I have been out of commission for the last week, and unfortunately it is due to my old nemesis... milk. I had a cold three weeks ago, and so I got myself some vitamin C. The cold kept getting worse and worse until Friday when I had to miss a day of work because I was just too nauseous and exhausted (despite my nearly 15 hours of sleep every night). Luckily in my boredom I decided to read the label of my vitamin C, and found out that they had dairy in them. I wasn't sick, I had been poisoning myself.
I have a very bad dairy allergy. Even small amounts of dairy (less then a teaspoon) will have me praying to the porcelain gods for hours. In Japan milk is not a traditional ingredient in most foods, but it's still somewhat difficult to avoid eating dairy. For those of you out there with dairy allergies, the familiar enemies casein and whey, are snuck into countless processed foods. By and large, I cannot eat junk food in Japan, this is extremely healthy for me.
For those of you with dairy allergies who are coming to Japan here are my tips and tricks for avoiding dairy.
For eating in restaurants your key phrase is：
Sumimasen. Watashi wa gyunyu arerugi desu. Gyunyu batta chiizu ya kurimu rui wa mattaku taberaremasen.
Sorry. I have a dairy allergy. I cannot eat things with milk, cheese, cream, or anything like that.
You are not safe just saying I have a dairy allergy. The term for lactose intolerance is dairy allergy, so they assume that butter and cheese are safe.
If they say "______ haiteiru" or "dame". That means you cannot eat it.
I really recommend getting a dairy allergy card if you do not speak much Japanese.
Dairy Allergy Card
Luckily, since dairy is not a traditional ingredient in Japanese foods, eating a very traditionally Japanese diet will be safe. Western style foods will almost never be safe, and western restaurants usually use copious amounts of butter in their foods. The few times Ben and I have gone to a western restaurant, I have not eaten anything. I recommend if you are visiting, to just avoid western restaurants. It is also very risky to eat in fast food places, chain restaurants often have whey in their batters to keep things cheap but satiating. Do not eat curry here, they always have dairy.
When selecting a restaurant I recommend looking for places with very limited menus, and places that are very traditionally Japanese. Mom and pop style restaurants are almost always safe from my experience.
Grocery shopping is very tricky. All chocolate, breads, and chips tend to have dairy in them. I have drastically changed my diet here, I eat very little processed foods here. The junk foods that I do tend to eat are only a few guilty pleasures: Haribo Gummies, Oreos, and Soda Popsicles. I miss junk foods, but I feel really healthy, so I can't complain too much. I tend to buy all of my western food at costco, where the labels are still in English.
Dango and mochi are usually dairy free, avoid the big chain brands though. They are very tasty dessert, and found everywhere in Japan.
Overall I think it is easier to eat out in Japan then in the US. Food is very delicious, and unless you dislike Japanese food, Japan is a wonderful place for people with dairy allergies. I feel far less restricted here then I do in the US. I am a pretty good cook, which makes my life really easy. As long as I am eating delicious food, I generally don't miss what I can't eat.