The Japanese are very traditional around food and food etiquette, and while Japanese food is incredibly tasty and “clean”, many accommodation options (minshuku and ryokans) don’t cater for (or understand) western dietary requirements. If you have specific dietary requirements, and plan to hike the Kumano Kodo or Nakasendo Way, it pays to get prepared early, explains RAW Travel’s Destination Specialist Zoe Rees.
While gluten free is becoming increasingly common in many parts of the world, it is not something that is able to be catered for, or is even understood, in Japan. Fortunately, Japanese food doesn’t contain a lot of gluten. Feedback from RAW Travel’s clients is that those who are mildly intolerant, or don’t usually suffer from adverse physical reactions, don’t face any issues. Catering for coeliac diets is trickier. You are often able to avoid the soy sauce, but we cannot guarantee that traces of gluten will not be in the food, therefore coeliac diets can be quite challenging to accommodate, particularly during peak travel seasons when appropriate accommodation may fill up quickly.
Vegetarians and pescatarians
When it comes to the variety of food on offer in Japan, it’s much easier for pescatarians (someone who eats fish but not other meat) to be catered for, compared to vegetarians (especially regarding dashi (fish stock), see below). Accommodation options are fewer for vegetarians, so we recommend they book well in advance, and have flexibility with their travel dates. One of the local ingredients present throughout much of Japanese cuisine is dashi. This is often used as a base for sauces and cooking, or as a seasoning. Unfortunately for vegetarians, it is rarely something that can be excluded.
Travellers with dairy intolerances or who are vegan will be happy to hear that dairy is rarely used in Japanese food. Eggs are usually served whole, so can be avoided if necessary. However it is not something we can guarantee, so a strict vegan diet is virtually impossible on these walks (especially with the presence of dashi).
Vegans and vegetarians may enjoy a temple stay in Koyasan where the monks have a unique way of preparing meals. Shojin ryori is vegetarian cuisine which was created for the samurai who wanted to train with the monks and have “pure” food without fish, meat or animal products. There is a separate kitchen and special chef who prepares these meals. A typical shojin ryori meal is centered around soybean-based foods like tofu along with seasonal vegetables and wild mountain plants, which are believed to bring balance and alignment to the body, mind, and spirit.
Anaphylactic and/or allergic
We cannot guarantee a booking, or your safety, if you are anaphylactic to certain foods. Essentially, local guesthouses may not accept the booking. However, it might be possible for those with a mild allergy (for example to peanuts or shellfish, but can eat whole fish) to travel safely. Talk to us about this and consider your own health and comfort. You will know what you are able to tolerate, what symptoms (if any) you have, and if you have any medication you can take for this while you walk. (Please note: any allergies do need to be disclosed to us.)
- Disclose any dietary requests with your RAW Travel consultant during the first conversation
- Book as early as possible, and with as much flexibility with dates as possible
- Carry the relevant medication with you
- Remember that while you are walking, your hosts are carefully and diligently preparing your meal and any changes on the ground are not possible or respectful
Read more about food while you’re hiking in Japan.