INSIDE: A Guide to Japanese Supermarkets in Japan. Updated 2019.
High on my list of must-do activities when we travel is to visit a local supermarket.
It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you planning a family vacation, but there are a few reasons to add this family travel adventure to your own travel itinerary.
1. A local supermarket can help you save money when you travel.
We stock up on all the snacks and crackers, buy readymade meals for breakfast and lunch, buy fruit to take with us on our day trips, and buy the odd drink too.
2. We buy food souvenirs for our family and friends.
Foodie friends love a unusual bottle of sauce or local seasoning, kids love to try new types of candy, and bars of chocolate don’t last long. In fact, I’ve never met someone who doesn’t appreciate a gift of food from our travels.
3. We get an insight into neighbourhood life and hang out with the locals.
Visiting a supermarket is a guaranteed way to avoid the tourists but it’s also the best adventure for all of us.
The kids love to explore the candy aisle, and you can find Roam the Gnome and I scouring the Japanese food products shelves for locally made sauces, pastes, seasoning, pasta and rice we can use to replicate our favourite meals when we get home.
Of all the supermarkets in the world, Japanese supermarkets are the one we love best.
Read on to see why…
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- 1 A Basic Guide to Japanese Supermarkets
- 2 When does a Japanese supermarket open?
- 3 Japanese shopping carts
- 4 Grocery Shopping in Japan inside a Japanese Food Store
- 5 Navigate the Grocery Aisles in a Japanese Food Store
- 6 The Best Japanese Drinks in a Japanese Supermarket
- 7 Food souvenirs – Where to buy Japanese snacks in Tokyo?
- 8 What to buy at Japanese Grocery Store
- 9 World Schooling Lessons from a Japanese Store
- 10 How to Pay at a Japanese Grocery Store
- 11 The Best Japanese Supermarket Chains
- 12 Other Supermarkets in Japan
- 13 Looking for More Fun Things to Do in Tokyo?
- 14 Subscribe
- 15 Bookmark Roam the Gnome
A Basic Guide to Japanese Supermarkets
A Japanese food supermarket is unique in that all the Japanese staff take pride in ensuring the whole Japanese grocery store is orderly, uncluttered, neat and tidy, and well kept with products in their right place. Stock levels are replenished during the day and staff do their best to be discreet, without getting in your way.
One of the first things we do when we arrive is check the ‘sale’ sections. They are often near the front of the store, or in the refrigerated sections.
This is an acceptable practice in Japan.
Popular Japanese supermarkets have a steady rotation of customers all throughout the day. Everyone is looking for the freshest food possible, and any food that has been sitting untouched for a few hours is quickly marked down in preparation for the next lot of freshly made Japanese food to arrive.
This practice is a win for family travelers to Japan who adventure on a budget.
Visit a supermarket about an hour or two before it closes, and you’ll find a shrinking stack of ready-made bento boxes just waiting for you with price discounts between 50 – 75%. The supermarkets can’t sell this food the next day, so take advantage of the low price.
Most Japanese supermarkets are near public transport and they always have plenty of bicycle parking.
Do take your own shopping bags so you don’t have to pay for plastic ones.
When does a Japanese supermarket open?
Most Japanese supermarkets open around 10am (Japanese shops are late starters), and close around 9 or 10pm at night.
A big Japanese supermarket in Tokyo might stay open until midnight every day. It all depends on the location and the foot traffic. Seiyu is open 24 hours a day.
Japanese shopping carts
You’ll notice that the Japanese shopping carts can be remarkably different to the ones at home. Japanese people in both city and country areas of Japan tend to shop small and shop often to ensure the food they purchase is super fresh, and that they can carry it home. This means they don’t need monstrous sized shopping trolleys.
The Japanese shopping carts are built on a smaller frame. Sometimes they take one medium sized shopping basket. Others are double decker sized, with space for two shopping baskets.
It’s also not uncommon to need a 100 yen coin to unlock the cart. (You collect your coin back when you return it.)
Grocery Shopping in Japan inside a Japanese Food Store
- What are Japanese supermarkets like?
- Why are vegetables and fruits so expensive in Japan?
- What ready to eat vegetarian food can I buy in a supermarket in Tokyo?
- What time do the supermarkets open in Japan?
