My Japan: A Trip to the Store

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A photo essay of a trip for groceries in Yokohama.

Submitted: November 03, 2009

A A A | A A A

Submitted: November 03, 2009



A few months ago in January, 2009 I had the privilege of returning to Japan for the first time in over five years. I was there for three and a half weeks and took almost 2000 photos during my stay. Now I would like to share some of my pics and stories with you here. Specifically to use my images and words so that you (the reader) may experience as much as possible (without buying a plane ticket) what it is really like to go to and shop at a typical grocery store in Yokohama, Japan.

One-hundred percent of the pictures in this article were taken by myself but let it be said that I was very road weary when I took these shots, jet lagged and run ragged to the bone; the examples represented are not my most polished work by any stretch, but they do convey the information I originally intended and will give you a good idea of what's going on.

Now if I may I would like to invite you to accompany myself and my wife (hereafter referred to as E) as we take a long walk to a Yokohama supermarket on a Sunday afternoon...
(NOTE:The max pic size I used for this piece was 1024 pixels wide, and looks best if you extend your browser window beyond the borders of the photo below)

Our journey begins here. As close to Leave-It-To-Beaverland as you can get in Japan. My father-in-law is a self employed stock broker whose done quite well for himself and lives in a pretty spiffy neighborhood populated with high level businessmen, doctors, and lawyers and the like.

His house is located a few minutes walk from Yayodai station and about 20 minutes by train outside of Yokohama Station. For the last three weeks this is where E and I have been staying and believe me it's not as big as it looks, literally the walls are paper thin. As stated earlier it's early Sunday afternoon and E and I are both pretty exhausted. This hasn't been one of those lay around and do nothing kind of vacations, we've crammed everyday with as much activity as possible and by this time it's taken it's toll. In all honesty the thing I wanted most from the world is to take a long nap, however E's mom and dad are both home, and it's one of the few times during the week that they can be together all day. So E and I both thought it would be a good idea to take a walk to a particular store E used to goto as a kid and give a few hours to E's folks so they can have some precious time to themselves.

The particular store in which we are headed is located about four and a half kilometers (3 miles) from her parents house, and it's a little after twelve o'clock as step out the front door.


"Little boxes on the hillside..." For about a mile all of the streets look like they do in the pic above. Notice how small all of the 'driveways' and how crammed together the houses are. Even so this is still a seven figure neighborhood.

Since the parking spaces are so tiny the rule of thumb when actually parking your vehicle is to 'take your time, and do it right the first time.' People will almost always wait patiently even if it takes a couple of extra seconds to perform the act correctly. However when mistakes are made and for some reason you inconvenience everyone for a second time that is when tempers flare. Although these types of incidents are rare, sometimes road rage can get the better of certain individuals and they may actually honk their horn. Twice even.

Shrines like those seen above are everywhere in Japan. They represent a 'good intention' towards any local spirit who may happen to reside in the area.

After walking in the residential neighborhoods for a while we finally came out on the main road seen above. This street is a somewhat decent example of what you'll see, there are no marked sidewalks. Cars, bikes and pedestrians all have an understanding that they have to share space and (amazingly) act accordingly and even cordially.

Because surface area is at a premium speeds are always clearly posted and strictly enforced. Like many of the rules here they are meant be obeyed to the letter and fines are very steep for breaking even minor traffic laws. Remember leady it's thirty kilometers per hour too.

Right: Both doggy style and the color blue are prohibited. Left: it's 40kph and it is also a blue free zone.

Men in street signs always wear hats.

This is what all street signs would look like if John Wayne ruled the world.

Even the kids have hats and girls have bows.

Ambulances are designed to take up as little space as possible.

As are police cars.

The sign reads, 'If your dog even thinks about pissing on this hydrant a mechanical arm will zap the offending parts with a taser. Thank you."

This is definitely a cool house. Something like this costs millions, and still you have your neighbors looking over your shoulder.

