Getting groceries in Japan has been different! I only went grocery shopping occasionally in Dubai, but even though some things were different, everything was still written in English and the carts, checkout lines, etc. were all pretty much the same as in the US. It is SO different here, but for the most part I’ve gotten used to it… I still look forward to being able to understand all the signs and labels when we get back to the US!
If you get to the grocery store before it opens, a few people will be waiting in their cars, but most will be lined up outside… because it’s Japan and you line up neatly for everything.
I’ve found that right at opening is the best time to come, despite the line. Later in the day it can be a zoo (and one of the grocery stores in our area is ALWAYS crazy, so I pay a bit more for my food to go to the one that’s less crowded and smaller, so less overwhelming in general).
Then you go inside and get your cart frame, and load the frame up with baskets. Some carts will fit 3 baskets, but most fit 2, especially if you have a kid to put in there, too. I like how much closer S is to me in the Japanese carts, but unfortunately she’s also closer to the food, which makes it more of a challenge to get groceries with her.
The carts aren’t as easy to maneuver as they look… the wheels get a little squirrely sometimes and you occasionally have to push more sideways than forward. But they are lighterweight and easier than a loaded American cart (but you also can’t load these quite as much!).
Then you get all your food and take it to the checkout lane (where there are almost always lines, no matter how early you go). The cashiers talk a lot and from what my Japanese friends have said it’s mostly politeness that I don’t have to respond to at all. Thankfully “card” is “cardo” and the numbers look the same so usually there are no communication issues (except for the time I tried to buy 3 cartons of eggs that were on sale, not knowing they were 1/family when on sale).
You put your baskets up on the counter and they unload the food from your baskets into the baskets that you take outside (different colors!). They give you bags and you put the baskets back on your cart (though being pregnant sometimes they do all the loading/unloading for me), pay (some stores only take cash, but more and more are starting to take card), and go over to the bagging area to bag your own groceries.
Speaking of bagging/packaging… one of the things I hate here is how packaged everything is. It’s nice because you know exactly how much you’ll pay for what you’re getting, since most things are sold by package/number, not by weight, but all the plastic, cardboard, and styrofoam drives me crazy (see the peaches in above picture). And then if I don’t bag things that are sold individually (even if I’m just getting one or two), they often glare at me and bag them in little bags when I’m checking out.
Prices: when we first got here, I was shopping mostly at the department store grocery store, since it was closest. But prices were OUTRAGEOUS. When my Japanese friend told me where to go, most of the prices changed from expensive to normal or even cheap. Generally we pay about (with a 100Y to $1 exchange rate, so usually stuff is a bit cheaper than this)
$2 for 10 eggs (with beautiful orange yolks)
$1 – 1.50 for a head of lettuce (the best lettuce ever)
$1 per head of cabbage (so crisp!)
$.88 for 4-5 bananas
$1.50 for 3 huge, delicious carrots
$3 for 4 tomatoes
$.30 per cucumber
$1.20 per daikon radish
$.98 per avocado (usually overripe…)
$1 per chicken breast (they like the dark meat here, so chicken breasts are so cheap!)
$3 per pound of ground beef (though I’m not entirely sure it’s 100% ground beef; I think it’s mixed with pork)
$1.78 per satsuma (Japanese sweet potato)
Apples often cost $1+ apiece. Their fruit tends to be very expensive, especially melons, peaches, and berries – but their watermelons, nectarines, oranges, and apples are SO good we splurge pretty often! I haven’t been impressed with their berries and peaches, but most of the berries we ate in the US were fresh picked/home grown in the Pacific Northwest. The pack of watermelon in the picture cost about $3.98 and was the same price as the uncut wedges (as far as I could tell by comparing kanji and weight).
Otherwise, most of the produce here has been absolutely amazing. I don’t know if I’ll be able to eat carrots anywhere else again!
All the food in the above picture cost about 5,000Y/$50.
Almost every week we get a snack to eat right after getting groceries (since the store opens just before S’s usual snack time), and/or something new to try at home. It’s fun to have so many different, new things to try, though we don’t always know what we’re getting when we buy it.
Usually I’ve been able to find everything I need without trouble, whether from asking someone via Google Translate, knowing the Japanese word myself, or just wandering around until I find it. But that wasn’t the case when I tried to find miso paste… a Japanese food, that I knew the Japanese word for (well, not the paste part).
I asked the worker “miso?” and he just looked at me with a blank stare so I said “miso paste?” and used my hands to demonstrate the container. Finally we communicated “soup,” and he took me to the cup noodles aisle. So I tried again. “Paste…” “Concentrate?” I said “yes!” and got really excited… but he took me to the Campbell’s Soup cans and left pretty quickly. I never did find it that day, but my friend heard the story and gave me some the next time I saw her, and then the next time I went to the grocery store I came across it by accident. So now we can satisfy S’s miso soup love at home!