When I said I was heading to Japan via a 15-day repositioning cruise across the Pacific Ocean, most of my friends and family wanted to know what I would do at sea for 8 days straight. What I wanted to know, though, was what I would eat as a celiac in Japan, a country with quite a lot of wheat in its current diet. This guide to gluten free Japanese food is the summary of not only what I ate, but also the research surrounding some of the foods in the country and a translation card in Japanese to navigate Japan with less fear.
LAST UPDATED: SEPTEMBER 1, 2022.
Unfortunately, during the pandemic a few beloved celiac spots have closed, including Japan Crepe and both of the Hiroshima restaurants.
Eating Gluten Free in Japan: An Overview
When people think of Japan, they often assume it will be easy for celiacs. After all, there is an abundance of rice, and sushi is generally thought of as free of gluten. Unfortunately Japanese food is also rife with wheat, using considerable amounts of soy sauce, barley, and wheat flour, and even basic sushi rice sometimes contains a vinegar that blends barley malt with rice vinegar, causing distress for celiacs.
Historically it was rice and not wheat that was grown and used in cooking throughout Japan. While wheat was consumed in small quantities, it wasn’t the prevalent filler that it is today. Wheat imports have grown steadily since the 1950s, and as Slate’s Nadia Arumugam writes, a good part of why is due to an aggressive advertising campaign and subsidized wheat-filled lunches provided to Japan by the US Government after World War II.
These days, with instant ramen noodles, wheat-filled sweet buns and custard treats, and soy sauce that now contains wheat, it is incredibly difficult to avoid gluten in Japan. In addition, celiac disease is not as well known, and affects only 0.19% of the population, as of 2020. Still, awareness is on the rise, and the population affected may be increasing as well.
This guide will hopefully help you feel more prepared to visit.
Should a Celiac Visit Japan?
My fears were well-founded. I got sick quite a few times, often unable to pinpoint what it was that I ate. Despite using a Japanese gluten free translation card and, for part of the time, having a guide with me, I hadn’t done very much pre-trip research. In addition, the gluten-free card was fairly generic — it merely said “I cannot eat wheat or barley or rye or soy sauce” and explained that I had a disease that got me sick.
Though I appreciate that the card was available, it was not as detailed as needed in Japan because of the incredible prevalence of wheat. People tried to help, but despite reading the card overlooked that soy sauce had wheat flour, or that miso would need to be avoided unless made from rice, which was more rare. I created the card below for a more detailed explanation of what might have gluten, and then paid a translator to translate it.
I would tell celiacs to visit because the country is breathtakingly beautiful. But be prepared to be vigilant about your food, to be patient with those who do not understand your concerns with their ingredients, and to miss out on part of what makes the country extremely special: its culinary masterpieces.
Japanese people did take the card very seriously when it was shown to them. It was not that they pretended there was no wheat, or that they were dismissive. To the contrary, I think it also stressed people out that they could not truly understand what I was trying to avoid. There are countries where people don’t take celiac disease or allergies generally very seriously. Japan isn’t one of them. Communication was the biggest problem, as well as understanding labels from food stores.
I put together this gluten free guide to Japan in the hopes that it would help those of you who have the disease or are eating gluten free avoid what will make you ill. It isn’t easy, but it is doable. I wish I had done all of this research ahead of time. Think of it as my getting sick and learning as I go so you don’t have to!
Concerns About Insulting the Chef with Meal Changes
In addition to the wheat, I was concerned about insulting the chef by being a picky eater and doing so without adequately communicating why. Japan’s concept of artisans of food, shokunin like Jiro in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, is not to be taken lightly. Rice, Noodle, Fish, a beautiful photo and travel book by Matt Goulding from Roads and Kingdoms in partnership with Anthony Bourdain, refers to shokunin thusly:
“The concept of shokunin, an artisan deeply and singularly dedicated to his or her craft, is at the core of Japanese culture. […] Tokyo is the city of ten thousand shokunin. If you come to Japan to eat, you come for them.”
Basically, I didn’t want to throw art in an artisan’s face. But I also couldn’t eat their food as is, without getting sick. In fact, as I’ve said below, part of my time in Japan was with a guide and still I got sick from the wealth of wheat and cross-contact in the cuisine.
So I wanted to make sure that anything I presented to the chef or staff at a restaurant was respectful of this concept.
A Gluten Free Restaurant Card in Japanese
This card was the first in what has become a series of gluten free guides and local language cards, and I’m excited to be working with translators and celiacs to build detailed and safe cards for us to use on the road.
Each of the cards in the guide has been created with celiac-specific research, mention of cross contamination, and double checked paid translation from locals who speak the language.
Note: The card is available for purchase via trustworthy 3rd party site that uses https, so you know your information is safe.
Why is this Japanese gluten free card different?
I have used several different translation cards on my travels, and still got sick. I may be more sensitive or susceptible to symptoms than some celiacs, but even a small amount of contaminated oil for frying, or soy sauce in the food, is enough to make me ill for days. As as celiacs know, even if not feeling symptoms from cross-contact, it is still problematic from a health perspective because our bodies cannot break down gluten.
