Food safety, Pregnancy in Japan

Pregnant tourist – question about food safety in Japan 妊娠中の日本への旅行 日本の食の安全性についての質問

Last week we received an email from a reader of Tokyo Urban Baby about food safety in Japan – she is pregnant and thinking to travel to Japan in March for the cherry blossom season, but is worried about risk of radiation in the food. I thought there might be others out there who have a similar concern, so I decided to share my answer with you all. I also asked my friends living in Tokyo about their views and any precautions that they take – you can see their responses below.

Question from reader:

****************************************************************************************************************

Hi there,

I have a question which I can’t find answer to which I hope with your help can shed some light on. Would like to travel to Japan to view the Sakura flowers in mar/apr this year but am 3 mths pregnant. A lot of my colleagues and friends warn me about the high radiation from food and have advised me not to go Tokyo. May I check with you on this please?

****************************************************************************************************************

Answer:

Thanks for your email. That’s exciting that you are thinking to come to Tokyo for the Sakura season. It is a very beautiful time!

Regarding radiation contamination in food, I understand your concerns. I was actually 3 months pregnant when the earthquake and tsunami happened in March 2011 and was very worried when the subsequent nuclear plant disaster occurred. I did a lot of research though, and decided to stay in Japan. The Japanese government is testing all food from Fukushima Prefecture (where the damaged nuclear plant is located), and many supermarkets are also doing their own independent testing. In addition I take the following extra precautions.

Extra precautions I take for food safety:

  • At the supermarket, I try to buy meat and vegetables that are imported or from western Japan or Hokkaido. For milk – I choose milk produced in Hokkaido.
  • Food at the supermarket is always labeled with the country of origin or prefecture where it was produced. The only problem is that the label is usually written in Japanese! If you would like to know the origin of a particular food, you could ask the staff “Japan or imported?” or “Hokkaido?”, and they should be able to help you. (Also see Anna’s response below for a great idea on how to ask the origin of food using a map.)
  • Avoid eating big fish such as tuna, and try to only eat fish that is imported. Salmon imported from Chile, Norway or USA is widely available.
  • At the restaurant, I tend not to worry so much. If you go to a good restaurant or well-known family restaurant, they generally have very strict regulations on food safety and the origin of the ingredients.

Some of my friends who are pregnant or have children have told me that they also only drink bottled water from overseas. This can be bought easily at any convenience store or supermarket. I personally drink tap water.

Remember, I choose to take these extra precautions above because I am living in Japan and therefore eating the food here every day. If I were a tourist in Japan and only here for 1-2 weeks, I expect any potential risk would be extremely minimal.

Here is an interesting article with some information on food testing.

I have also made a video of how rice in Fukushima Prefecture is tested for cesium:

There is also a lot of information and research articles on the internet about food safety in Japan and what the government is doing to test food for radiation – it is a good idea to do some of your own research and read the information that is available in order to make your own decisions:)

I also asked my friends in Tokyo about food safety and here are their responses:

Anna:

One thing that I remember a friend saying to me before I moved here pregnant and not speaking the language was to print off a map of Japan and to learn a really simple phrase “Kore wa doko kara desu ka?” And then have them gesture to the map to show the location. I never actually tried it (sadly out of laziness) but I always thought it was a good idea…

Amanda:

The precautions I take now (and took while pregnant) and my thoughts on the issue (for what it’s worth):

  • I drank bottled water when pregnant (and my baby gets most of his water from bottles)
  • I also try to buy meats and milk from Hokkaido or meats from overseas (Oz, US, etc.) 
  • I don’t worry about restaurants at all
  • Even though I believe from all I’ve read and heard (e.g. the US gov’t held a seminar at Tokyo America Club a month after the earthquake saying all was okay) that the risk of long-term negative effects from exposure to radiation is super low, even if you were worried (as I’m sure some are), I completely agree that being here for such a short time (e.g. for a visit) would have minimal if any effect on mom and baby…

Thank you Anna and Amanda!

If other readers living in Japan would also like to share their experience or the kinds of precautions they take, please feel free to write in the comment section below.

