Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Going Gluten Free In Japan

About a year or so after I got here, I got sick. Really really sick. So sick that I almost left Japan. I had no idea what was wrong with me. After climbing stairs, I couldn't breathe. I woke up in the middle of the night not being able to breathe. I went to doctors and they didn't know what was wrong with me. I said it felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. One doctor told me I didn't have lung cancer...hmmm....hadn't been worried about that but thanks for telling me. I really didn't know what to do. Then I went to Canada for Christmas and had no problems. Zero. I came back to Japan and the next morning ate a piece of raisin toast and instantly couldn't breathe.


I was allergic to wheat or rather gluten. This wasn't exactly new to me as my grandmother had been diagnosed with dermatitis herpetaforamis which is a terrible itchy rash caused by the gluten in wheat (and rye, barley etc). But I had never reacted like this. I got bloated but nothing so life threatening and this was life threatening. I instantly knew my life had changed and in a land I couldn't communicate in. I learned the Chinese characters for wheat and soy sauce. I learned the Hiragana for soy sauce and learned that ALL soy sauce in Japan has wheat in it and most sauces have soy sauce in it so....needless to say it was a pain trying to eat. I carried a little card around with me and showed it to waitresses "Please do not put sauce on the meat." I would be asked why so I quickly learned the word for asthma "zensoku". I knew within a minute if I had eaten something with wheat as I would start to wheeze. I then cut out dairy as I knew it wouldn't help asthma and I always felt bloated after eating it. Eating this way I lost weight, could breathe and felt great. So...that was my life for a while.

Then, the asthma reaction to wheat stopped. Not a clue why. I never fully went back to eating bread or pasta but I didn't worry that much about sauces-silly me.

Just recently I started having severe cramps after eating at my favorite yakiniku restaurant or sushi place and sometimes almost didn't make it to a bathroom. I started to think about what it could be. The only thing I could think of was sauce-as in soy sauce-as in wheat. So, since last Thursday I cut out all sauce and other things that contain wheat/gluten and I feel so much better. I also know when I get some accidentally as the cramps start. It would be soooo easy if it was just about the big things like bread, pasta, cookies etc but no....it is shocking how many things have soy sauce in it or are dusted with flour. Potato chips, crackers, Italian dressing, nuts, most sauces etc. I now carry my own soy sauce (which ironically is made in Japan but I have to buy it from an online shop that imports it back to Japan) and have to explain to waitresses not to add sauce to meat etc. But all of this is sooo worth it. I sleep better. No need to run to the bathroom. My brain and body just feel clearer.....cleaner.

So now I have to shop online and have food delivered like rice pasta, breads, sauces, cookies etc. Thank God for the Internet!! And while it is expensive and inconvenient, feeling good is soooo worth it!


Kelly said...

Have you considered that you may have Crones disease? I used to work with a woman with it and she says it's wrongly diagnosed all the time. Anyways just my two sense. It's worth researching.

My friend also had to cut out all of those things. basically you're doing all you can do for Crones anyways. But I'm sure I'd be nice to have a name for what you've got.

Glad you found a way to keep yourself feeling well!!!

MaliciousGnome said...

Hope you keep feeling better :)

JeriAnn said...

I wonder if Kelly meant Celiac disease? Crohn's disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease and needs medical attention. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by eating gluten. You can learn more by visiting www.celiac.org and www.ccfa.org. I hope this helps and you continue to feel better.

Spinvill said...

I am sorry for you not able to eat anything with soy sauce, know it isn`t easy in Japan. But I am glad for you that you know what to do to keep you healthy. Stay well!

Jess (aka LittleBunny) said...

glad to hear you are feeling better, and thankfully a lot of people have those allergies so non-gluten products are readily available...even if you have to order them online.

maoiliosa said...

oh my god, that sounds terrible! i'm glad you found a way to get around the problem, though! i wish you the best of health :).

sofia said...

Hi Kelly, I don't have crones...but thanks for sharing and I'm glad your friend is better.


Jeriann....I know all about celiac because that is what my grandmother had to follow due to her rash which was caused by gluten too. She used to carry a little book around checking all the food labels looking for hidden gluten (food coloring, "food" starch etc).

Spinvill...it is hard but sooo worth it!! THanks!

Jess....thank God for the internet or I wouldn't be able to stay here! I'm thinking of buying a freezer so I can order a ton of my bread at a time.

Hey Melissa! Yeah...it isn't fun but thanks I am feeling better!

P and P said...

I was in Japan 6.5 years and learned to deal with with my allerugi to soy, mushroom (learned all the names) and eggs. I know something of your efforts. Am so glad you're finding the food you need.

Hillary said...

I am living outside Tokyo in Fussa Shi and I need to go on a gluten free diet. I have had symptoms of IBS most of my life but the past few months things have become much worse. I become extremely bloated after most meals. I almost always have to RUN to the bathroom within an hour of eating. I feel tired and "ill" most of the time. My doctor ran numerous blood tests and all came back within the normal limits. He mentioned celiac disease as the possible cause for my symptoms and that makes sense to me. Where do you orer your gluten free soy sauce from? Are you able to get the wheat free flours here or do you order them? Any info would be appreciated!!

FromJapanWithLove said...

Hi Hillary,

Thanks for your comments. I will be posting a more detailed blog post soon that should be helpful for you.

rainyRice said...

Thanks again for your tips on Gluten free in Japan! There are some brands of snacks / food in Japan that care about people with allergies. They go so far as to having an "allergy search" online so that you can check in your allergy ingredients and search for products WITHOUT them.

The brands are: Nagatanien 永谷園 and kamedaseika 亀田製菓株式会社. I posted some photos of GF products I got from Tokyo in my blog.

Super thanks for all your tips for my Japan trip =)

Malia said...

Yes it may very well be like Crohn's. But my husband is Korean and grew up on rice like we likely grew up on wheat and after cutting out rice... his "Crohn's" went away more reliably than when they were giving him strong medicines that weren't completely controlling it. Gluten and Casein/Butter/Lactose still cause inflammation elsewhere in his body, but the food we eat DEFINITELY can contribute to mass inflammation in our bodies. I too am hitting a brick wall in Japan, don't know how to avoid gluten without starving. If I go out all that's available is covered in sauce or has wheat/gluten/milk ingredients. Also running into shortness of breath and chronic stomach ache here. Looking to exchange advice on how to cope, because I'm not ready to go home yet but work and life is getting really tough with all this stomach pain, and also increasingly my sinuses are affected too. Tough to be faced with delicious sweets (many contain sorbitol... which I find is also highly irritating) and the pasta fascination... okonomiyaki, takoyaki... the list of wheaty things never ends here! Tonkatsu even! Although I've made it through tonkatsu dinners without bloating or pain... and somedays I can't eat a single thing! Going to go on a meat/vegetable diet with my main carb from sweet potato, pumpkin, nagaimo... for at least a month to see improvement. Also had peace with rice porrige. It's really tough to go out... but cooking at home usually helps... so happy I found someone facing the same thing! I only hope an awareness for gluten allergy will start here... because you just don't see it in the stores here like you do, well, in the U.S. where I was living.

FromJapanWithLove said...

Malia! Please email me and we can discuss it all. Just go the the "about me" section and click on the
メール button and then email me. good luck!


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