There have been over 13 million tourist visits made to Japan from January to June of this year.
Most of them are with the aim of shopping and taking home a load of impressively high-quality Japanese items.
Despite this growing market of people, the large majority of products in Japan rarely have any sufficient English or any other language translation on the items’ labels.
The patient and observant buyer however, can find helpful information by looking closely at product labels such as how to open a product’s wrapping or what to be careful of when using the product at hand.
Here are some examples of the symbols printed on Japanese product labels and what they mean.
Take your favorite brand of instant noodles on your hand. You need to look for あける、開け口, words you will see in many kinds of items. The words mean “Open Here” or “Opening”, respectively. You can find the opening next to this word, sometimes as perforated lines or a pull tab. The word きりくち、切り口 , meaning “Cut or Tear Here” is also sometimes used. Usually you will find a slight gap along the edge of the package which you can easily tear open.
Cup noodles or instant ramen have a set of symbols all printed on them.
Be careful when handling hot water
Cannot be microwaved
Do not place near strong-smelling object. This is to prevent the product from acquiring any unpleasant or unwelcome smell.
When buying food make sure to check the 賞味期限 or 消費期限 which is the expiration date. Food that expires August 25th 2017 will sometimes be printed as ２０１７年８月２５日.
Some cold foods need to be placed inside a freezer like those marked with this word 要冷凍. Another 要冷蔵means “Keep refrigerated”.
Packaged curry show how spicy the item is. With this symbol printed on the package we know that the curry it contains is, between a grade of 1 indicating lightly spicy and 5 which is extremely spicy, a grade of 4 which is very spicy.
If you buy anything that is a spray-on, you might have to rotate the opening to use the product. You need to look for 出る to open the spray and switch it back to 止める to close the spray’s opening.
Special symbols show excellency or health approval.
Some food and drink items have the 特定保険用食品 Tokutei Hoken-you
Shokuhin mark or トクホTokuho for short. Such drinks are approved by the Consumer Affairs Agency to be deemed safe and effective in maintaining health.
The eco mark shows you a product was made eco-friendly or that disposal of the item does not cause harm to the environment.
For those with allergies, the lack of English on food labels should be a stressful and worrisome problem. Not knowing the ingredients of the food you eat is such a dangerous risk.
To name some allergens printed on this label are the following: えび=shrimp、かに=crab,、小麦=flour 、そば=soba also called buckwheat、卵=egg、乳成分 dairy product,、落花生=peanut、あわび=abalone、いか=squid、いくら=salmon roe、オレンジ=orange、カシューナッツ=cashew nuts、キウイ=kiwifruit、牛肉=beef. In this case, the product at hand contains dairy ingredients.
Garbage Disposal Marks help guide the user on which type of garbage the item is classified after use.
This item should be thrown in the Burnables section upon disposable.
This item, or the packaging, should be thrown in the Non-burnables or Plastics section.
This mark means recyclable carton.
On the back of a cleaning detergent can be found several cautionary marks.
Avoid the eyes.
Air ventilate the room .
Keep away from children
May contain chemicals that cause long-lasting harmful effects
Protect your eyes with goggles.
Finally, last and least important in this list, unless you have grade school children going to Japanese school, is the bellmark. Parents of grade school children collect this mark and pass it along to the PTA. Depending on the number of bellmark points collected, the school will get prizes that are useful for the school’s students.
Tricia / PHILIPPINES
All photos taken by Tricia