Hi Everyone! I received an email from a reader about foods to avoid in Japan while traveling to Tokyo on business while she is 2 months pregnant. Here is my answer based on my experience of being pregnant in Tokyo last year – if you have some other advice or recommendations please don’t hesitate to write them in the comments section below!
Hi Kate! I’m from New York and am going to tokyo with colleagues on business for 5 days. I also happen to be 8 wks along. Which dishes / foods should I order at restaurants? Which should I avoid? I tried looking online and only found info about American Japanese foods, which I know are so much different. Any suggestions on websites to look at?
Congratulations on your pregnancy!
Japan has so many delicious foods that I think you will find it easy to enjoy eating on your trip☺! Some of my favourites include yakiniku, shabu shabu, sukiyaki, shougayaki (ginger pork), and tempura.
In terms of foods to avoid, here are some notes from my own experience of being pregnant in Tokyo last year, as well as tips for having business dinners (especially if you are in your 1st trimester and prefer not to tell your colleagues yet that you are pregnant):
Sushi and other raw meats:
– I’m from Australia and it is generally recommended to avoid eating any raw seafood (or raw meat for that matter!) while pregnant, so I followed this advice even in Japan. I heard though that some Japanese women still eat sushi when pregnant – maybe because the sushi is so fresh? I’m not sure, but I personally didn’t want to take any chances.
– If you do go to a sushi restaurant with work colleagues or business associates (and you don’t want to say that you are pregnant), it may be difficult to refuse eating raw sushi. If it was me, I would try and avoid going to any sushi restaurants at all, because if you go to a work dinner in Japan with Japanese business clients, they will want you to taste all of the Japanese traditional foods and it may be impolite to decline. Unless you say you are allergic to seafood of course:-) Sometimes clients will ask you first what do you like to eat, or what Japanese food would you like to try – if so, say that you’d like to try yakiniku, tempura, or soba noodles for example.
– If you do end up going to a restaurant where sushi is served, and it is difficult to refuse, I would try to choose the salmon or white fish (avoid big fish such as tuna). Another option would be to eat eel (called “unagi” in Japanese) – eel is never served raw, so you would be guaranteed that it is cooked.
– Sushi train restaurants would be easier to go to as they have alternatives such as cooked salmon sushi (“yaki-salmon”), egg sushi (“tamago”) and cucumber nori rolls (“kappa-maki”) available so you could order these.
– Sometimes work dinners are held at an Izakaya (a Japanese bar) and there will be a selection of small dishes placed in the middle of the table and everyone shares. Some dishes are raw such as raw chicken, raw horsemeat, or raw seafood, so just be aware of what each dish contains. It is usually possible to tell if it is raw from the appearance, but sometimes chicken for example will only be cooked on the surface and its only when you bite into it you realize its completely raw in the middle! There are usually fried chicken, salads, and other cooked foods such as yakitori also available, so should be easy to choose what to eat without anyone noticing.
– You probably already know, but people often drink alcohol when they go out for a business dinner in Japan! Not everyone drinks alcohol though (I know several of my Japanese friends and colleagues who don’t drink for personal/health reasons), so if you explain that you don’t drink alcohol then nobody should take offense. Bars and restaurants always have non-alcoholic drinks available including ulong tea, juice and soft-drinks, so you can still join in the fun!
Here is a great post by Ashley on her Surviving Japan blog that lists fish you should avoid or limit intake during pregnancy.
I am sure other mums and expecting mums living in Japan also have some excellent advice! I think this topic must have been discussed on the Tokyo Pregnancy Group Facebook group, however as it is a closed group pregnant women who are traveling to Japan are unable to see it. If you have some advice or recommendations to share it would be fantastic if you could write them below in the comments section so travelers can find them easily. Thanks so much!