When it comes to food allergies, soba is the peanut of Japan: About 0.03% of people are allergic to the buckwheat noodle, and it is one of the most common allergies among Japanese schoolchildren.
While people in Japan, where soba is popular, are aware of this, foreign tourists are not. Many tuck into soba while on holidays, unaware that it’s one of those foods that, like peanuts, can bring on anaphylaxis shock, which can be life-threatening.
As thousands of foreign tourists are now flocking to Hokkaido for winter sports, a group of soba restaurants, located on Route 230 from the popular Niseko ski resort to downtown Sapporo, saw the need to raise awareness of soba allergies to keep tourists safe.
The group, known as the 230 Soba Street Promotion Committee, recruited J. Walter Thompson Japan, which developed the Soba Allergy Tattoo Checker – a sticker decorated with a Japanese tattoo motif – in cooperation with Dr. Mami Nomura, a dermatologist.
To check if you are allergic, apply soba-yu – the water that soba noodles have been simmered in – to the sticker and attach with the wet side to your skin. If you are allergic, your skin will turn red and the color will be visible through the clear plastic sections of the tattoo motif.
An initial 200 of the quick and easy Soba Allergy Tattoo Checkers were handed out an event last month at Koyo-tei, one by the oldest soba restaurants in Sapporo. That time, nobody was found to be allergic – and all were able to enjoy eating soba without worries.
The project is supported by Sapporo City and events in other major tourist cities are planned next.
“With the depreciation of yen, we now have lots of tourists visiting Japan, not just Hokkaido but also Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto,” said Keizo Mugita, Senior Creative Director, J. Walter Thompson Japan. “So we hope to do this campaign across Japan.”