No matter where you go in the world it is always a lot of fun to visit a local supermarket. Although there are a lot of similarities, there are still some crazy things that you weren’t expecting. It is also cheaper and fresher than food from your local convenience store. Going to a Japanese supermarket（スーパーマーケット）is a great way to experience normal life in Japan.
Coming from the UK, I can say the most significant difference is the size of the supermarkets. Japanese people tend to shop more often about 3 to 4 times a week. Whereas in the UK most families stick to a weekly shop and some people only go to the supermarket once a month! You won’t be finding your large loaves of bread and liter cartons of ice-cream unless you go to Costco Japan.
Japanese grocery stores have unique special offers every day, so keep a lookout for leaflets of posters on the wall to see what is on sale. Everyone loves a bargain, so go in the morning if you don’t want to miss out on the deal.
These are the current largest supermarket chains in Osaka, Japan, at the moment:
- Life Corporation
- Izumiya Supermarket
- AEON Supermarket
- Super Tamade
- Mandai Supermarket
- Hankyu Oasis
- Takashimaya Department Store
The ZenPlus team went to their local supermarket and noted 6 of the craziest things about Japanese grocery stores.
6. Lack of frozen food
In the UK, there are aisles of freezers; there are even supermarkets that sell nothing but frozen meat, veg, and ready meals. In Japan, there is usually only one frozen aisle, and it is mostly microwavable bento ingredients, frozen veg, and single icecreams. Japan is a fan of fresh over frozen food, which helps to explain why they need to their local supermarket more. Also, Japanese houses are smaller than those in the west, and they don’t have such large freezers.
5. Fruit & Vegetables
Japanese fruit and vegetables are costly compared to the UK, but there is a good reason for the higher price. Most Japanese fruit and veg is grown locally, and the farmers are paid at a reasonable price. Although some specialized fruit stores and department stores have special strawberries for about $100, you will be relieved to hear that they are not that dear at local supermarkets. One of the most significant differences I have noticed is that the price is for one piece of fruit instead of weighing your fruit and calculating the cost. However, similarly to the UK, bagged fruit and vegetables are priced for the whole bag or container.
4. Bagging Stations
The first time I went to a grocery store in Japan, I was utterly lost when the cashier was placing my items from one basket into another. Once everything was paid for, I looked in front of me and saw everyone else was packing their items into plastic bags at these small stations.
For those going to a Japanese supermarket in Japan, here is how you’re supposed to pack your shopping bags. If you bought any meat with a sauce that may leak grab a smaller plastic bag from in front of you and place it the smaller bag and then put those bags into bigger bags. You might want to bring your own shopping bags because some supermarkets charge 5 JPY per plastic bag. Also, there are no bags for life in Japan. I always found it strange that Japan doesn’t bag your groceries considering their insane customer service.
3. Baskets as carts
It’s quite funny seeing everyone wheeling around these tiny shopping carts with baskets on top. Yes, there are no massive grocery carts, and you don’t need to put money into the grocery cart to use it. When grabbing one of these carts, don’t forget to grab a basket so that you can put your groceries inside.
With these baskets, you don’t need to empty your cart and put every single item on a conveyer belt; instead, the cashier does everything for you.
2. Bento & Late-night Discounts
Depending on your local supermarket, the timing is different, but they usually start putting discount labels on meat, bento, fruit, and sweets around 7 o’clock. Lots of Japanese business people and students grab these bargains every night for their evening meal. If you’re looking for a bargain hover around the meat and bento area around this time, and you’ll soon find staff labeling the fresh food.
In the UK, I would only ever see this kind of discount on almost uneatable canned goods and pet food that I never needed. However, in Japan, I’m sure you will find something that you like with a discount sticker on it from rice balls to green tea.
1. Animal Self Service Stations
There are new self-service stations that make animal sounds when you swipe the barcode of your food. From cats to dinosaurs, there is a sound for everyone. Watch the video below to hear a meow every time an item is scanned.
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