Grocery Shopping in Japan

This is a topic I get asked about pretty frequently. It was also one of my main concerns before coming overseas. I was really concerned that I wouldn't be able to read anything, which would make it very hard to purchase ingredients to cook at home or to read instruction labels. I was also concerned because I knew that Japanese people have very different diets then we do in America, and I wouldn't be able to find "normal food."

Well all of the above turned out to be true. However, grocery shopping here is do-able, and its easier then I expected it to be. Dont get my wrong, their grocery stores are extremely different then ours. Especially in terms of content. I find so many things in Japanese grocery stores that you couldn't dream of finding in America. (and probably wouldn't want to).

At home, going grocery shopping is a mundane, easy, no-thinking activity. I imagine that is how it is for everyone else as well. I jump in my car, drive to the nearest store, grab a cart, fill it with however much I need without considering the weight or size of the load, pay with my credit card, and I am on my way. If I come across something new I want to try, cool! I can read the instructions, the ingredients, and the labels. I can tell if something is on sale. If a product is in a box, or some other type of packaging, no problem because I can read what is inside the box,can,bag, etc.

So all of the easy, no brainer things I just described, imagine the opposite of that. Thats what a trip to the store is like here in Japan. Ill walk you through my typical trip.

The store we shop it is called Mega Deal. It is a lot like Wal-Mart back in the US. A one stop shop for groceries, home goods, cleaning products, supplies, etc.

First stop, grab a shopping cart! Oh wait - they dont have those here. Those tiny baskets we use in America when we are grabbing things for 1 meal - thats how they do all of their shopping.

If you have an extra heavy load, you can get a rolling cart to set your tiny basket in. But don't you dare think about putting groceries in the cart itself. You will be corrected. 

Walking into a Japanese supermarket is goodbye organization, HELLO CHAOS. Not for the easily overwhelmed. 

Some sections are easy, and look similar to back home. Like below, the cheeses, yogurt, and bread section: 

The cereal:

And the chips!! We did not think we would find these in Japan.

But some sections are VERY different. Like the dried and packaged foods, which are mostly fish parts, or just actual dried fishes in a bag.

And the extravagant and overflowing instant ramen section:

The green tea section: 

The green tea candy section: (obviously this stuff is a favorite here)

Prepackaged meals AKA bento boxes are a big thing here. A large portion of the grocery store is dedicated to a huge variety of bentos and already prepared food to take out.

Of course, you can get fresh sushi:

Which brings us to the seafood section. I would say this is one of the main differences in an American grocery store and a Japanese grocery store. Obviously fresh fish is huge here, and they have so many more varieties then we do. This is the largest and most popular section in any grocery store. Also consider that this is an ordinary everyday grocery store. This is not a specialty seafood market. If you have an issue with seeing fish or meat in raw form, now may be a good time to stop reading. 

Rows and rows of fresh fish, some whole, some sliced, some living. 

Fresh, live clams:

Yep, those are octopus tentacles: 

Squid legs: 

I think these are dead? Who really knows. 

I am not sure what that is either. A jellyfish? I didn't know those were edible. 

Okay, enough fishies. Here is our favorite section: The import section! We can get pasta, pasta sauces, and taco seasoning! 

And finally, the produce. You would think everything would be easy and recognizable here. Wrong! Bonus points to anyone who can tell me what any of the following items are. 

They even buy fruits in veggies in a more raw form then we do. For example, if we want spinach, broccoli, or other greens we have to de-root it. 

Alright, done! About an hour and a half and 50 something dollars later, my small grocery trip is done. 

The cashier rings me up and sends me to the bagging station where you bag up your own groceries. 

Then I load up my bike and I am on my way! 

What do you think? Are you surprised by any of this? I am always shocked by how expensive groceries are here. I think I could get a lot more in America for $50.