After 7 months living here in Tokyo, going to the supermarket has started to feel fairly routine. I still have trouble identifying some products, and still haven’t found some of the things I would like to buy, but I am getting used to the way it is done here in urban Tokyo.
This is a typical grocery store haul for me… And I mean “haul” since I have to carry it at least a kilometer back to our apartment. This is just under 3000 yen worth of groceries. I would have liked to have gotten a couple more things on this trip — a bag of rice, for example (another 2 kg for the bag I usually buy) — but I had reached the limit of what I could comfortably carry today. Believe me, I have gotten pretty good at judging! It’s not pleasant carrying an overloaded grocery bag all the way home during the hot Tokyo summer!
The stores are all fairly small — small neighborhood places. They have small shopping baskets that you carry through the aisles, or you can put that basket into a little cart to wheel around the store. No giant grocery carts here. The aisles are narrow. When you go through the checkout, they load your groceries into another basket. Then after you pay (cash preferred!) you take your basket to a table and pack your own grocery bags to carry home.
I have three “nearby” supermarkets (Su-pa-) that I regularly shop: two are about a kilometer away, and another is about 1.5 kilometers away. And… there are three more that I occasionally go to that are about 2K away. Just as in the US, there is no shortage of stores, it all just depends on what is most convenient. I shop different places depending on what I need to get. For the most part the prices are nearly the same, but I have found that one store or another will save me a few yen on certain things.
I have loyalty cards from some of these stores, so that I can accrue points toward future purchases, and as you can see in the photo, I now have a brand new reusable shopping bag! I brought 2 from home, but I like this new Hanamasa bag… I have found it is so much easier to carry groceries home with the reusable bag slung over my shoulder than to carry plastic bags in my hands. Plus… I can get more groceries in one trip. I have to shop 4 or 5 times per week anyway. I would rather not go to the store more than I have to.
Since most people in this urban area walk or ride bikes to the supermarket, products are packaged in much smaller sizes. Milk and juice come in 1 liter cartons, and eggs in 4 or 6 packs — although Hanamasa sells eggs in a 10-pack as well. Produce is all beautiful, but a bit pricey, and they will package much of it individually. Because of the small sizes, of course, you have to make several trips per week… and some people shop daily.
Even though we are learning Japanese, and I now can read both Hiragana and Katakana, I still have trouble reading the packaging. Most products are fairly obvious, but I still come home with some surprises now and then. There has been a bit of trial and error, and some experimentation, but most of the time I get the things I need.
We live — and eat — very simply here. No fuss. As I learn more about Japanese cuisine, and Japanese products, I expect to become a little more sophisticated with our diet here, but I think we are doing quite well considering how different it all is. And yes…we are still enjoying the adventure…