I told you the parking spaces were small but this is ridiculous. I gotta hand it to this guy, there wasn't one scratch on that pristine little car anywhere.
Was this car custom made for this space?

You couldn't slide a piece of rice paper between the car's side and that abrasive brick wall. E got mad at me for taking these pics, thought it was an invasion of privacy, but I don't care this was just too good to pass up. The side-view mirrors are folded in so I can't see but I bet they have fish eye mirrors to help guide their way. If I had been alone I would have knocked on the door (only two quick persistent little taps in Japan) and asked whoever it was that performs this minor miracle some questions, but E wouldn't have any of it, which basically meant neither would I.

Japan is a land built upon convenience. Meaning it has more vending machines per capita than any other place in the world, about one per 8 people. They are located everywhere and there's at least one on every street corner. It's great because if you're ever thirsty you're never very far away from hot or cool liquid refreshment. It's also nice because you can actually purchase tea without sugar here, my preferred way of drinking it. The prices are a little steep, ranging from 100Y ($1.10) to 150Y ($1.65) but it's sure nice to know that you will never be of thirst in the land of the rising sun. The blue labels below the cans mean the drink is cold, the red means it's hot (and they do mean hot, none of this old lady spilling McDonald's coffee crap over there).
A close-up of some of the hot (red labeled) drinks you can expect to find at a typical vending machine. Love 'American Coffee.'

Remeber what I said about Japan being built upon convenience? While traveling throughout the country there are three basic ways you can pay for a drink or snack at almost any vending unit. Your first option is to use coins, which are more prevalently used here than in the States. The second option is to insert paper money, in this case a 1000Y note which represents about $11 at the time of this trip. The final option, and the coolest, is do you see that black scanner with the four red 7's above it? If you wave your cell phone in front of that scanner your cell phone bill will automatically be charged for the price of whatever it is your buying.

I thought this Pepsi can was rather interesting.

Poor Tommy Lee Jones, looks like he is having a Lost in Translation moment doesn't it? This image was plastered everywhere on many of the vending machines that Boss owns. Boss being sort of the equivalent of Pepsi Co. in the States.

After quenching our thirst with a tasty beverages I look up and see a typical park. Typical meaning that 90% of the available area is reserved for baseball. I love how home plate is located directly above an underground road. So what happens if you foul hard to right field? Many a broken windshield I imagine.

Looking past the park I see our destination for the first time, the store we are headed too is the building with the green roof.

This type of housing is everywhere and there is still not enough of it.
There was a vertibale gold rush to get into these units which go for about $1600 a pop. This will rent you an all in one studio apartment that is probably smaller than your bedroom. This high cost keeps many unmarried Japanese youth living at home with their parents well into their 20's and 30's. It is also extremely common to dry your clothes here; why pay for very costly electricity when they will get just as dry for free? The little white dots are satellite dishes.

Since the store is right next to a small train station, there will be no parking available for your car. However if you ride a scooter they've got you covered. (For this shot I used the side railing as sort of a make shift tripod, didn't really work out so well compositionally, but you get the idea.)

Bikes are welcome too. If you look closely you'll see that most of these are either barely locked or not locked at all. I mean the guy with the black Navara only has only that crappy chain 'protecting' his ride. It's not even attached to anything! In America we would call this 'good groceries.' (Same damnable railing!)

Finally we're here! Pretty typical entrance to a pretty typical store called appropriately enough Life. Shall we go inside...

However before you actually step into the building there is usually a place to put your wet and messy umbrella.

Another thing that has always amazed me about Japan is how little litter you see on the streets. One reason is that it is considered extremely rude and only done by people of 'low character' but another factor is there is usually some sort of trash receptacle not too far away. When I was last here 5 years ago recycling was pretty much nonexistent, I was happy to see things had changed a bit.

As we head inside there was a Coke bottle sitting on top of one of the trash receptacles. Didn't seem right to have a pic of a Pepsi can without including this one. Besides it's so 'refreshing and uplifting.'