So! This card:
- Was researched by a celiac who loves to eat (ahem, that is meeee).
- It went through 2 translations for accuracy, from Japanese speakers who also love to eat, one of whom is familiar with celiac disease.
- It uses local food names, and makes clear mention of cross-contamination concerns.
- It suggests alternatives for chefs, like rice, rice noodles, and pure buckwheat.
An English translation of the card will be included when you purchase, so you can follow along as you travel. You can, of course, print the card too! Upon downloading, you will need to lower the resolution / size of the image, to print it so that it is pocket-sized.
I have sent it to readers heading to Japan in order to test it out, and they have reported that it was very helpful and they did not get sick. From one reader named Nicole:
From a reader named Nicole:
Hi Jodi, I obviously don’t know exactly what is written on the card in English, but it is excellent and saved my skin the other night. The restaurant that we went to boils its edamame in the same water as its udon noodles. The poor waiter kept pointing at the card when I said I could have edamame until he managed to explain the way they cooked them. Needless to say I didn’t get much for dinner that night, but I wasn’t poisoned either.
Indispensable. Thanks again.
You can buy the translation card here.
Gluten Free Eating in Japan: Questions, Dishes and Snacks
Understanding the basickanji so you can read ingredients, knowing what is safe and unsafe, and being able to show a card that can help is far more important than an address where you might not be faced with a waiter or staff who can communicate. That said, at the end of the post is a list of gluten free restaurants in Japan that were provided thoughtfully by fellow celiac Sarah.
This kind of research is a good part of what mitigates my fear as a celiac when I travel. I did not do it ahead of this trip, and I regretted it.
Is MSG gluten free?
In my research I did note that some blogs discuss MSG as being a derivation of wheat. There has been discussion on the web about MSG being unsafe for celiacs, but in the United States, the US Food and Drug association notes:
Does “glutamate” in a product mean it contains gluten?
No—glutamate or glutamic acid have nothing to do with gluten. A person with celiac disease may react to the wheat that may be present in soy sauce, but not to the MSG in the product.
In addition, the Gluten Free Dietician confirms that while MSG used to be derived from wheat flour, it is no longer the case and has not been since the 1960s in North America. That said, sites have referred to Japanese and Chinese MSG as potentially still isolating the additive via wheat gluten.
However, the main producer of Japanese MSG, Ajinomoto, does not derive their MSG from wheat. From the blog Just Hungry:
Now specifically about Ajinomoto, the white granulated product that is synonymous with MSG: According to the official Japanese Ajinomoto company site, it is currently made by “fermenting the sugar extracted from sugar canes or corn, tapioca starch and other ingredients”.
Of course other companies might still do so in the Asian or Southeast Asian region. I should note that most of the MSG I saw being used in Vietnam and Japan was Ajinomoto. Having stuffed my face in Asia for the last many years, my inadvertent glutening has been related to soy sauce consumption or sauces with flour and not MSG.
I would love to hear other people’s experiences here.
Can I eat gluten free food at an Izakaya restaurant?
We went to quite a few Izakaya bars during my time in Japan. Izakaya are casual drink and food places, smokey from the grilled meat and loud with beer-filled patrons hungry and conversational.
While almost all of the food at an izakaya will have wheat or soy, many of them will provide the option of cooking your meat or chicken skewers (yakitori) with a salt (shio) technique, instead of the sweet and savoury sauce which has soy in it (called tare). To confirm whether this is possible, ou can ask if this is possible. The question is: “Shi o-yaki dekimasu ka?” (Shio-skewers, can you do it please?)
Choose salt only, and ensure that the meat was not pre-marinated. Also use the gluten free restaurant card to confirm the grill is safe.
The places I went to had a section of the grill reserved for salt-only yakitori so that the taste of the other sauces or marinades did not contaminate. This was convenient as a celiac, but not all places will do that. I ate a lot of yakitori that were brushed with salt and grilled, and were not pre-marinated.
Are there gluten free noodles in Japan?
Yes! 100% rice noodles are available, and increasingly Japan is aware of and starting to cater to its celiac population both in locals and expats/travelers.
There is also buckwheat.
In North America, it is quite difficult to find 100% buckwheat (soba) noodles. Despite the name, buckwheat does not contain any wheat, and also has no gluten. Buckwheat has been providing protein, zinc and potassium to humans for almost 8,000 years, first appearing in the Balkans in 4000 BC.
Despite being more prevalent in Japan than North America, many dried and fresh versions of soba noodles in Japan are nonetheless mixed with wheat. I only found one noodle restaurant during my travels that made their noodles with 100% buckwheat, far more expensive than the usual soba fare.
Unfortunately I was not able to eat the noodles with soup broth because the restaurant had added soy sauce into the broth for flavouring. They were kind enough to provide me with the water these same noodles were boiled in, and also some freshly grated ginger for flavour.
Most soba stops will be making noodles with a mixture of wheat and buckwheat, so despite the technically gluten-free base ingredient, they should be avoided unless you’re sure they are all buckwheat. Those times that you may find an all-buckwheat option? You will be thrilled. They are delicious.
