in Japanese only) that has heaps of places documented that are healthy options – though not all are necessarily organic (see below).

In the last week I have tried 2 places from the site and they were fantastic!  One was organic/macrobiotic, and the other was a vegetarian Indian.  The former was amazingly delicious and well prepared, with a great atmosphere and discounts for 10+ parties.  The latter was a lovely art-filled restaurant with great curries and nan.  Both had great service and friendly staff… but then, it is Japan afterall.  The two I have tried so far are (both have English site links):

Restaurants aside, shopping for organic produce in Japan is not the easiest and you generally have to by-pass your local supermarket chains, though not always.  Metropolis ran an article this week about an organic food importer which is worth checking out to get an idea of how far along (behind?) Japan is right now.  But things are changing.  Keep an eye-out as you browse the supermarket for food labeled organic as they are becoming increasingly more common.


The site with all the links to restaurants that fit the organic/vegetarian bill is:

For more information on the organic certifications relating to Japan, you can do a google search for it, or check out some of these links:

  • Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan (MAFF)

I hope this helps open up some new ideas for your healthy eating habits!

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