Learn and Try : Cooking

When you want to try cooking Japanese food and go to the supermarket to buy the ingredients, it’s easy to get confused. There are some original Japanese ingredients which are similar in appearance. Moreover, they can be displayed side by side on the shelf. Here we have listed up some hard-to-tell-apart ingredients and given some hints to help you make the right choice. Let’s look carefully and find out what the unknown “X” in your hand is.

Trouble-making substance




Black Liquid back liquid xa.JPG

It might not be an overstatement to say all Japanese sauces come from soy-beans. Certainly, they can all look very similar – soy sauce, noodle soup, tonkatsu sauce and so on are all dark brown liquids in similar bottles.

Soy Sauce

しょうゆ ( Syouyu )

醤油 ( Syouyu )


醤油Shouyu/soy sauce is available from small size bottles to 1 liter bottles.キッコーマン(Kikkoman) and ヤマサ(Yamasa) are the two big brand names. There are different kinds of soy sauce for different usages, though in 80% of the time 濃口(koikuchi, strong strength) is needed for Japanese dishes and is what is sold on the shelf. Brand logos:

kikkoman logo.gif yamasa logo.gif

syouda syouyu.jpg higeta syouyu.jpg

Soy Sauce with Soup Stock

つゆ ( Tsuyu )

だし ( Dashi )


Do not confuse with soy sauce. This is soy sauce + α, a soup stock (だしdashi means soup stock) made from something like mushrooms, bonito and/or kelp. Just by adding boiling water, you can easily make soup for soba and udon noodles.

It is very flexible and can be used for other Japanese dishes such as nimono (simmered foods), nizakana (simmered fish), tempura, age-nasu (deep-fried eggplant), and so on. It was well-known for its TV commercial catchphrase: “Let’s get married with it”.

Brand logo:



ポン ( Pon ) ( zu )

ぽんず ( Ponzu )

ponzu sample.jpg

Do not confuse with soy sauce.

This is a soy sauce-based sauce with vinegar (Su/Zu means vinegar) that is used for nabe (hotpot). It often has yuzu flavor.  It suits hiyayakko, shabushabu and other dishes.

3 ways of writing it are possible: ポン酢, ぽんず and ぽん酢, and all are pronounced “Ponzu”.


ソース ( Souse )

KAGOME souce.jpg

とんかつソース/Tonkatsu Sauce

For tonkatu, croquettes and other deep-fried foods. Good for okonomiyaki and takoyaki as well.


ウスターソース/ Worcester Sauce

Less sticky than tonkatu sauce. Depending on your particular taste, you can choose this or tonkatsu sauce.

kagome logo.png

オイスターソース/Oyster Sauce

Chinese sauce made from oysters.

Do not confuse with tonkatsu sauce or oyster sauce.

“X” Non-

Colored Liquid

transparent liquid.jpg

Mirin-tempura, oil-sushi, vinegar-nimono… I don’t think I would like to experience these kinds of combinations - it would just be a disaster.

Standard Japanese cooking will use rapeseed oil for frying, and the vinegar used is usually rice vinegar. Mirin (sweet sake) and sake are often also used in cooking. The difficult thing is that they all have the same appearance ― non-colored liquid in a bottle.


( Abura/Yu )


The symbol for oil is always combined with some other words, like サラダ (vegetable oil), ごま (sesame oil), and こめ (rice oil). In the worst case, this symbol doesn’t appear on the package. One solution can be finding a big name such as 日清(Nissin)/Oilio series.

A variety of health-minded products are also available, such asコレステロール0(cholesterol free), ルシー(healthy), etc.



( Su )


A well-known ingredient for sushi. Generally sold in a non-colored 750ml bottle. “ミツカン(Mitsukan)″is big name whose product can be bought everywhere. It might be confusing for you that the symbol sometimes appears with other characters, for example 料理(cooking vinegar), すし(sushi vinegar).



みりん ( Mirin )

takara mirin.jpg

Sweet sake for cooking. Removes the smell from fish and gives a great-looking glaze.

Generally in a non-colored 1 liter bottle. “タカラ(Takara)” is a big name. Since they sometimes show the brand name タカラ bigger than the product nameみりんon the label, it will be helpful to see and find it. “日の出(Hinode)” is also a famous brand.

takarasyuzou logo.jpg

logo_hinode-mirin_cr logo.gif


( Sake/Syu )


For nimono, nizakana and other Japanese cooking. It is often required to remove the strong smell of meat or fish, and adds an appetizing taste and keeps the ingredients in good condition.  Available in small to large sizes, in paper boxes and plastic bottles.

takarasyuzou logo.jpg

logo_hinode-mirin_cr logo.gif


White powder

white poeder x.JPG

Unidentified white powder could give an image of committing a crime.