Gluten free snacks in Japan: 7-11s and other conbini
Regardless of where I was in Japan, there was a 7-11 or a Family Mart convenience store nearby, called konbini, or conbini in Japanese.
Full of fun ice cream treats and prepared food in creative (to this Montrealer anyhow) flavors, these shops also contained something for the gluten-free eater, even if it was a snack. I found conbini to be a saviour when I couldn’t find something to eat, providing me with protein of some variety to make it between meals. Often these shops are attached to transportation hubs like bus and train stations, but there are many, many stand-alone combini as well. These stores are well-stocked and contain many of the snacks I list below.
- Bubble tea: made with tapioca pearls and black tea and milk. I did not test out the different flavours as those are often made via powder, which could have a wheat derivative in it. If you aren’t sure of the powder’s content, avoid. I was able to try bubble tea with black tea and soaked tapioca pearls quite a few times, which did not have any powder or wheat — just sweetened condensed milk, tapioca, sugar syrup, and tea.
- Edamame, though be warned some might be boiled in udon water. At combini they are usually not, and safe.
- Yakiimo, sweet potatoes that are baked. Avoid sauces! Salt just fine.
- Onigiri, the adorable (to me!) triangles of rice and seaweed served at train stops and convenience stores and grocery stores alike. Be warned: most of these are off limits. The pickled plum (ume) onigiri was fine, as was some of the salmon (鮭 sake) ones. Please consult the ingredients on each onigiri before eating, using the kanji below, to ensure there is no soy sauce or wheat in them.
- Hard-boiled eggs: The eggs come in packages of one or two and are perfectly boiled and — somehow—pre-salted inside the shell. They were a lifesaver, and most importantly they did not smell. Yes, I was that awkward person eating hard boiled eggs in a park, but it was better than nothing at all.
- Soyjoy granola bars: not the most delicious, but most were gluten free. Check ingredients of course.
- Roasted chestnuts, right off the grill. Calorie-filled but wonderful.
- Mochi (daifuku). Made from rice flour or arrowroot flour, they are delicious and dusted in rice flour coating and I was very happy that they existed. Note that these should be purchased from a vendor specializing in daifuku as the ones from the convenience stores may have a starch syrup that has gluten. (Look for the kanji!) My favourites were red bean and black sesame.
Tips for eating gluten free sushi, sashimi, and sea creatures in Japan
- Sashimi is usually gluten free, since it consists of pure raw fish. Some places that are billed as “fusion” spots will put a sauce occasionally on sashimi; ensure that it has no soy or wheat in it. Normally, though, sashimi is a naturally gluten free food.
- Nigiri, where a piece of fish is placed over a hand-molded oval of sushi rice, is gluten free where the rice vinegar is not mixed with wheat or malt. In the absence of confirmation, I apologized and asked for plain white rice instead, but it is not something many sushi chefs will do (in my experience) as it changes the taste of the food.
- A solution to the sushi rice conundrum? Getting a donburi bowl, like the tuna one below. Do show them your Japanese gluten free card to ensure that the restaurant does not brush any soy sauce on the rice prior to placing the fish in the bowl. Donburi bowls come with plain white rice, not sushi rice, so it is already safe and gluten free. If you are unsure do confirm with the restaurant before ordering.
- Avoid eel (unagi) as it is marinated in a soy-blend, and usually covered in a sauce that also includes wheat.
- Consider bringing your own small packets of soy sauce in travel format, though again do take care that doing so will not insult the place you are eating at. I did so at standing sushi spots and other fast-casual places, but would not normally at a higher end restaurant.
- Fish or vegetables in tempura, which are battered and deep-fried, will be off limits. Tempura has wheat in it.
- Though rarer in Japan than in North America, confirm that there’s no crab sticks or imitation crab in your sushi. It is often made with fish that is dyed, starched, and then bound with wheat. This items is called kanikama or kani in Japanese. If real crab is available instead, it will be very tasty—and quite a bit more expensive.
- The nori (seaweed sheets) are naturally gluten free as long as they were not flavoured with soy sauce. There are many flavoured seaweed snacks around, but for sushi spots it is almost always the unflavoured variety.
- Some of the spicy, mayo-based sauces may have wheat. Confirm with the restaurant or avoid creamy sauces on your fish products.
- Wasabi is commonly 100% real wasabi root in Japan, a treat for most of us used to the horseradish-dyed monstrosity we get in North America. Even at home, the wasabi is usually thickened with corn starch and not wheat, but as always it’s important to confirm. I try to go to expat grocery stores when I get somewhere to see if English labels are stickered onto local products, to examine whether they may be available or not for me. I’ve found quite a few times another traveler familiar with the local language will stop and ask me if I need help at those shops; it’s been a source of a lot of answers on the road.
- Morning fish markets—Kanazawa and Tokyo have wondrous ones—are great places to eat fresh sashimi or sushi, as well as freshly shucked oysters. You can also grab a scallop, have it shucked in front of you, and then watch it get grilled on a tiny BBQ. Again, just show the card and make sure they do not put soy sauce as a condiment. They always had lemon juice instead. There were plenty of sea urchin to eat those markets as well, which are also naturally gluten free.
