Baby Formula Milk in Japan: The Complete Guide [2019 Update]

     
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Whether you’re traveling in Japan and simply ran out of formula milk, or you’re a new parent and expat with no clue which formula you should buy, our guide is here to help and is probably the only Japanese formula milk guide available online.

Like you, we’re also parents and have gone through all the experience of finding the right milk for our daughter while living here in Japan. You’ll get to know the different selection of infant and toddler formulas available in Japan without needing to decipher the Japanese language.

Aside from this guide, check out our resources for traveling in Japan with your baby:

Formula Milk Manufacturers in Japan

Like in the U.S. or other countries, there are a lot of different brands of formula milk to choose from in Japan. All of which are cow’s milk protein-based.

There are 6 major manufacturers marketing infant and toddler formula milk:

  • Beanstalk
  • Icreo
  • Megmilk Snow Brand
  • Meiji
  • Morinaga
  • Wakodo

By the end of this article, you should be better informed on which type of formula milk you think is best to get for your baby.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional or licensed medical practitioner. All the information that you will see in the article about the milk were taken from the brand’s official website and from the nutrition labels themselves. I am not advocating formula over breast milk but simply assisting those who need/choose to use formula while in Japan.

Where to Buy Formula Milk in Japan

Formula milk selection at HAC Drug store
Formula milk selection at HAC Drug store.

For families traveling to, or visiting Japan, drugstores and MEGA Don Quijote stores are the best places to buy formula milk. However, the biggest (and most obvious) challenge is that many drug stores are written in Japanese characters.

So, the best way to find one as a visitor is to ask your hotel’s receptionist for directions. Or just use Google Maps and type the keyword: drugstores near me

Here are some notable drugstores in Japan that almost always have formula milk:

  • Create SD
  • Daikoku Drug
  • HAC Drug
  • Matsumoto Kiyoshi
  • OS Drug
  • Welcia

Note: Not all drugstores carry formula milk. If they don’t have it, it is most likely just a cosmetic drugstore. So you need to look for another one.

Create SD and Welcia are my personal favorite because their stores always have formula milk and a better selection of other baby essentials.

You may have also heard of Akachan Honpo or Babies ‘R’ Us from other mothers in Japan. Although they have a huge selection of formula milk and other baby items, I find that formula milk there is usually more expensive.

I’ve also heard that Costco Japan carries some international formula milk. However, it’s unclear which brands are available since it varies by Costco location. Besides, you also need to be a Costco member to get inside.

How to Determine Infant vs Toddler Formula

Before you hit the drugstore, it pays to know how to distinguish a formula milk and whether it is specifically for infants or toddlers.

For infants, look for the sign 0 カ⽉月 – 1歳. This translates that the formula milk is for infants 0 month to 1 year old.

The same is true for toddler milk. Depending on the manufacturer, some will show it’s for 9 months to 3 years (9カ⽉月 – 3歳) and some for 1 year to 3 years old (1歳 – 3歳). Both can be given for toddlers.

Toddler milk in Japan is also called “follow-up milk” (フォローアップミルク).

Regular Formula Milk for Infants and Toddlers

Now, let’s see the different formula milk marketed in Japan.

1. Beanstalk

Beanstalk Sukoyaka M1 for infants.
Beanstalk Tsuyoiko for toddlers.

Beanstalk is the only formula milk in Japan that has RNA, a nucleotide found in breastmilk which boosts the immune system and supports digestive health. However, Beanstalk formula does not have ARA.

Beanstalk claim that they’ve been in the breastmilk and formula milk research industry for over 60 years. They also claim that the nutrients in their formula are the closest match to breastmilk. This could be the reason why Japanese hospitals recommend Beanstalk for supplement feeding. Personally, I think this claim is for pure marketing only and they did a great job at it. As a mother, you should always keep in mind that nothing can replace the nutrients and the benefits of breastmilk.

2. Icreo

Icreo Balance Milk for infants.
Balance Milk for infants
Icreo Follow Up Milk for toddlers
Icreo Follow Up Milk for toddlers

Icreo is a daughter company of a Japanese food company, Glico. Icreo specializes in the manufacturing of baby food and formula milk, as well as skin care products for babies. Icreo states from their website that their baby formula milk resembles the color of the mother’s milk and even its taste, which makes it slightly sweeter than other Japanese formula milk. However, their milk doesn’t contain DHA or ARA. But claims that the alpha-linolenic acid component in their milk converts into DHA.

3. Meiji

Meiji Hohoemi for infants
Meiji Hohoemi for infants.
Meiji Step
Meiji Step for toddlers.

Meiji’s formula of casein and whey protein closely matches a mother’s milk. However, in early 2011 after the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster, Meiji detected traces of cesium, a radioactive chemical which can be dangerous when consumed in large amounts. Batches of Meiji formula milk were recalled immediately though.

