Gluten is guruten in Japanese. However, most people only know the native word komugi which means wheat flour. I’m here to teach how to say what you need to so you can eat your fill in Japan!
I know that if you’re asking this question, it’s about your health. I also know that you’ve been dealing this with already — many of you, for all of your lives. So, I’m going to be brutally honest. But I also promise you that traveling gluten-free in Japan is not impossible. I’ve traveled across the country with hundreds of people with many different dietary restrictions. It’s challenging, but absolutely possible.
Also, I’ve created a free PDF you can download and print out (or just open it up on your mobile device). Show it to hotel staff and restaurant staff and rest assured you’ll be safe. The link is at the end of the article, or just skip to it in the Table of Contents if you’re in a hurry.
Table of contents
The Reality About Gluten-Free Diets in Japan
First of all, if you have celiac disease or some other gluten intolerance and you’re planning a trip to Japan, there are a few things you absolutely must know. Gluten-free options in the west are becoming increasingly available, especially in restaurants. In Japan, this is not the case.
Just think about it. One of the main seasonings in Japanese cuisine is soy sauce which is made from wheat flour. That means the bulk of traditional Japanese dishes are completely off the table for you. If you’re also vegan and cannot eat dashi (a kind of soup stock often made from fish or meat), you’ll be even more limited. In fact, I call this gluten-free/vegan/no dashi combination the Trifecta. If that’s the case… wow, basically, 90% of Japanese food is a no go for you and your options outside of big cities will be even more difficult.
Challenging, But Doable
As a tourism professional who’s lived in Japan 16 years, the best advice I can give you is booking a professional guide (or, at least for the beginning of your trip). I’d love it to be me (JapanThis.Tours), but any experienced, competent guide who regularly handles clients with dietary restrictions can also help you out. A pro can take you into supermarkets, convenience stores, and teach you the ins and outs of eating healthy in Japan. You’re on vacation. The last thing we want is for you to get sick! I’ve often purchased personal travel-sized bottles of gluten-free soy sauce for clients that they can take with them. Some mom and pop restaurants have even agreed to use it for special dishes.
Apps like Happy Cow can be a lifesaver when your stomach starts growling. But a lot of delicious restaurants have perfectly acceptable items on the menu. Problem is, the owners don’t know there’s a medical reason people might be searching for that particular dish. In short, a lot of places fly under the radar.
Gluten-free tourism is absolutely possible in #Japan!Tweet
How do you say gluten in Japanese?
Komugi futaishō desu – I’m gluten intolerant
watashi wa, komugi futaishō desu
|I’m wheat flour intolerant.|
This is, hands down, the best phrase you can use as a tourist in Japan who can’t do gluten.
I translated this as “intolerant,” but the Japanese word I used implies “I will get sick if I eat gluten” as opposed to a less serious reaction. This should ensure the staff and cooks take your condition seriously.
Pro-Tip: Drop watashi wa and point at yourself instead.
I’ve included two full sentences in this article. Each of them begin with watashi wa which means something like “I am/I have.” If these sentences are too long to remember, you can drop watashi wa and just point at your face to mean “me!” If you do that, you only have to memorize the second half of the sentence.
Pronunciation Tip: The final u in desu is very weak. So, if you pronounce it like komugi futaishō des’, you’ll sound more natural.
Arerugii – allergy
You don’t need this word by itself, but I’d like to talk about the pronunciation. Many medical words in Japanese come from German and Dutch, not English. Arerugii is the Japanese pronunciation of the German word Allergie. The last sound is not a soft g (gee) like English, but a hard g (ghee) as in “geezer.”
Pronunciation Tip: I speak fluent Japanese. But even for me, this word is hard to say.
The u in arerugii is weak. So, it sounds most natural if you say it like arer‘gii.
If that’s still tricky, just say English “allergy” with a hard g. People should understand that.
Some common allergies:
- komugi arer‘gii – gluten allergy
- piinattsu arer‘gii – peanut allergy
- neko arer‘gii – cat allergy
Komugi arerugii ga arimasu – I have a gluten allergy
watashi wa, komugi arerugii ga arimasu
|I have a wheat flour allergy.|
This is really the phrase you want if you want to convey that you have gluten allergy. You can use this if you’re sure that if a tiny bit of wheat flour accidentally finds its way into your food, you won’t suffer from a horrible, vacation-ruining reaction.
Pro-Tip: The middle u in arerugii and the last u in arimasu are very weak. If you pronounce the phrase komugi arer‘gii ga arimas’ it will sound more natural.
Free PDF Download to Print Out
Worried you can’t remember all this? No problem. I have a free PDF that you can download or print out. It describes various dietary restrictions, including things like “gluten-free vegan.”
I’d like to expand it, so if you have some requests about your own requirements, you can make suggestions anonymously!
Want to know more?
If you have any questions about this topic, feel free to ask in the comments section down below. Also, I believe health and safety are extremely important when traveling abroad, so please share this with any friends or loved ones who could use it.
I have more Japanese Survival Phrases for Tourists articles coming soon, so be sure to subscribe to JapanThis.Tours for my latest tourism content. It’s free and I try to update it every month.
Also, during the New Year’s holiday, I plan to begin adding audio clips to this and all Japanese Survival Phrases articles. I will be using native speakers so you can get the perfect pronunciation. Stay tuned!