Japanese people love animals, right? The country has a booming pet industry and Tokyoites can be seen pushing dogs with ribbons in their fur in strollers through the capital’s parks. Farm animals in Japan unfortunately face a comparatively lackluster treatment, and there’s still a general lack of interest in free-range, organic and animal-friendly methods of raising livestock.
So it’s much harder to find free-range eggs, organic milk or grass-fed beef in Japan. Though not impossible. Generally, your safest bet is to go to an organic supermarket, a farmers’ market or one of Tokyo’s many international supermarkets that also stock more organic produce than do domestic chains. We’ve already written a very comprehensive list of those, but if you’re standing in your local supermarket and wondering what to grab, here’s a guide on the Japanese terms and brands to look out for when buying ethical and free-range eggs, dairy and meat.
Let’s start off with the easiest option. Almost all Japanese supermarkets stock at least one or two organic or free-range egg options. Hooray! But now let’s get to the identifying part: don’t trust the pictures of chickens in a meadow on the pack! Japan sells wagyu, also known as Kobe beef in the West, with pictures of happy cows, but nothing could be further from the truth. Those cows that are kept confined indoors their whole lives to limit their movement and muscle development. So, instead of pictures on the egg carton, look for the following terms:
The two main kanji to know are 平飼い (hiragai) and 放し飼い (hanashigai), which both mean free-range. Sometimes 特定飼育卵 (tokutei shiiku tamago) is added, which legally means that from the moment the chickens are 120 days old, they have to be kept with no more than 5 birds per square meter (some free-range farms can be very crammed affairs too, just out in the sunlight!).
Other terms are:
- オーガニック / oganikku or 有機 / yuuki – organic
- JAS 認定 / JAS nintei, or simply the JAS green leaf symbol – this is certified organic according to Japanese standards
- 有機栽培 / yuukisaibai – organic farming methods
- 有機卵/yuukitamago – organic egg
- のびのび / nobinobi – this translates to something like “carefree, and is meant to describe the carefree life of hens in a free-range setting, but this is not legally defined or bound by any standard
- 自然/shizen – natural (another unprotected and not very precise term)
You’ll find these options in any run-of-the-mill supermarket, but Japanese free-range eggs come at a premium, about ¥50 per egg. A price that’s totally worth it, if you can afford it, for aspects like your health, the chickens health, ethical standards.
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Where to order free-range eggs online
Here are a few websites:
Arkfarm – Main website is in English, but the shopping section is Japanese only. They also stock a variety of meats, meat products and other food products.
Co-op Mirai – Japan’s largest food delivery service directly from agricultural cooperatives. Delivery is available for a number of organic products in the Kanto region, e.g. Kurofuji Farm’s Real Organic Eggs from Yamanashi. They also have brick-and-mortar stores in Tokyo.
Nakamuranojo – Website in Japanese only, they also stock chicken meat and food products that contain eggs.
Friends Farm – Japanese-only website. Discounts available for high-quantity orders.
Organic milk is still hard to find in conventional supermarkets. Your best bet would be to opt for soy milk instead. Aeon stocks organic soy milk by their own “Topvalu” brand, all labeled in English. Also, try the soy milk recommended by ABC cooking studio—it says so on the label in English. This type is made from domestic soybeans and unpasteurized, making it the most natural option.
For those that just love cow’s milk, try these brands:
オーガニック牛乳 / organic milk by Meiji / 明治 – This is the product most likely found in a garden-variety supermarket. Meiji also has a milkman home delivery service!
Organic milk (labeled in English) by Takanashi / タカナシ, JAS certified organic, usually under ¥500 for a liter, so it’s reasonably priced.
Wild Milk from Yamamoto Farm, not certified, but cows are raised in a natural environment. This one clocks in over ¥1,000 for a liter, so not exactly a cheapo option.
Again, for a list of stores where you’re most likely to find organic milk or other dairy, check out our guide to healthy eating in Tokyo.
Again, sadly organic meat is hard to find in your neighborhood supermarket. But here are a few good options to look out for:
New Zealand lamb—all Kiwi lamb is grass-fed and pasture raised, so not only good for your health but the animal’s welfare as well. Summit supermarkets always stock New Zealand lamb chops and racks at affordable prices.
Or, you can also order it online here (as well as grass-fed beef from NZ). It’s free of pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics and hormones, too.
American grass-fed beef—this is a tricky one. It’s available regularly in Japanese supermarkets, and would be labeled in English or in Japanese as 100%草飼料で育った肉 (hyaku paasento kusashiryou de sodatta niku). USA grass-fed beef has come under some scrutiny recently as cattle that have only eaten some grass as part of their diet have been labeled as such, regardless of whether they had always been confined or mainly eaten grains. So check carefully for the 100% or a label that says “grass-finished” as well as organic certifications. Again, in Japanese, organic would be 有機 (yuuki) or オーガニック (o-ganikku).
Local organic chicken is rare to find in regular supermarkets, sadly. I have yet to see a chicken that says 有機 (yuuki) or オーガニック (o-ganikku). Your best bet is to order online—check the links above for ordering organic eggs, most of them also deliver organic chicken.
BioMarche, an organic food delivery service also has organic chickens and they can communicate in English if you give them a call.
Also, the Meat Guy has a range of free-range chicken products that are affordable, e.g. 1 kg of drumsticks for ¥846, a whole 2 kg free-range chicken for ¥2,770 and 1 kg of free-range wings for ¥1,128. Shipping is ¥850 for Honshu (the Japanese main island) and free for orders over ¥10,000.