Before shopping, it is always wise to first grab a shopping cart, this is pretty much what every cart I've ever seen here looks like

Now that I have my shopping cart I look over to my left and the first thing I see is 'ye old liquor shop!'

Hmmm... do I want the 57,000Y ($63) bottle of sake?

Or maybe some smooth Suntory blended whiskey for only 1344Y ($16).

Or do I want the 600y ($7.50) light lager or the 1100y ($13.50) light lager. Sheesh these prices are worse than B.C.

Now that I'm done with the liquor shop I think I'll head out to the produce section. The bags of potatoes and onions cost 100Y ($1.10) apiece. The emergency exits are marked buy the green 'running man sign' in the background.

Mmmm... Plastic broccoli good. Almost every item you buy here has (unnecessary) packaging of some sort.

Japanese vendors love to give you a choice. Do you want the crappy strawberries for 398Y ($4.40)? Or the better quality ones for 498y ($5.50)?

I actually took this picture at another store but I just wanted to show how the price just keeps going right on up. The strawberries on the right cost 2625Y ($30) while the ones on the left had better give me nine cavities after my first bite for 3675Y ($41). That's $3.50 per strawberry!

More wasteful packaging and you get 5 bananas for 100Y ($1.10)

A cantaloupe will cost you a fist full of yen. These are actually the cheapest cantaloupes I have ever seen here. The one's on the bottom shelf cost 2980Y ($33) and the ones on the top with the sheik toilet-paper wrap costs 4200Y ($46). (If I do any more articles like this I show you examples that cost more than twice as much as these bargains.)

I think only Hobbits love mushrooms more than Japanese. I counted nine different varieties.

Now that I've checked out all the vegetables lets go to the aisles next.

Chips! I love chips, and so do the Japanese so I'll think I'll start here. They have almost as many varieties as they do back home. They usually cost between 100Y ($1.10) and 170Y($2).

Chips are sold in smaller bags and offer such varieties as shrimp, curry, corn, and kimchi flavors.

This particular flavor is seaweed and boy are they good. E and I get these all the time at a Japanese store called Uwajimaya back home in Oregon. Here 138Y ($1.70) will get you 68 grams (2.75 oz) of these delectable treats. (Notice the liquid crystal price display, many stores in Japan now have their wares priced this way. Instead of stickers, if you want to change the price you just enter the information via the computer. I wonder if they change prices on items during certain parts of the day? Wouldn't it be convenient for them if they could raise the prices of (for example) a box of cereal and milk a few yen in the morning when more people might be prone to purchasing them?)

And more chips.

Pringles have also found their way across the big pond. At 128Y ($1.50) per tiny package I won't be eating too many and will be choosing the local varieties instead.

Nearby were the green tea flavored Kit-Kats for 157Y ($1.90).

Or would you prefer a Kit-Kat Kake for 840Y ($9. 25)? And speaking of sweets...

One of my favorite stops, the candy aisle!

I see Snickers is well represented. For 120Y ($1.40) you can be 'satisfied.'

As is the freshmaker! 90y= $1

Bubblelicious too. 98y= $1.10

A little closer look at some of the what's available in the native varieties.

This whole aisle is devoted to curry.

The died noodle soup aisle.

It's good to know that if you missed the liquor store in front and also need to buy dog food you can save time by picking up 3 liters (1.25 gallons!) of sake next to an end-cap for only 1950Y ($22).

310Y ($3.60) for a thimble full of Hershey's syrup?

If you ever want to get your Ritz or Oreo on they got you covered for 100Y ($1.10).

Cooking oil here costs triple what I pay back home. 498Y = $5.50

Dried squid.

Buying a little peanut butter here will 'spread' your wallet thin. I bet you're crackng up right now. 498Y = $5.50

A little bit of Nescafe will cost you 998Y ($11).

Who doesn't love Home Made Cake? This bag looks like it costs about 1Y per teeny chip. 228Y = $2.60

Some of the available prepared foods.
Some more of the prepared foods.