The same year around December, Meiji started to voluntarily test their milk for any radioactive substances. From then on, they have been publicly releasing the results of their tests, ensuring everyone that their milk has no trace of radioactive substances and is safe to consume. Meiji formula milk for infants has both DHA and ARA which makes it a popular formula milk to mothers in Japan.

4. Morinaga

Morinaga Hagukumi for infants
Morinaga Hagukumi for infants
Morinaga Chil Mil for toddlers
Morinaga Chil Mil for toddlers

Morinaga formula for infants contains both DHA and ARA. Morinaga is the first Japanese manufacturer to blend lactoferrin in baby formula milk. Lactoferrin is a protein found in the colostrum of breast milk that has bacteria-inhibiting properties and also helps prevent constipation.

Morinaga also has different types of formulas for babies with gastrointestinal troubles and lactose-intolerance. Most mothers in Japan favor this brand as the milk easily dissolves in water. However, it’s the most expensive formula milk.

5. Wakodo

Wakodo Hai Hai for infants
Wakodo Hai Hai for infants
Wakodo Gun Gun for Toddlers
Wakodo Gun Gun for toddlers

Wakodo is the only Japanese formula milk that has biotin which is known to have good benefits for hair, skin, and nails. Our toddler has been drinking this milk (Wakodo Gun Gun) ever since she turned 13 months. This is probably the reason why her nails seem to grow so fast.

Wakodo is also one of the oldest Japanese food companies. In fact, they were
the first company to ever make formula milk in Japan, starting in 1917. Both Wakodo infant and toddler formula are popular choices for those on a budget too. In fact, this is the cheapest brand. Wakodo formula milk for infant contains both DHA and ARA.

6. Megmilk Snow Brand

Megmilk Snow Brand Milk is perhaps the least popular brand of milk and isn’t advertised nearly as much as other brands. Perhaps this is because the brand itself is actually still recovering from a scandal in 2000 involving food poisoning from their plant in Osaka. It’s difficult to find any information online about this brand, to be honest. I’ve also never seen this milk in the aisles of drugstores.

Soy-Based Formula

Wakodo Bonlact-i. This is the only formula milk in Japan that is soy-based that I’ve been able to find. So, if your baby has a sensitivity to cow’s milk, then Bonlact-i is the alternative while you’re in Japan.
Wakodo Bonlact-i Soy-based Formula
Wakodo Bonlact-i Soy-based Formula

Amino Acid-Based Formula

These types of milk are also called elemental milk. They’re made of fully hydrolyzed milk protein and are created for babies with severe milk and/or soy allergies.

Similar to Enfamil Nutramigen, NeoCate, and EleCare in the U.S. So far, I’ve only seen two brands that sell elemental milk in Japan, Morinaga and Meiji: Morinaga New MA-1 and Meiji Elemental Formula

Morinaga New MA-1
Morinaga New MA-1
Meiji Elemental Formula
Meiji Elemental Formula

Lactose-Free (For Lactose Intolerance or Galactosemia)

These are the notable lactose-free formula milk brands in Japan: Meiji Milfy HP, Morinaga NONLACT, and BeanStalk Pepdiett.

Meiji Milfy HP
Meiji Milfy HP
Morinaga NONLACT
Morinaga NONLACT
BeanStalk Pepdiett
BeanStalk Pepdiett

Easy-to-Digest Protein Formula

Morinaga E-Akachan. The Morinaga Hagukumi and E-Akachan have the same nutritional values. However, E-Akachan is made of smaller peptides, similar to partially hydrolyzed formulas like Similac Pro Total Comfort, Enfamil Gentlease, and Gerber Good Start Soothe.

Meaning it is easier to digest and gentler for babies’ tummy. E-Akachan milk contains soy derivatives though.

Morinaga E-Akachan
Morinaga E-Akachan

For GI Troubles

Morinaga MA-mi. Also designed for babies who have symptoms of eczema, diarrhea, excessive fussiness due to cow’s allergies. The difference between MA-mi and E-Akachan is that, with MA-mi, it doesn’t contain any soy, egg, or fish derivatives and is made of high-quality casein and whey proteins to reduce allergic reactions.

Morinaga AR. AR stands for anti-regurgitation and is the only formula milk in Japan for babies’ GERD.

Morinaga MA-mi
Morinaga MA-mi
Morinaga AR
Morinaga AR

Japanese Formula Milk Have Better Packaging

The packaging of Japanese milk is much better than American brands. With Japanese milk, you don’t have to dig for the spoon and it has a convenient lid to scoop equal amount of milk powder. With formula milk in the U.S., I always need to dig to the bottom of the can to find the scoop.

Japanese Formula Milk Have Better Packaging
Japanese Formula Milk Have Better Packaging. Try watching this video on www.youtube.com.
Meiji Stick Packets
All formula milk in Japan come in stick packets or trial size.

In addition, all brands have stick packets available and are a popular choice among Japanese mothers who travel. It’s not only convenient to use but it also doesn’t take much space in the diaper bag. No mess too!