In Miyajima, you can also get grilled oysters on the side of the alleys, with lemon juice and soy sauce. Simply ask for no soy sauce and you’re set.
Matcha / green tea powder: naturally gluten free
Matcha is a type of green tea made by taking young tea leaves, then grinding them into a bright green powder. Matcha green tea is just fine for celiacs. And delicious.
Kanji for Foods with Gluten / Useful Phrases for Celiacs in Japan
The list is long and the wheat plentiful, but it was very helpful to start memorizing what wheat and barley and rye looked like on ingredient lists in Japanese. In addition, Western foods (yōshoku) are full of wheat in Japan just. asthey are at home.
Better the Kanji you know: Phrases for a gluten free meal in Japan
(Thank you to reader Sachiko for the revised whole wheat and rye kanji below!)
For starters, the most important kanji (the logographic Chinese characters that are used in modern Japanese writing) that you need to know are these two:
- wheat (小麦komugi, or 小麦粉 komugiko)
- whole wheat (全粒小麦 zen-ryu komugi)
As I noted above, barley is also quite prevalent in Japanese cuisine, both in miso soups and in tea:
- barley (麦mugi) or (大麦 oo-mugi)
And, sadly, since soy sauce has wheat flour in it, that is to be avoided too:
- Soy sauce: 醤油, shoyu
Though more rare than barley, still needs to be avoided:
- Rye: ライ麦raimugi
Wheat gluten itself, a version of seitan:
- Seitan often used as “faux meat” in vegetarian Buddhist cooking or in some of the tea ceremony foods, and Fu, are actually made from concentrated gluten. They are very off limits. Fu (麩) and seitan (セイタン) are the Kanji to know.
- malt (麦芽) bakuga
Also, mizuame, a syrup much like high-fructose corn syrup in North America, made from barley or corn or sometimes potatoes. It’s sweet. andsticky, but sometimes labels don’t differentiate the source of the sauce. It’s in a lot of packaged foods, so it’s best to stick to the dishes you can see/control being prepared.
Memorize or print these out and scan for them on ingredient lists. That was me, the random girl who took forever in the 7-11 as I frantically scanned the onigiri for mentions of these forbidden ingredients.
Sadly this also means no okonomiyaki, one of the things I had the hardest time letting go.
Beware of mugi tea: it’s not gluten free
While the name for barley was the cutest (mugi), it was also an ingredient far more prevalent in Japanese food than in Canada or the United States, especially in tea (mugicha). While the green tea above is quite bright, barley tea is a darker and earthy brown color. Stick to the green teas or the ones you can see are steeped leaves.
Soy sauce in Japan: very difficult to avoid
Japanese food would be so much more digestible for celiacs if soy sauce did not contain wheat flour. It was not always that way in Japan. You can see this incredibly thorough history of soy sauce and tamari from the Soy Info Center for more, if you are interested. But for our purposes the problem remains: soy sauce is used in otherwise gluten-free dishes, rendering them indigestible for those of us who cannot have gluten.
I don’t expect a foreign place to cater to my whims or my digestive issues, so I say this only as someone who desperately wished I could partake in the incredible foods that the country had to offer. I felt like a kid in a candy store, except all the candy was made of plastic.
Any dark sauces you see might be suspect as often this ingredient is what makes them take on that darker brown color. Included in this delicious (yet unavailable) list is ponzu, teriyaki, hoisin, and more.
An option is to bring your own gluten-free soy sauce, available in small travel packets. I did not do this because I was travelling from afar but it is possible. Note that while in the West we use tamari as a thicker, pure soy sauce that has no wheat, not all tamari is gluten-free. In Japanese grocery stores, I did not see tamari that lacked the wheat kanji in its ingredients. As a result, I included tamari on the “cannot eat” list in the card below.
While in the West we are much more amenable to making substitutions based on food restrictions, in many countries that is not the case. As I noted at the beginning of this post, it could be taken the wrong way in a country where people often train a decade or more to be working behind the sushi bar.
A gluten free Japan Group on Facebook
There is a great Japanese Gluten Free group on Facebook (I have no affiliation with it), highly recommended by fellow celiac readers. They will also be able to help with recommending gluten free tours for Japan, since the people in the group have a lot of experience in the area.
List of Gluten Free Restaurants in Japan
This list is frequently updated from a combo of my own experiences there and fellow celiacs who have traveled to Japan. In addition to the restaurants below, for those in Japan longer term is also a gluten free bakery that will ship cookies, pies, and more via mail: Mikage GF.
Gluten free Restaurants in Takayama
Heianraku, 6-7-2 Tenman-chou (Kokubunji street)
Family run Chinese-style Japanese food. Very friendly staff, who made the effort to come and speak to me about my allergies, and explained what they were using in my food instead of soya sauce and other gluten ingredients. Had a delicious meal here. There’s an English menu, with a number of vegetarian and vegan options as well. As there’s only seating for 14 people here, it’s worth asking your hostel /hotel to ring and book a table for you.