Chicken yakitori sticks for $1.15.

... and for an additional 295Y ($3.30) you can wash them down with a Welch's 100...

...or something else.

Moving ahead to the refrigerated section I spy one of the most disgusting foods in existence; natto. Basically natto is fermented (rotten) soy beans, it has the viscosity of warm mucus and smells worse than old reeking socks. E loves this stuff and is polite enough to warn me when she's eating it so I know not to come in the room. She likes the kimchi flavored kind which combines the aromatic essences of rotten milk and dog turds.

Shooting pics in a shopping market is a nightmare. The glare problems are impossible to resolve and I can't use my flash because I don't want to disturb the other shoppers (or get kicked out). Sometimes you just have to take what you can get.

My favorite. Ice cream!



A few flavors you might not be familiar with. Green tea and rich milk are my favorites. Also that crispy sandwich at the bottom is awesome, sort of like eating an inside out ice cream cone that's all wrapped up in a thin, crispy and outrageously tasty cooky shell.

One of the few people who would let me take his pic. Let's see what kind of fish they have?

This squid was swimming in the ocean in the morning and on a dinner plate by the evening.

Whatever these are they look like Poseidon's pubes and cost about $4.

Half a king crab will set you back 3500Y ($38.50).

Not a bad deal on the scallops though at 500Y ($5.50).

Pretty good sized shrimp for about $22.

My mother-in-law cooks these all the time, they taste great and are served with a mild broth but they stink up the house when she fries them.

These portions look pretty small by American standards. (But then again what isn't?)

Can I get mine with extra tentacles? 418Y = $4.60
About a 6 oz. portion of salmon is $4.50.

Two pieces of... whatever this is will cost you $4.75.

For $4.40 you can buy about 4 bites of tuna or $1.10 per bite.

A couple of chunks of this kind of tuna will cost you between $5.30 and $6.80.

This eel will make your wallet $13 lighter. It's a bit of an acquired taste, the texture is really smooshy which turns a lot of people off but I love it love it love it!
This squid costs $4.40 and can be served with wasabi and soy sauce. The same in the States would cost you twice as much and not be as good.

This isn't sashimi, it's for nabe (pronounced NA-BAY), you take all of the ingredients and boil them in broth inside a special pot that cooks your food right at the dinner table. It's delicious and can offer a cheap meal by Japanese standards at only 398Y or $4.40 per person. All you need is a bowl of plain steamed rice and some ocha and you're good to go!

This is how my mother-in-law makes her nabe.

... Back to shoppin'. This sashimi looks pretty dang fresh and tasty and reasonably priced at only 680Y ($7.50). The same mayonnaise and avocado concoctions back in States will cost you about the same.

You don't see all of the giants chunks of red meat over here like you do back home. The portions are small, expensive, and usually delicious. I've been hard pressed to find meat that is as beautifully marbled and flavorful as I what I can find here. Look at the meat above, it's magnificent, but also costs 1050Y ($11.60) for 100 grams (3.5 ounces) making this steak $53 per pound!

Yet another fine example of the beautiful marbling you can get here. This is priced a bit more reasonable at 980Y ($10.80) for 120 grams (4.2 ounces) making it only abou $41 per pound.

At 1260Y ($14) per 100 grams (3.5 ounces) this costs $64 per pound.

This is the grand champion. For 2520Y or $28 you can purchase 170 grams ( a nick more than 6 ounces) of what you see above which equates to $75 per pound. To have meat of this quality available to the public like this amazes me. If I want something similar I have to drive to a small ma and pa butcher 30 miles away or buy through a wholesaler. If you goto the nearby Ginza district you can pay more than $300 per pound for super premium Kobe beef which only produces between 3000-4000 cattle per year. No wonder the only fat you ever see here is on the meat, and not on the people.

I tell anyone who asks the best fajita I've ever eaten is in Japan, the reason why is because outstanding product like this is so widely available. Even if you do have to fill out a credit app to order dinner for two.

