In this post I’ll list a few words and phrases to keep a veg*n, as well as our our furry (/feathery/scaley) friends, alive in Japan. This list is non-exhaustive! There are definitely things not mentioned here that you can’t eat, and need to be conscious of!
～が食べられませ ～がたべられません ～ga taberaremasen can’t eat
This means “ can’t eat”. Preceded by a noun N, it becomes can’t eat N. If you’re not familiar with Japanese pronunciation: the sound that is conventionally transliterated as R (as in tabeRaRemasen) sounds a lot more like an L, and you might be better understood if you replace this with an L in your speech. (e.g. taberaremasen → tabelalemasen). If you listen out for people using this sound you’ll figure out how it works pretty quickly.
肉 にく niku meat
This generally refers to non-fish meats. In some circumstances it may not refer to chicken either. Basically, if you simply say ‘肉が食べられません’someone may still offer you fish or chicken.
魚 さかな sakana fish
Kanji are structured in such a way that other kanji that contain this kanji are also probably fish. For example, 鰹 (かつお) from the previous post contains this kanji on the left. In ingredients lists this is a big one to avoid, because it finds its way into a lot of places we wouldn’t expect.
貝 かい kai shell
It also refers to the food made from animals that live in shells.
卵 たまご tamago egg
乳 にゅう nyuu milk
It doesn’t always refer to cow’s milk, which is usually written 牛乳 ぎゅうにゅう. For example 豆乳 means ‘soy milk’, 乳化剤 is ‘emulsifier’ and 乳酸 is ‘lactic acid,’ which are all probably vegan. However if it comes up on it’s own, I’d err on the side of caution. It’s (sadly) more likely to be cow’s milk than soy milk.
乳製品 にゅうせいひん nyuuseihin dairy
This one, however, is always non-vegan. Milk + product = milk product. Who said Japanese was difficult?
動物製品 どうぶつせいひん doubutsu seihin animal products
Just like above, here we have animal + product = animal product.
Here we have a really basic vocabulary with which to say that you’re vegetarian or vegan. Simply saying ‘I’m vegetarian’ (私はベジタリアンです）is unlikely to convey which foods you can and can’t eat (as mentioned in my previous post), so really specifying what you can eat is important. While saying ‘I’m vegetarian’ will at least be understood in a limited way by most people, saying I’m vegan (私はビーガンです） is likely to be met with blank stares.
So if you’re vegan, we want to use all of these words. In English you might say: I’m vegan. I don’t eat animal products. So I don’t eat egg, dairy, meat, or fish. This is Japan, so let’s throw a 貝 (shell) in there for good measure:
For lacto-ovo vegetarians, you can just drop the milk and the eggs. (I’m sure you hear that from vegans a lot).