Gluten Free Restaurants in Nara
Daifuku deli stall (Nara train station): In the Nara train station (The main one, on the Kansai Main line, not the stop on the Kinetsu Nara line), there is a supermarket under the station (sub-level), where I was able to pick up vegetable crisps, plain nigiri (just rice) and salad. Before you go down the escalator from the station to the supermarket, you walk through a concourse with lots of little deli-style food stalls. On your left, directly after you enter this area, and before the escalators, is a stall that sells fresh daifuku and mochi. I was able to talk to the owner, and she was able to guide me through which ones I was able to eat, having the ingredient card with her. The shop is open from 10am, and well worth a visit. It was probably the best daifuku I had during my stay in Japan.
Izasa (Sushi restaurant), 16 Kasuganocho
Tel: +81 742-94-7133
Open 11am-7pm. Located in a sort of restaurant / shop / cafe complex, just outside of the deer park.
You access it through a shop, where there are stairs going up to the restaurant on the floor above. The staff here were very helpful and able to tell me which sushi platters I was able to have that would not contain gluten. I had a wonderful, filling meal, with a fantastic view (the windows look out over the deer park, where you can see the tops of the temples). I brought my own tamari sauce, and the staff brought a dish for me to pour it in to.
Kamameshi Shizuka(Kouen-Ten), 59 Noborioji-cho (close to National Museum)
Open 1130am – 730pm, The food is a traditional Japanese rice, cooked in an iron pot with meat and vegetables, allowed to slightly ‘burn’, so that it takes on a deeper, nuttier taste. It’s really good, and wonderful option if you’re looking for comfort food. It’s located close to the National Museum in Nara. I had to show my gluten-free Japanese card to the chef, but they were able to accommodate me, and I had a lovely meal.
Nara Hotel also offers a gluten free breakfast upon request.
Gluten Free Restaurants in Kamakura
Reader Nicole raves about Gokuraku Curry, and was able to eat a Japanese curry (they usually have wheat in them) at this cute restaurant.
Gluten Free Restaurants in Miyajima
There are limited restaurants on Miyajima island, and most of them are only open during the day-time, when there is a high number of visitors on the island. I brought over snacks from the mainland to make myself a dinner at our ryokan, but I was able to go into one of the many restaurants at lunch time, and they were able to provide me with plain oysters, plain rice, and some plain grilled fish. Again, I showed my gluten free card, and explained to them I could not eat soya sauce. They did seem a little perplexed, but after going back and forth from the kitchens, they assured me they would be able to cook something for me to eat.
Sakuraya Ryokan on Miyajima island overnight, and they were able to provide me with a gluten free breakfast the following morning without any problems (a hard-boiled egg, yoghurt, salad and fruit).
Yamaichi Bettkan, Minatomachi-1162-4 Miyajimacho, Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture 739-0504, Japan Phone: +81 829-44-0700. Reader Anne stayed there and opted for the 1/2 board option, which included completely gluten free meal for her. She was able to eat sushi, sashimi, oysters, beef, desserts and breakfast without worry.
Gluten Free Restaurants in Hiroshima
Art Cafe ELK 1-7-23 Naka-hara bld (2F), Hiroshima Tel: +81 50-5589-3973 Open 9.30am-10pm. Located on the 2nd floor of the building, this small cafe offers vegetarian and vegan food. As soon as I arrived and explained about my gluten allergy, the owners and staff were able to explain how they were going to adapt their menu for me, so that I had a couple of options. The menus are in English, and the food was very good. CLOSED. Shanti Vegan Cafe, Mondano Bldg 2-20, Mikawa-chō Naka Ward Opening hours – 11.30am-9.30pm. In the same building as a yoga studio. Vegan and Vegetarian meals, able to cater for gluten-free and other allergies as well. CLOSED
Gluten Free Restaurants in Kyoto
Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan, and is now known as a cultural capital instead. The Honshu island city has many Buddhist temples, gardens, palaces, shrines and beautiful areas that still showcase traditional Japanese architecture. There is so much to explore here, and I wish I had more time to do so. My days in Kyoto remain some of my most memorable in Japan.
Hotel Sakura Terrace The Gallery (Restaurant on ground floor)
南区東九条上殿田町39番地 (Just a little south of Kyoto
We actually stayed in this hotel, and didn’t eat here until one night when I was desperately hungry, after not finding anywhere in the centre of Kyoto to eat.. I’d come back to the hotel planning on redeeming my free drinks voucher, but they surprised me by making me fresh chips (fries), in new oil, with wonderful roasted vegetables alongside. They also had a delicious green tea creme brûlée for dessert.
Daimaru (department store)
In the basement of most department stores, there’s a food court. In this Daimaru, there’s a whole foods store, which although doesn’t do a huge amount of gluten free food, I was able to purchase puffed rice cereal, and some gluten free biscuits. The gluten free food is located in the children’s section of the shop, as in Japan, it’s usually children who have allergies, which they then grow out of (?) The staff were able to speak English well enough of me not to speak Japanese, and they were able to tell me exactly what food I was able
Kerala Restaurant (Indian food), Japan, 〒604-8006
English menu. Really good food, Knew exactly what to do when I specified Gluten Free, and they were able to direct me as to what I could eat confidently.
