Home > Focus on Japan 2006 > Nutritional Information in Japan, or the Lack Thereof

Nutritional Information in Japan, or the Lack Thereof

October 29th, 2006

One thing that you miss quite a bit if you come from America to live in Japan is the more detailed nutritional information on food packaging. This is where that dreaded “big government” massively interferes with poor American businesses in ways conservatives hate–but which most Americans very much prefer, even if they do take it for granted most of the time.

Here in Japan, nutritional information on food packaging is spotty at best. I still haven’t figured out why some foods have the information and some do not (is it entirely voluntary?). I think there is at least a requirement to list ingredients. Many foods do have limited nutritional information, in a small table on the back or side of the product, which lists:

エネルギー • “energy,” or calories
たんぱく質 • “tampaku-shitsu,” or protein
脂質 • “shishitsu,” or fats
炭水化物 • “tansui kabutsu,” or carbohydrates, and
ナトリウム • “natorium,” or sodium.

And that’s it. No information on the fats (how much is transfat, saturated fat, etc.), no information on fiber, cholesterol, or most vitamins and minerals–unless the producer wants to advertise them. And even then, it’s a matter of simple readings in grams–no “daily recommended allowance.” If you’re not used to thinking about how much of each dietary element you need in grams per day, then you’re outta luck.

That’s why I was so surprised to see this on the back of a bag of lightly salted cashews that I bought recently:


Not only did it give a longer list of nutrients, but it also gave a bar graph of the nutrients as part of a DRA calculation. That startled me, and encouraged me as I thought that this might be a new thing I’d see a lot more of in Japan.

Then I knew those were false hopes when I looked down below and saw the maker:


…Which means that it’s a purely voluntary carry-over from the U.S. which will probably not be followed by anyone else in Japan. Ah well.

Before I leave this topic, there is one pet peeve I’d like to unload, and if you’re an American living in Japan, you’ll probably share it. When American goods are imported to Japan, the Japanese government requires a Japanese-style ingredients sticker be affixed to the package. This is all good and well. What peeves me is where they affix the sticker: almost universally, they put the Japanese sticker right on top of the English-language USRDA label on the package, completely obscuring the far more complete nutritional information. This is done even when there is plenty of blank space elsewhere to put the sticker. And the sticker is almost always impossible to peel off in a way that reveals the original information.

I have this problem at Costco in Japan all the time. I’ve complained about it, and they always agree that I am completely right, but apparently it is done by the shippers, who presumably would rather their customers not be turned off by that damning evidence–why list something you don’t want people to see when it’s so easy to cover up?

Postscript: “Natorium”?

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  1. ykw
    October 30th, 2006 at 03:36 | #1

    Perhaps the abundance of lawyers in the usa have pushed on manufacturers to disclose more.

  2. October 30th, 2006 at 10:05 | #2

    Natorium is the Latin word for sodium hence the chemical symbol Na. In any case, it sounds like a swimming pool to me!

  3. Luis
    October 30th, 2006 at 12:56 | #3

    Ah. Well, that would explain it. Thanks, David. I should have seen that one…

  4. Helen
    October 30th, 2006 at 19:39 | #4

    It’s not just Americans that this annoys, it gets us Canadians too!

    (your filter didn’t like my url at all)

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