These are some of the questions people ask about Japanese supermarkets in Japan. We’ll try to answer them all.
Japanese grocery stores in Japan are similar in look and layout to supermarkets in Australia, the UK and America. The biggest difference is that a Japanese supermarket has a MUCH bigger footprint of space saved for freshly prepared food including authentic bento boxes.
They stock ready-to-eat food too.
At a Japanese food store, you’ll find:
- Hot (and cold) udon noodles, tendon, and soba noodle dishes
- Japanese fried chicken (kaarage)
- Japanese curry
- Vegetable tempura
- Regional dishes of Japan.
Keep an eye out for Japanese salads, rice dishes, onigiri rice balls, supermarket sushi, sandwiches, bread and bakery goods.
Strangely enough, you won’t have to look far to find a freshly boiled ready-to-eat egg either.
When we visit a new supermarket in Japan, we start at one end of the shop near the entrance, and work our way up and down all the aisles so we don’t miss anything.
A Japanese market layout will include a fridge section for tofu, and that much-loved Japanese favourite, fermented soy beans (or natto).
Try it at least once. (But remember there’s no obligation to try it a second time.)
The fresh food section also has “osozai” Japanese side dishes. These traditional dishes have been prepared for customers to take home and eat for lunch or dinner, accompanied by rice and miso soup.
Osozai dishes include:
- Japanese potato salad
- Simmered seaweed salad – Hijiki nimono
- Tamago egg
- Marinated vegetables
- Dried daikon strips – Kiriboshi daikon
- Carrots and cucumbers
- Simmered Japanese vegetables or tofu – Nimono
- Fried fish cakes – Satsuma-age
- Boiled stewed greens
- Japanese pickles – Tsukemono
- Onigiri rice balls
- Other tasty rice dishes
These dishes are packaged in plastic take out containers ready to go. They offer convenience to busy Japanese families, and also visitors to Japan who want to buy a quick cheap meal to eat in their hotel at the end of a busy, exhausting day of travel fun.
For those who want to try it all, head to the fried foods zone.
Grab yourself a container or bag, and fill it with your favourites. My boys love the gooey sticky grilled chicken skewers (yakitori), vegetable tempura, creamy potato croquettes, and Japanese fried chicken. It’s a cheap fresh lunch option wherever we go.
What’s the best bento or food to get at a combini or supermarket in Japan in terms of value? You really can’t go wrong.
The Best Japanese Drinks in a Japanese Supermarket
A Japanese food store has at least one aisle full of Japanese drinks. We make a pact when we visit Japan to try one new Japanese drink every day, unlike at home where we mostly drink water, milk or tea.
Japanese drinks are a novelty, full of unique flavours and bottle shapes. If you thought a Japanese drink was cheap in a vending machine in Tokyo, you’ll be shocked at the price in a supermarket. They are even cheaper!
(I have NO idea how convenience stores in Australia and elsewhere charge $3.50 to $5 a drink. It’s highway robbery.)
READ MORE: The best Japanese drinks to try in Japan
Food souvenirs – Where to buy Japanese snacks in Tokyo?
A Japanese grocery store is the place to go if you want to buy Japanese food souvenirs from Japan in bulk. It’s much cheaper to buy Japanese snacks and Japanese candy in a Japanese supermarket than a convenience store in Japan. It’s worth the time to find one.
The selection of Japanese snacks and candy in a supermarket is mind blowing!
Don’t leave without trying my favourite sticky rice dessert from Japan. These mochi rice treats (also called daifuku) are filled with sweet red bean. Dango is another version of mochi on a stick, usually three balls in pink, white and green.
You can buy all the famous food souvenirs in Japan, such as Green Tea Kit Kats and Pocky Chocolate Sticks in all the different flavors for about 2/3 of the price elsewhere.
Our tip: Buy at least three extra bags of Japanese snacks than you were planning to. We bet you’ll have forgotten someone on your gift list, just like we’ve done in the past. If you haven’t, it’s a bonus. You’ll be happy you have this extra stash of Japanese treats to eat when you are feeling homesick for this gorgeous country.
We also buy a big bag or two of cheap Japanese Dagashi snacks such as the popular Umaibo corn snacks, and give these to each boys’ class teacher to share out among the kids. It’s a fun and tasty way to share a bit of Japanese culture with kids back home. We take home a special bar of Japanese chocolate for each teacher to enjoy at the end of a long, loud day too!