******************
東京アーバンベイビーをご覧いただいている方から、日本の食べ物の安全性についてのメールを頂きました。彼女は現在妊娠中で、3月の桜の時期に日本へ旅行しようと考えているそうです。しかし、放射能の問題について心配しています。きっと他にも、同じような悩みをもっている人がいると思うので、私から彼女への回答をここで紹介しようと思います。日本に住んでいる他の友人にも意見を聞いたので、合わせてご覧ください。

質問メール
****************************************************************************************************************

こんにちわ

質問があります。色々と調べてみたのですが答えがみつからなくて、もしかしたらあなたなら何かいい考えを聞かせてくれるかと思ってメールしています。今年の3月末から4月にかけて、桜をみに日本に行きたいを思っていますが、現在妊娠3ヶ月で、職場の同僚や友人から食品は放射能に汚染されているからいかないほうがいい、と言われています。これについてどう思いますか?

****************************************************************************************************************

回答:

メールありがとう。桜の時期に東京に来ることを考えているなんて、ステキだわ。本当にいい時期だから。

食品の放射能汚染について、あなたの心配はよくわかります。2011年3月、東日本大震災が発生した当時、私は妊娠3ヶ月でした。なので、原子力発電所の爆発事故が起こったときは、本当に怖かったです。色々調べた結果、日本に残ることにしました。日本政府は、福島(事故のあった原子力発電所がある場所)産の食べ物はすべて検査しているし、スーパーが独自で検査しているところも沢山あります。それに加えて、私は下記のようなことに注意しています。

私が食品に関して特に気をつけていること:

  • スーパーでは、お肉や野菜は輸入物か、あるいは西日本や北海道のものを選んでいます。牛乳は北海道産を飲んでます。
  • スーパーにある食品は、原産国や生産地がかならず明記されてますが、唯一問題なのはそのラベルが日本語だということ!もし、原産国や生産地を知りたい場合は、「輸入ですか?国産ですか?」あるいは「北海道?」と聞けば、店員さんが教えてくれると思います。(Annaからの回答に、とてもいい方法が書いてあるので参考にしてください)
  • マグロなどの大きな魚は食べないようにし、魚も輸入物だけ買うようにしています。サーモンはチリやノルウェー、アメリカなどから広く輸入されています。
  • レストランでは、あまり心配しないようにしています。ちょっといいレストランや、有名なファミレスは、特に食品の安全性について厳しく、生産地についてもしっかり管理されています。

妊娠中や子供がいる友達は、輸入のミネラルウォーターしか飲まないという人もいます。輸入のミネラルウォーターはコンビニで簡単に買うことができます。ちなみに、私は水道水を飲んでます。

これらの注意点については、私が日本に住んで、毎日日本の食品を食べているからだということを覚えていてください。もし、私が旅行者で、1、2週間しか滞在しないのであれば、その危険性についてはとても低いと考えます。

食品検査の記事があるので、ご参考まで。

実は私もセシウムの検査について記事を書いてます。

インターネット上で、日本の食品安全性について、あるいは政府がどんな検査をしているかについて、沢山の記事があります。是非一度、見てみてください。その上で、ご自身で決めたらいいと思います:)

日本に住む友人にも聞いてみたのでその回答を:

Anna:

日本に引越してくる前、妊娠中で日本語がしゃべれない私に友人が教えてくれたことがあるの。日本の地図をプリントして、「これはどこからですか?」という簡単な質問をすればいいよ、と。で、地図を見せて、どこか教えてくれというジェスチャーをすれば、と。実は私はまだ一度も試したことはないけれど、でもいい方法だなって思ってるわ…

Amanda:

妊娠中、そして今現在私が気をつけていることと気になること:

  • 妊娠中はミネラルウォーターを飲んでました(うちの子はペットボトルからそのまま飲みます)
  • 肉や牛乳は北海道産か輸入物を購入 
  • 外食のときは気にならない(心配していない)
  • 今まで色々読んだり聞いたりしたものを信じているけれど(アメリカ政府が地震の1ヶ月後にアメリカクラブでセミナーを開いて、すべて大丈夫って言ってた)、長期的な放射能汚染の影響や危険についてはとてもとても低い。もしあなたが心配したとしても(きっと心配する人もいるだろうけど)、日本に短期間滞在するのであれば、妊婦さんやお腹の子への影響は本当に本当に低いと思うわ。…

Anna、Amanda、ありがとう:)

もし、日本に住んでいて何か共有できる意見などありましたら、下のコメント欄にお願いします。

Related Posts

6 thoughts on “Pregnant tourist – question about food safety in Japan 妊娠中の日本への旅行 日本の食の安全性についての質問

  1. Rachel Greene says:

    Hi Kate,

    Just curious. In your investigation of this topic, do you know if the government is doing this aggressive testing in agricultural products that come from prefectures other than Fukushima?

