My First Grocery Shopping Experience in Japan

Three weeks since I started teaching English in Japan, I spent three weeks living off of Bento Boxes, Family Mart snacks and donuts. Then it finally hit me- I need to cook! I was avoiding the inevitable- buying groceries. Or as I call it, The 2 hour Grocery Game. Because that’s what it felt like, a game. I knew what I wanted to buy, but because I’m a level zero in the Japanese language. Well, you can imagine what that was like! The easiest milk to spot was almond milk because it had a big almond on the cover. I still don’t know any Japanese cow milk products!

Here’ some advice I have for first time grocery shopping in Japan!

Find a supermarket withing walking distance of where you live!

This doesn’t apply to you if you have a car. The rest of us train commuters on the other hand. Unless you are Hulk 2.0, there’s no way you can station hop with all your grocery bags. It’s much easier to shop close to home. I also highly recommend not doing all your shopping at once! Or else you’ll have painful arms (like me) for a week. There’s no fun in carrying 5 bags full of food alone, on a 10 minute walk home!

The price you see isn’t the price you pay

Now, as a South African, we only have one price on our price tags. In Japan there’s two. Ignore the one in big writing and focus on the tiny one- because it include taxes!!! If you’re like me and shop with a calculator at hand you’ll get a bit of a shock at the till when the numbers seem to not add up!

Try know some Japanese words for the foods you want

I guarantee you, first trip will be awesome until you spend 30 mins trying to figure out which black bottle is soy sauce. I stood hopelessly, trying to summon the Asian Master within, trying so hard to read the Kanji with zero luck. Eventually I googled soy sauce. Knowing some of your favourite foods in Japanese will seriously cut down your shopping time.

Grocery shopping in Japan is quite an experience, but can be quite daunting. People are very friendly and always keen to help- don’t be afraid to ask! Translator apps like Google Translate can be life savers, especially the camera function- it does wonders while shopping! With translating at your finger tips, and well rested arms, you should be okay! Also, take the time to get yourself a treat every now and then and by now and then I mean every day!

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