/ko means powder,  and lots of these products have it as part of their name.


( Shio )


Do not confuse with sugar, as they are packaged in a very similar way. Its image color is “samurai blue”.


砂糖 ( Satou )


粉砂糖 ( Konazatou ) /Powder sugar

ざらめ ( Zarame ) /Brown sugar

黒砂糖 ( Kurozatou ) /Black sugar


小麦粉 ( Komugiko )

nissin komugiko.bmp

薄力粉 ( Hakuriki-ko ) /Cake flour

強力粉 ( kyoriki-ko ) /Bread flour


片栗粉 ( Katakuriko )

katakuriko bareisho.jpg

Do not confuse with flour. This is a secret of Chinese and Japanese gelatinous sauces. Just add water and heat it.


葛粉 ( Katakuriko )

kuzuko bag.jpg

Sold not as a perfect powder but as small clods. Used in Chinese and Japanese dishes instead of katakuriko, as well as in sweets. 

Hotcake Mix

ホットケーキ ( Hotcake )


Mixed flour with sugar, salt, potato starch, oil, baking-powder and so on. You just need an egg and water, and you can be a good hotcake cooker.  



から揚げ粉 ( Karaageko )


Mixed flour with salt, potato starch, some seasoning and so on for karaage, Japanese small pieces of fried chicken.

Learn and Try : Healthy Choices

Dear health-minded people. How nice do you think it would be if you could live on healthy stuff without losing the good quality and the taste? World-popular health-friendly products such as low-fat, non-sugar and non-GM products are available in Japan as well. Just remember some typical symbols that show their status, and let’s go out shopping wisely.



Low Fat

低脂肪 ( Teishibou )

If you hate how you look in the mirror, one solution is to use low-fat foods. Dairy products in particular have lots of low-fat versions. Look carefully to find the word containing these three Chinese characters:

低脂肪(means low-,

脂肪 means fat)

teishibou-gyu.jpg milk m.JPG chees2 m.JPG yogult m.JPG

Fat Free―

無脂肪 ( Mushibou )

(means Free-,

脂肪means Fat)

mushibou-gyu.jpg mushibou-yog.jpg

Low Calorie―

ヘルシー ( Healthy )

ライト ( Light )

低カロリー ( Tei Calorie )

ダイエット ( Diet )

healthyreseta zoomup.jpg lipovitanlight.jpg lowcaloryjam.jpg


Additive-free ―

無添加 ( Mutenka )

Processed food without artificial additives such as sweeteners, colorings and flavorings. Not only food products but also some body products are available.

mutenka-miso.jpg mutenka-tomato.jpg mutenka-soup.jpg

Non-GM product―

非遺伝子組み換え ( Hi-Idenshikumikae )

Be advised that products from beans, corn, wheat and some grains are possibly genetically-modified. Look carefully at the label, and make sure if there is “”(means Non-) before “遺伝子組み換え” (means genetically-modified).



有機 ( Yuki )

オーガニック ( Organic )

yuki-tsuyu.bmp yuki-wine.jpg organic-apple.jpg yuki-tomato.jpg

Learn and Try : Katakana                    

Quick Katakana Table for Survival
























<use of “”>

The “” symbol in Japanese writing signifies an extension of the sound directly preceding it.

Ex:     バー à Baa

          スコーン à Su Koo Nn

          キープ à Kii Pu

          クリーン à Ku Rii nn

          ケーキ à Kee Ki

          スーパー à Suu Paa

















<use of small characters “” “” “” etc>

“Small characters” in Japanese are used to alter the pronunciation of the letter directly preceding it. For instance “キャ” reads “Kya”, which is a combination of “/KI” and “/YA”. The character “” (small “/TSU”) is unique, in a sense that it accentuates the character directly preceding it. For example, “キャット which is a Katakana way to write “Cat” reads “Kyatto”, underlined “t” signified by “”. Another example would be “ストップà “Stop/Sutoppu”.

Ex:     キャブ(Cab)   à       Kyabu

          ショート(Short)        à       Shooto

          チェーン(Chain)        à       Cheen

          ビッグ(Big)    à       Biggu

ハット(Hat)  à       Hatto