    I have similar shopping habits to you, but I often wonder if the stuff I buy from Gunma, Nagano or even Hokkaido is being tested too.

    For what it`s worth, your reader might consider avoiding seaweed products too. I think it is perfectly safe for her to spend a nice sakura season here. Hope she enjoys her stay.

    Thanks,

    Rachel

    1. Kate says:

      Hi Rachel, Thanks for your comment. Yes, other prefectures on the East Coast and inland towards Gunma also test food for radiation, however they only do random testing on some specific food products. The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare have an updated list of the levels of radioactive contaminants in foods tested in respective prefectures. Here is the link (scroll down to the bottom to see the lists): http://www.mhlw.go.jp/english/topics/2011eq/

  2. Jen says:

    Hi Kate,
    My husband has been offered a transfer to Tokyo. While we enjoyed and loved the city when we visited years ago, our situation has now changed; we now have a two year old son.

    I’m the typical (I think!) first time mom, a bit crazy protective at times. We are currently based in Bangkok and I only serve organic produce to him as the regulations on pesticides here is, let’s just say, quite lax.

    How is the food supply there? Specifically the vegetables? I know you’ve answered the questions above for someone pregnant. Do you feel the same way now since you answered a few months ago?

    What about the water? My son pretty much gulps down his bath water. Would that be a concern? And playing in the rain? Would that be a stupid idea?

    Sorry! Too much conflicting reports online has scared this momma! Would love to hear about how others (moms to small kids especially) actually live in Tokyo — are there lingering doubts or peace of mind?

    1. Kate says:

      Hi Jen,

      That’s great to hear you will be moving to Tokyo:)! It is of course normal to worry about the safety of food and water for your baby. I still receive many emails from pregnant women and families who are coming to Tokyo for a holiday or to live. Personally, I drink water from the tap, and we buy our vegetables and meat from a Japanese supermarket online shop called Ito-Yokado (in Japanese). I buy products such as milk and yoghurt from Hokkaido or Kyushu, and I buy meat and fish that has been imported. I know of friends of mine though who still drink bottled water and are more selective with the foods that they buy.

      If you would like to buy natural or organic food, here are some suggestions:

      Where to buy natural food in Japan:
      http://www.survivingnjapan.com/2012/12/how-to-find-natural-food-in-japan.html

      Organic baby food:
      https://www.tokyourbanbaby.com/2012/08/ofukuro-my-favourite-japanese-organic-baby-food-brand.html

      Organic vegetables:
      https://www.tokyourbanbaby.com/2012/08/fresh-organic-vegetables-delivered-to-your-door-in-tokyo.html

      If you are still worried about the situation with the radiation in Japan, I find the IAEA website very reassuring:
      http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/2013/missionfukushima.html

      http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/pressreleases/2013/prn201319.html

      I also recommend joining the Tokyo Mothers Group on Facebook. It is a great forum to receive feedback from lots of mothers living in Tokyo. There are also a lot of mothers who join who will be moving to Japan soon.
      https://www.facebook.com/groups/190112384422830/

      Hope this helps and all the best with your move:)!

      Warm wishes,
      Kate

      1. jen says:

        Thanks for such a comprehensive and thoughtful response, Kate!

  3. Petrice says:

    There are many online food delivery services in Japan. I am here with my 14 month old daughter for six months and I joined Oisix. They have several “course” or “plans” for which you can sign up. Based on recommendation from a Japanese friend who also has a child, I chose the one called “babies and kids” and all the food is fit for babies, kids, and nursing moms. The products in this category are from Western Japan and Hokkaido and they are tested. (The site is only in Japanese so you might need someone to help you set up an account if you do not read Japanese. Once you’re set up it shouldn’t be too difficult since there are pictures of everything.) I also buy imported meats and produce from Costco and my neighborhood supermarket.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.