Next to the small meat section there was a video rental store attached to the main market so I had to check it out.

Looks pretty normal except the aisles are a little narrow, the shelves a little high, and all the posters are written in Japanese.

Already rented 'em.

They also sell Manga comics.

Lots of Manga comics!

Manga overload!!!

They also have video games...

... and DVD's. Look at the price on these! From left to right they cost $50, $50, and $22 respectively.

Hey everyone check this out! We're definitely goin' in here. Oh wait.... E just reminded me that kids might read this article so we can't go into the adult section. Sorry.
If you missed the liquor store in the front or the aisle sake you can still grab a cold one in the beer aisle on the other end of the store.

Did I mention that this particular store is run by the Catholic church? Just kiddin'...

Almost always when you are in a Japanese grocery the person who will check you out will dress like the woman pictured above. The uniform colors may change from place to place but pretty much if you are a 'check out girl' (I've never seen a man work this position) this is what you wear. To be honest this picture was taken at another location on a another day. Again one of the few people who would let their picture be taken.

Regrettably I didn't take a pic of the check out stand, itself. I don't know what the hell I was thinking but let me assure you they are about like they are in the States, but just a wee bit smaller.

Also when in Japan you bag your own groceries. At the end of the check stands thre are these little booths that provide you with plastic (only!) bags. Typically the average urban Japanese will pass at least one market while walking from the train station to their dwelling, so it's very convenient to make a quick stop and you don't need to stock up like in the States.

Then once your groceries are packed it's time to go...

... We forgot the bread! Relax... in Japan there are many times many small bakeries like the one pictured above. They always have such a wonderful smell. Since they only specialize in making great bread practically every slice here is out of this world delicious.

They'll even cut the ends off for you! The only problem is that you have to pay for it. The loaf above costs almost 5 bucks.

But in exchange for the high price you do get quality. The small loaf pictured above costs a little over 4 dollars and tastes better than it looks.

(Drooling)... but almost $3 apiece.

Another beautiful loaf of bread that costs about $5.30. Which do you think tastes better, something made by hand on premises or something massed produced and shipped in?

Now that we're finished shopping let me introduce you to a real treat, Mister Donut. These in my opinion are the best donuts anywhere on earth. They are made from scratch with basic natural ingredients everyday. No corn syrup either, only sugar.

These are no mere donuts, they are very light and airy almost like a croissant and are just sweet enough without it being overpowering. When Japanese visit America they are usually appalled by how sugared our confections are. By not over emphasizing the sweetness, other flavors are allowed to come through like butter, cream, and chocolate. Absolutely delicious.

My eyes are hurting right now looking at the pic above. If you know how good these are, and are not in Japan, then your eyes are hurting too. These I think are my favorite, whoever thought of the light whipped filling was a culinary genius.

And while we munch on our donuts and drink green tea let's recharge our cell phones. For 200 Y ($2.20) the gizmo pictured above will fully recharge any make of cell in twenty minutes.

Well now that we've finished our snack it's time to go back home. Just in case you missed the liquor store, aisle sake, or the additional beer aisles you can always grab a cold one from many of the open air beer vending machines that are found sporadically though out the country. Last time I was here anyone with enough yen could buy one. Now all the machines require drivers licenses for purchase. The legal age is 20, but it's still barely enforced.

It's 20 to smoke too, and if cigarettes are you thing then you'll be glad to know that open air cigarette machine are quite common. I don't smoke cigs, but as the saying goes 'When in Rome...'. So I think I'll have E fork over her government i.d. and I'll grab a pack for the long walk home. That way when I get back I too can make a...

' impact.'

Anyway THANK YOU all very much for reading my little experiment here. I hope you enjoyed it as I have certainly enjoyed writing and sharing my personal pics with all of you.

My Japan: Lost at Night



© Copyright 2020 Joe Skriv. All rights reserved.

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