“Oh, thank heaven…for Seven-Eleven.” And Family Mart. And Lawson. If you’ve just arrived in Japan, you may be anxious about what you can eat and too jet lagged to make it to one of Tokyo’s great gluten free restaurants. First stop: head to the convenience store. This might seem like poor advice if you’ve been to a convenience store in the US. The last time I was on the road and hungry, all I could find at the 7-11 was M&M’s and Slurpees. This is not the case in Japan. If you are staying in Tokyo in a serviced apartment with a kitchen, a small cooking area or even a hotel with just a mini fridge, buy some gluten free food in Japanese convenience stores and you can enjoy a healthy breakfast and lunch easily.
There are about twenty thousand 7-11’s in Japan and almost three thousand of them are in Tokyo. Combined with Family Mart and Lawson, you will never be far from a place to buy some tasty food.
Many articles and videos are available detailing the vast number of tasty snacks found in Japanese convenience stores, or kombini as they are called. Not so much about gluten free food in Japanese convenience stores. Before I was diagnosed with celiac disease, I snacked (okay, overindulged) on many of the beautifully packaged treats. My favorite was a cream puff, stuffed with melon flavored whipped cream. Once I could no longer indulge, my eyes turned to other foods that were offered, and there are a lot.
Dealing with the language barrier
At first, I tried to read the labels on processed foods. My kanji is limited, so I spent a long time squinting at labels and using translation apps. There is a vagueness in labeling when it comes to ingredients that contain gluten. A few labels mention the item was produced in a factory with gluten nearby, but many do not. Some products claim to be wheat free but include soy sauce as an ingredient. My google translate could not read “modified food starch” or identify the source of “mizu ame” (a sweetener sometimes made with rice, barley or wheat). It was a steep learning curve, but now I can run in and grab items off the shelves for breakfast and lunch in just a few minutes. And happily, so can you!
The same rules apply in the kombini that apply to grocery stores everywhere. If you limit your shopping trip to the perimeter of the store, you can find many delicious, healthy, gluten free foods. Most of these foods are naturally gluten free. The foods that are packaged I continually NIMA test. Since there are few gluten free, processed foods in Japan, I rely on whole foods, eating much healthier when I am here. The fact that kombini are open for business 24/7 makes it even easier. Most importantly, I have never been glutened from a convenience store.
Morning gluten free food in Japanese convenience stores
Here are some breakfast foods that I routinely purchase:
- Meiji yogurt
- Fresh fruit salad
- Fruit juices
- Eggs (fresh to cook or hard-boiled)
- Green smoothies (Kagome brand)
- Vitamin and supplement jellies (TOPVALU brand)
- Onigiri (tuna & mayo)
- Coffee, tea, milk
Lunch gluten free food in Japanese convenience stores
Here are some items I routinely purchase for lunch:
- Bags of pre-washed salad greens
- Salad dressing (7-11)
- Lunch meat
- 7-11 potato salad (7-11)
- 7-11 egg salad (7-11)
- Walnuts or almonds
- Almost any cold bottled beverage
Sweet gluten free food in Japanese convenience stores
For an evening treat:
- Meiji chocolate bars
- Meiji chocolate covered almonds
- Haagen-Dazs ice cream
- Daifuku (traditional Japanese confection)
As a celiac, gluten intolerant or wheat allergy traveler, remember that any ice cream flavor containing cookies or cake is not gluten free. Regarding daifuku, they are made at many different factories. The ones I have tested I continue to purchase. While they are made with rice flour, I encourage you to NIMA test so that you can buy a product you have grown familiar with. As for onigiri, I have only tested the tuna fish and mayonnaise variety because it is my favorite. After repeated testing of gluten free food in Japanese convenience stores, the 7-11 and Family Mart were fine, but Lawson’s tested positive each time.
Years ago, there were so few items available for us to eat in Japan. The number of gluten free snacks, breads and specialty items is growing rapidly in Tokyo, so I am constantly testing and updating my shopping list. If you have any questions about other products I’ve tested feel free to leave a comment below.