Yak and Yeti (Nepali food, Gokomachi-dōri, Nishikikōji-sagaru Kyoto, Japan)
Another option in lieu of Indian food, Nepali food in Kyoto. They will ensure no gluten in the sauce and meals are made to order so a clean pan can be requested. Vegetarian-friendly also.
Hotel Anteroom Kyoto (restaurant), 7 Higashikujo Aketacho, Minami Ward
Know about GF, and able to cook GF meals
French company Breizh Cafe 14-1 Ishibashicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8036, Japan +81 75-255-5501
This French cafe specializes in 100% gluten free galettes (crepes),and now has several locations in Japan, including Kyoto! For a break from rice and sashimi, you can’t go wrong with Brittany galettes. Confirm that you are choosing the one with 100% buckwheat.
Teuchi Toru Soba, Japan, 〒604-0831
(On the corner of Nijo Dori and Higashinotoin Dori)
Open 11.30am-3pm (Closed Tues & Weds). This is an absolutely tiny little Soba Noodle bar, with seats enough for 8 people. It tok us a while to find, as it’s in the backstreets between the Imperial Palace and central Kyoto, and not clearly labelled. Clearly popular with locals, we got a couple of funny looks when we entered! No english spoken, so I used my gluten-free Japanese card, and spoke – albeit very broken – Japanese with the owner, who was able to make me soba noodles, and did not add soya sauce to the
‘broth’ (made with the boiled water from the soba noodles), and was keen to try my tamari sauce himself when I produced the bottle from my bag. Noodles are made with 100% buckwheat flour.
Macrobiotic Prunus, マクロビオティック.レストラン プラナス. 9-4, Kurumamichi-cho, Saga Tenryuji, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, 616-8373 Tel: +81-75-8622265 Open: Tue-Wed 12:00pm-4:00pm, Fri-Sun 12:00pm-4:00pm. By reservation only (call at least 1 day ahead). Located in front of the Saga-Arashiyama station (by the bamboo groves). Gluten free menu available. Cash only. CLOSED
Little Heaven, 8-29 Saganohirakichou, Ukyo, Kyoto, 616-8313
Not always open, so need to call at least 3 days ahead. Upscale vegan restaurant near the Katabiranotsuji station on the Arashiyama line. Offers a lunch set consisting of a main dish, salad, and soup for around 2000yen. Main dish choices from pizza, spaghetti, and veggie burger to rice bread gluten-free burger.
Choice Eat and Study Space Kyoto
05-0009 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, 東山区大橋町８９−
Vegan and gluten free options, including burgers, pancakes, and much more. Entire menu is 100% gluten free! Open 9am through 5pm or 8pm, depending on the day.
Sugarhill Kyoto (Sugarhill Kyoto, Japan, 〒600-8028 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, Uematsucho, 725) offers Japanese fusion food, and has gluten free options available specifically for those of us who are celiac. Their website even makes mention of celiac, which is a rarity. Open 5pm-10pm daily, but closed Sundays.
709 Horikawa Sanjo Shimohachimonji-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 604-8333
Toshan is another option for fluffy rice flour sweets. It has pancakes, shoe pastries, and many other treats specifically noting which ones are gluten free. Open 10am – 6:30pm, with the shop selling lovely stationery and other items, not just sweets!
Kamisuwa-Cho 294-1, Shimogyo-ku, kyoto-shi, Japan
A cute teahouse in Gojokarasuma, Kyoto with organic, vegan food and a gluten free menu on offer.
Gluten Free Restaurants in Fujikawaguchiko
Not far from Mount Fuji is Lake Kawaguchi, the easiest of the Fuji Five Lakes to get to from Tokyo. The lake provides many beautiful opportunities to enjoy Mount Fuji, especially during cherry blossom season (mid-April) or in November when autumn turns the leaves into gold.
High Spirits Izakaya Bar (1167 Kodachi, 富士河口湖町 Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru District, Yamanashi 401-0302, Japan) comes recommended by a fellow celiac, who notes that while it is not a 100% gluten free restaurant, the chef had a great understanding of celiac disease and much of the food was naturally gluten free.
Shaw’s Sushi Bar & Dining near Kawaguchiko train station (3632-7, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru District, Yamanashi 401-0301, Japan) is a rarity: great sushi on offer, but they use only rice flour for their tempura batter, so it is safe for celiacs. Gluten free soy sauce also available if you ask. Staff knowledgeable about celiac disease as well.
Gluten Free Restaurants in Hakone
For a place to stay, Onsen and Ryokan Kijite Hoeiso (227, Yumotochaya, Hakone-Machi, Ashigarashimo-Gun, Kanagawa, 250-0312) will ensure that your traditional meals are gluten free, with no soy or other wheat/gluten in them. Strictly celiac readers have stayed here with success.
Gluten Free Restaurants in Osaka
Kiyomura Sushizanmai (Sushi restaurant), 1F, Nakaza Cui-daore Bldg., 1-7-21 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku. Open 24 hours a day, for any sushi craving you might have. Their miso and rice are gluten free; you can bring your own GF soy sauce or tamari to use with the meal. Several celiacs reported success here.