READ MORE: Wondering what snacks to buy in Tokyo? Read our List of the Best Japanese Snacks to buy from a Japanese supermarket
What to buy at Japanese Grocery Store
What should you buy when you go grocery shopping in Japan? It’s a question a lot of people ask. There’s so many things to buy in a Japan supermarket that if you go in blind, it can be overwhelming.
Here’s a guide on the traditional Japanese food stuffs we don’t leave without so we can make authentic Japanese food at home. You can use this guide to determine what to buy in Japanese supermarkets and what to leave behind!
(NB: Japanese food labels are a bit tricky. You might try Google translate to work out the Japanese language if you have a particular food allery or dislike.)
Find lots of Japanese food recipes and start cooking!
World Schooling Lessons from a Japanese Store
We like to do a price comparison on the items in the fruit, vegetables, dairy products, meat and fish sections of a supermarket to see if things are cheaper or more expensive than home. It’s eye-opening for the kids to see this kind of stuff and not take the abundance of meat and fresh seasonal fruit we have at home for granted.
The other place we spend considerable time is the seasonal food aisle.
This section changes regularly, providing the food and ingredients necessary for the food that Japanese people prepare and eat at Japanese festivals.
Depending on when visit a Japanese food shop , you will seasonal food ingredients for different festivals.
- Hanami dango dumplings, cherry blossom cookies, sakura mochi, cherry blossom rice balls, hot matcha green tea, chirashi sushi rice bowl dish and inari sushi pockets for Sakura Cherry Blossom viewing and park picnics,
- our favourite mochi rice cakes and a candied chestnuts & sweet potato dish Kuri Kinton for New Year
- tri-colored kushi dango (sweet sticky mochi on a stick) and special seasonal wagashi sweets for Kodomo no Hi Children’s Day, Hinamatsuri Girls Day
- Ikayaki grilled squid on a stick or taiyaki fried dough in a fish shape, filled with sweet red bean at Golden week.
The Tanabata Star festival is a gastronomical feast of takoyaki octopus balls, yakisoba noodles with pork and cabbage, okonomiyaki savory pancakes and yakitori chicken skewers.
How to Pay at a Japanese Grocery Store
When you’ve finished your grocery shopping at a Japanese food shop, head to the tills at the exit. Put your basket on the countertop for the cashier to do his or her job. They’ll transfer the groceries to a second basket.
You are expected to pack your own groceries, unlike many other countries. I see this as an opportunity to build community, friendship and good will with other human beings. It’s like the staff member and myself are on the same team, helping one another out instead of them working for me. It’s nice.
You can pay by card or cash at most city or regional supermarkets in Japan.
If you are paying with cash, do remember to put your money on the tray when it is offered, rather than hand your notes and coins to the cashier when it’s time to pay. This is seen as bad manners. Follow the lead of the person in front of you.
The Best Japanese Supermarket Chains
The best supermarket in Japan is the one closest to you! It’s that simple. Every Japanese supermarket chain is similar in nature, although size may vary.
If you want to know where to buy Japanese food products and go grocery shopping in Tokyo, search for these famous Japanese supermarket chains in your area. Type the name and your location into Google maps, and wait for directions.
Supermarkets in Tokyo
We list the best big supermarket in Tokyo and also our favourite cheap supermarket in Tokyo too. Find the best supermarket in Tokyo near you.
Other Supermarkets in Japan
You might not need a Tokyo grocery store but you may need a Japanese supermarket in Japan somewhere else.
Supermarkets in Osaka
You’ll find a wide range of Japanese supermarket chains, both big and small in Osaka.
Supermarkets in Kyoto
Fresco, Aeon, Life and Seijo Ishii all have supermarkets in the main shopping area of Kyoto.
Supermarkets in Hiroshima
Fresta and Yours are two of the main supermarkets in Hiroshima.
Convenience Stores in Japan
Not really a supermarket but a close second. A Japanese convenience store, or konbini as they are known, are the best small grocery stores in Japan. Our favourite is Family Mart because of the range of excellent budget friendly food to eat. Take a look at what you can find in Family Mart here.
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