I have personally used these packets, and it is really convenient whenever we travel. I suggest you buy the sticks packets for an emergency stash of baby formula.

Lastly, should you be looking for one, you cannot find a ready-made liquid formula in Japan. This is because the Japan Food and Sanitation Act defined breast milk substitute as “powdered” milk for hygiene purposes. So only powdered formula milk is approved for marketing in Japan.

Is there any Halal Milk in Japan?

Morinaga Chil Mil used to be the milk that Muslim mothers used in Japan, but they changed their ingredients recently. For Muslim parents who live in Japan, this is a real challenge, and most order it online. So before you travel to Japan, make sure you have enough milk supply or formula milk supply for your baby.

Which formula milk we use for our baby

Formula Milk I use in Japan
Our toddler drinking her milk on our way to Ueno, Tokyo.

My daughter was on a combination of breastmilk and formula milk during her first few months. But when she was around 4 months, she had signs of a severe milk allergy where she showed excessive fussiness, unmanageable eczema on her cheeks, and streaks of blood in her poop.

The pediatrician ruled out severe milk allergy as soy milk didn’t work for her either. The doctor then prescribed Nutramigen, which is an elemental milk similar to Meiji Elemental formula and Morinaga New MA-1.

Fortunately, we’re a military family and have base access. So getting Nutramigen was easy and we also get it for free since the medical insurance and WIC covered it. When my daughter was about 13 months, she started to refuse Nutramigen. Her sense of taste must have fully developed because Nutramigen tastes awful.

So, we tried to put her back on regular formula milk, with the hopes that she had also outgrown her milk allergy. I tried Similac Sensitive first, but this made her very constipated. Other American brands such as Gerber and Enfamil did the same. So I tried Japanese milk.

The first Japanese milk I tried was the Icreo but that made her constipation worse. I then switched her to Meiji Step milk and had success with it. She was on Meiji Step for a while. But I switched her to Wakodo Gun Gun after I compared it with Meiji. They almost have the same nutrients, but Wakodo is a lot cheaper.

Right now, our daughter is still on Wakodo to supplement her food with no issues at all. Her cheek eczema is also pretty much gone. We still use Meiji, but only when we travel. This is because Meiji has stick packets with cubed milk which makes it very convenient to use on the go.

Which Formula Milk is Used by Most Mothers in Japan

For most mothers in Japan with infants, Beanstalk Sukoyaka M1 and Morinaga Hagukumi infant formula are the popular choices. At least, that’s what I also notice with Japanese mothers whenever I shop at a drugstore. I kind of keep my eyes on what milk they get for their babies, and it’s almost always Beanstalk or Morinaga.

Sukoyaka M1 and Hagukumi are also “Best Sellers” on Amazon Japan. But these milk brands are also the most expensive.

For mothers with toddlers, Meiji Step and Wakodo Gun Gun seems to be the popular choice. My Japanese friend used Meiji formula milk for her son since his birth with no issues. She also said it was the only milk that her baby will drink.

How to Read Labels in Japanese Formula Milk

  • ⽣生後⽉月齢 – baby’s age
  • カ⽉月 – months
  • 平均体重- average weight
  • 1⽇日の回数 – daily intake
  • スプーン – spoon
  • できあがり量量 – water amount

For stick packaging, look for:

  • スティックパック – stick pack

It’s easy to spot stick packaging though. They’re always in a box.

How to Prepare Japanese Formula Milk

Almost all Japanese formula milk has the same instructions for preparation. Here are the typical instructions:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly and make sure your hands are dry.
  2. Add the milk powder to the baby bottle.
  3. Put 100ml hot water in the baby bottle.
  4. Swirl the bottle until the milk powder is dissolved. Do not shake! Shaking will
    form bubbles and it will make it difficult to see the water level.
  5. Dilute distilled or purified cold water to the bottle.
  6. You can shake it this time.
  7. Test the temperature of the milk before feeding the baby.
  8. Consume within 2 hours.

Truth to be told, I never really followed the adding the hot water and cold water step. I mean, who has time for that? I use mostly room temperature water and have no problems with milk solvability at all. And guess what, she’s still alive and kicking today.

What is the Best Formula Milk in Japan?

I don’t think this question shouldn’t really exist, because every baby is different. The formula milk that works for my baby or other mother’s baby might not work for yours.

Ultimately, the “best” formula will always be the one your son/daughter will actually drink.

Just remember that if you’re only briefly traveling to Japan and run out of the formula, buy the stick packets or the small can first to see how well your baby will react to it. That way, should the milk not work out, you can just toss it and switch to another brand.

Finally, the best place to buy formula milk is in drugstores or MEGA Don Quijote stores, which are widely available throughout Japan.

Personally, I like Welcia and Create SD drug stores because they always have a wide selection of formula milk. But these stores are popular in smaller suburban areas.

In popular cities like Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto, Matsumoto Kiyoshi drugstore and MEGA Don Quijote are my next favorite.