Grom (gelato), an Italian gelato company that makes 100% gluten free cones without any vegetable oils. They’re taking over Europe, and just opened an Osaka branch as well. If you need a break from mochi treats, this is your best option — great refreshing flavors, 100% gluten free.
Comoconoco Gluten Free Laboratory & Cafe (2-2-3 Shimamachi, Chuo ward, Osaka, near the Osaka Castle) serves homemade gluten free bread and desserts and bread made from Japanese rice flour and seasonal ingredients. All products are made on site in a dedicated gluten free kitchen. They also offer private baking classes.
Gluten Free Restaurants in Tokyo
I spent a lot of time in Tokyo, since it served as a base for a few different trips around the country. The chaos, colours, and beautiful sights make it one of my favourite places to visit. At the time, gluten free options were few and far between. Thankfully, more and more have cropped up, making Tokyo a great place to dip your feet into eating through Japan as a celiac.
Komehiro Bakery. (2-3-18 Sakai, Musashino-shi, Tokyo Zip 180-0022) Opening hours: 10:00 to 20:00, Closed: Monday. Gluten free bakery, just a couple of stops north on the train from the Studio Ghibli Museum, just outside of Tokyo. About 7 min walk north from the Musashi-Sakai station on the Chuo Main Line. Offers bread with gluten free rice flour, and GF doughnuts and cakes. The owner himself suffers from gluten intolerance, which is why he started the bakery. Very friendly, and a nice range of GF baked goods.
Gluten Free T’s Kitchen (7-8-5 Roppongi 港区六本木7-8-5 2Ｆ) Closed Tuesdays. Located in Rappongi, T’s Kitchen serves up GF takes on many Japanese dishes, including okonomiyaki, yakisoba, tempura (made with rice), and ramen soups. The menu is marked for gluten, diary, eggs, soy, and nuts, and as with many spots in Japan has photos of the dish for easy choosing. This is a great place to both eat safely and get to know some of the dishes that make Japanese food famous–without the wheat.
Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum now has gluten free ramen! (222-0033 Kanagawa Prefecture, Yokohama, Kohoku Ward, Shinyokohama, ２−１４−２１), open 11am-10:30pm. Last call for food is at 9:30pm.
Gluten Free Ramen Shop Sinbusakiya has gluten free, vegan, and non-pork ramen options. Readers report that it is safe, but I have not been there myself. (2-10-3 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0043). Some wild opening hours: Tuesday-Thursday 11am till 5am the next day, Friday-Saturday 11am till 7am the next day, and Sunday 11am till 2am the next day. All the ramen, all the time.
Otsuna Sushi has gluten free soy sauce on offer, and two Japan-based readers who went recently say that staff were knowledgeable and could safely direct them to what was safe on the menu, and that the sushi was incredible. (7-14-4 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0032, Remm Roppongi Building 1F). Take out hours are 10am-9pm Saturday, 10am-1pm Sunday. For dining in, 11am-2pm and 5pm-10pm. The last entry for dining in will be allowed at 9pm, so don’t arrive too late.
Little Bird Cafe (3F, 1-1-20 Uehara, Shibuya, Tokyo 1510064), beloved by many a celiac visiting Japan! The broad menu includes western food like pizza and hamburgers, but also ramen, pasta, dumplings, and Japanese favourites like tempura. It’s 100% gluten free. GO FORTH AND EAT! Sadly, LBC has closed during the pandemic, until further notice.
Breizh Cafe also has a Tokyo location (3 Chome-5-4 Jingūmae, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 150-0001) +81-3-3478-7855 (see Kyoto above). Please confirm 100% gluten free/buckwheat crepe for the one you order.
Deva-Deva Cafe is a vegetarian spot with homemade brown rice tortillas and a menu that is easily customizable for celiacs. Readers report that staff know the needs for gluten free dining well, but the kitchen is not fully GF. Confirm with the staff that the tortillas remain 100% gluten free prior to ordering.
Otaco Sweets (Bakery), Another GF Tokyo bakery, located just above the Senso-ji temple
Tel/Fax. +81-3-6458-1375 (+81-3-6458-1375)
Sells beautifully light and tasty chiffon cake made with rice flour.
Riz Labo Kitchen (4-15-2 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, 150-0001 Urasando Garden) is, as the name suggests, a rice based extravaganza. In this case, pancakes! Fluffy, made-to-order, and oh so tasty. They say that trial and error led them to their recipe, and that their rice flour is also pesticide-free. Open 11am-5pm, last orders taken at 4:30pm.
Setagaya Gluten Free Cafe1F Enomoto-building, 1-16-24 Setagaya, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 154-0017
Breadbowls with homemade gluten free bread, udon noodles, desserts and more. Their claim to fame is also that the chef of Setagaya cooked for the the New Zealand rugby team (the All Blacks) during the Rugby World Cup in 2019. Entire cafe is made without wheat, oats, rye, or barley.
