It is no surprise that just like pretty much anything else in Tokyo, one of the most expensive cities in the world, grocery shopping can be incredibly expensive. If like me, you’re used to the sprawling Asian supermarkets in America where twenty dollars can get you a week’s worth of groceries, the prices here in Tokyo might come as a slight shock.
It’s not so much that everything is expensive, but more that for the same price as back in your usual supermarket, you get much less food. Where four dollars might get you six chicken thighs in America, you might get only three here.
There are, however, some tips and tricks to help you get the most bang for your buck here.
1. Shop one hour before closing time
The Japanese value quality and freshness above all else, hence they try to sell everything by the end of the day, especially cooked items. Such products are often marked down by 10-20, or even 50% by the end of the day. Pick up bento lunches or even sashimi platters. Typically, supermarkets start discounting their items one hour before closing time. Arrive too late and you’ll be left with slim pickings.
2. Look out for the discounted stickers
Yes, Japan is home to the ¥100,000 ($928) bunches of grapes and wooden boxes of four pears lovingly encased in satin padding, but it is possible to buy cheap fresh produce here. Fruits and vegetables that are slightly old and dented can be majorly discounted. Take, for example, this huge bag of not-so-pristine carrots I picked up for ¥248 ($2.10). Whenever I see meat on sale, I buy it to build up my freezer stash.
3. Adopt a mentality of buying less
Having a grocery cart filled to the brim can be especially satisfying, but it can also lead to a lot of unnecessary wastage. If you’ve ever had the experience of buying an entire head of lettuce and having half of it sadly wilting at the back of the refrigerator, it’s possible to buy half or even a quarter of a head here. Daily grocery shopping is also not uncommon here as the Japanese enjoy buying and eating foods at their freshest.