Gluten free Tokyo ramen options at non-dedicated (not 100% celiac-safe restaurants) are:
- Soranoiro Nippon (Tokyo Ramen Street, Tokyo Station First Avenue, 1-9-1, Marunouchi, Chiyoda, Tokyo 100-0005). Michelin guide recommended vegan vege soba is one of the best options for your tastebuds, and safe for your stomach.
- Afuri (1F 117 Bld., 1-1-7 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, with other locations here.) Pick your meal via vending machine, and marvel at the gluten free option available. More about Afuri here, from Culinary Backstreets.
Brown Rice Cafe by Neils’ Yard Remedies (5 Chome-1-8 Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0001, Japan) is a vegetarian cafe that cooks using seasonal veggies from around the country and has gluten-free options on their menu. Accessible via Neils’ Yard Remedies store. Confirm with staff when ordering re: cross-contact or cross-contamination. They offer lunch sets or a regular menu to order from.
Pizzakaya (〒106-0031 Tokyo, Minato City, Nishiazabu, 3 Chome−1−19 小山ビル２Ｆ)
Gluten free pizza. Their medium size pizzas come with a gluten free crust option, and they are knowledgeable about celiac and will cook on a separate surface to the rest of their pies.
Pizza Firenze Omotesando is another pizza option in Tokyo. (5-52-2 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001, Japan Aoyama) Located in the Oval Building 1st floor, 4 minutes walk from Exit B2 of Omotesando Road). Closed Mondays. This spot has great Neapolitan-style pizza, now with gluten free dough and also a separate type of bread (shokupan bread) but with limited loaves per day (usually 6 loaves). Their GF dough is made with ingredients like quinoa and sesame, giving it a slightly different taste to the norm. The menu also has gluten free pasta and appetizers; the restaurant was essentially reborn during COVID to become gluten free! Corn pasta abounds. Call ahead if you want one of those shokupan loaves to have your name on it: +81 (0)3 5962 7033 CLOSED. A reader reports that Pizza Firenze Omotesando is no more. It closed during the pandemic.
Khroop Khrua – Thai (クロープクルア)
1 Chome-33-4 Asakusa, Taitō-ku, Tōkyō-to 111-0032, Japan
Thai restaurant, with gluten free options and knowledgeable staff.
Gluten Free 61 Cafe and Bar (3 Chome-4-４番地６号 Roppongi, Minato City, Tokyo 106-0032, Japan)
Lots to eat for celiacs, including okonomiyaki, ramen, gyoza, agedashi tofu, and much more. Organic wines on offer to accompany your meal. Karehadare (2-38-11 Kamimeguro, Meguro, Toyko | 〒153-0051 東京都目黒区上目黒2-38-11) For a departure from Japanese-only foods, opt for Karehadare. Curries of the Thai, Indian, and other varieties rotate based on the day, but are made with organic vegetables and are all gluten free, served with a side of basmati rice.
Japan Crepe, 1-15-1 jingumae, Shibuya-ku,150-0001 Tokyo Tel: 03-3408-2828 (+81 -3 -3408-2828) Crepe shop in Harajyuku Tokyo. All crepes are made from gluten-free rice flour. CLOSED
Revive Kitchen Three Aoyama, less than 5 minutes away from the Omotesando Station B2 exit is Three
Tel: +81 3-6419-7511
The restaurant is attached to Spa-like cosmetics shop. Offers loads of gluten free food: GF pancakes and french toast, muffins and scones, as well as GF bread and pasta meals. We went here twice as well as the food was great.
Ain Soph Journey (scroll down for their locations). The menu at Ain Soph Journey does not have any meat, fish, dairy or eggs, and many items are also clearly marked GF as well as being plant-based, like rice-based pastas They have 4 locations in Tokyo, as well as options elsewhere in Japan — and online shop with beautiful pastries for sale as well.
Where is a dog? (〒180-0004 Tokyo, Musashino, Kichijoji Honcho, 2 Chome−24−9 SUNO Ecru 103). This gluten free spot that used to be in Shinjuku reopened in April 2021 and still offers a thorough menu of options that include vegan and dairy free eats. You’ll find waffles, curries, and baked goods among other great treats, as well as a vegan dessert menu. True to its name, the restaurant is full of cat decorations but there is, in fact, one dog in there that you can try to find as you dine.
Books about Japan to Read Before you Go
For a short, fun guide check out 101 Coolest Things to Do in Japan (includes Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, and budget travel tips).
The following books are ones that I’ve read that are wonderful for bringing Japanese culture to light in different ways. Often creative and surreal, they were a pleasure to read.
- Number9Dream David Mitchell
- Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
- South of the Border, West of the Sun and Kafka on the Shore Haruki Murakami
- Samurai William The Englishman Who Opened the East, Giles Milton
- Untangling My Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto, Victoria Abbott Riccardi
- The Roads to Sata: A 2000-Mile Walk Through Japan, Alan Booth
- Shogun, James Clavell
Thus concludes my gluten free guide to Japan! I warmly welcome feedback and hope that it helps those of you who want to travel to a really fascinating place but are scared to do so because of your stomachs.
As a celiac I definitely have many times when the panic hits — when I’m tired and hungry, and unsure of what is safe. But hopefully this post helps, and I will continue to write them on the site for the places I visit.