“It’s cheaper to eat out every day in Japan than it is to cook at home”.
It’s a phrase that everyone has heard at one point or another when discussing shopping in Japan. And although ornamental fruit and square watermelons are fun to look at, if you’re on a budget, you may be shopping at the wrong store.
With an abundance of different supermarket chains offering various products and prices, it may be hard to find the perfect supermarket for your price range. Some upscale stores, like Queens Isetan, have tons of excellent imported goods and home comforts, making them an easy stop for many foreigners to shop at, but the price tag on these items also makes it hard to be a repeat customer (is that can of American brand kidney beans really worth that second mortgage?)
Those of us who have been cooking in Japan for a long time, however, know where to look at. The following is a list of the most affordable Japanese supermarkets we swear by.
With the catchphrase “everyday low price,” one would expect big things from OK Supermarket, and in this case, the store comes through.
Similar to Walmart in the range of items they stock — from homewares to pantry fillers and everything in between — this budget supermarket is a one-stop-shop for all your household needs. The range of fresh produce in OK is also wildly affordable. With meats, fish, produce and frozen food being sold for low prices, these stores’ size also ensures that they surely have those special mushrooms you were searching for. When all else fails, go to Ok Supermarket.
Stores: Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama. Find the closest to your neighborhood here.
Life is another popular supermarket chain that can be found all across Japan and have a similar feel to OK Supermarket. From fresh produce to bentos, Life Supermarket sells everything you need to cook a meal for yourself at home or chow down on a quick onigiri before jumping on the train to work. With rolling sales, the store can get quite busy around closing time where heavy price reductions on the fresh daily made items such as bentos begin. Life stores can be found almost everywhere.
Stores: Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Nara. Find the closest to your neighborhood here.
This supermarket chain is my personal favorite and probably the cheapest on the list in terms of fresh produce. BigA has insanely competitive prices on meat, selling 1kg of chicken breast for around ¥400. Some of their other amazing prices are 500g of tofu for ¥30 and a giant bag of beansprouts for ¥19. Add a few spices to these listed ingredients and you’re on your way to a healthy dinner.
BigA’s large fruit and vegetable section, while affordable, can be a little limiting in some stores with certain stores having a wider variety than others.
However, what this store occasionally lacks in vegetable selection they make up in snacks. All of the BigAs always have a pretty large snack selection. While the convenience store snack collections are great, you’re pretty much paying an arm and a leg for what you can get at BigA for a fraction of the price. This is a store that is run with the customer at mind, and as BigA is a 24/7 supermarket, there is no excuse not to get that weekly shop in.
Stores: Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Ibaraki. Find the closest to your neighborhood here.
Maruetsu has an extensive frozen food section that is perfect for anyone who lacks the kitchen space to make something from scratch. The second reason to love this chain is its fruit section — with affordable prices and a large variety of seasonal fruits, there is no reason to suffer a fruit diet of nothing but apples and bananas ever again. Large slices of melon for ¥100, seasonal grapes and cherries for ¥200-¥400 for a big family size pallet, this is a store that will surely save you from the monotony.
Stores: Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Ibaraki, Tochigi. Find the closest to your neighborhood here.
Gyomu Supermarket specializes in bulk buying. It sells everything from individually cut steaks, precut meats, full rump ready to be roasted to pantry items such as large bags of cereal, seaweed and tons of other products. The amazing deals and prices in Gyomu rival even BigA when you take in the sheer size of the items you can buy there. The downside for this store is that the fresh fruit and vegetable section isn’t as affordable as BigA or even Maruetsu, but for those who don’t care about fresh vegetables, Gyomu Super’s frozen vegetable section is insanely affordable.
The store is an easy option for anyone who wants to cook in batches, large families or those trying to meal prep for the week. While BigA does have 1kg of chicken for ¥400 Gyomu has that and more with hard to find meats, such as lamb sold for competitive prices.
Stores: Tokyo, Kanagawa, Fukushima, Kyoto, Aomori, Osaka, Hyogo, Niigata, Akita, Yamanashi, Saitama, Fukuoka, Chiba, Shimane, Kagawa, Tochigi, Shizuoka and more. Find the closest to your neighborhood here.
A few years back, Seiyu was a chain on the verge of collapse. Saved by Walmart, which bought it and still retains a 15% stake in the company, the supermarket brand is now one of the cleanest, best-stocked and best organized. You’ll find everything you need at the food section plus daily supplies, and depending on the store, even clothes, underwear and accessories. The prices are low (remember, Walmart owns it), but there are so many items on sale that you’ll need to watch for not to overbuy.
Stores: From Hokkaido through Kyushu. Find the closest to your neighborhood here.
Local Green Grocery
For those who still believe that vegetables and fruits are expensive in Japan, they clearly have never had the opportunity to visit their local greengrocer. Most of these stores do not come up on Google maps, so finding your local store might take a little adventuring (or ask a local). The treasures you’ll find there, however, are very much worth it.
These stores, typically found in shopping alleys or in residential areas, usually grow their own fruits and vegetables or are sourcing the vegetables from the local area. From giant heads of lettuce at ¥100 to daikons as big as one’s arm, there are some unbelievable deals you’ll find there.
When I was living in Kanagawa, I would buy potatoes at the local greengrocer, and only potatoes. I did this as they sold an insanely huge bag for around ¥100 and that wasn’t a deal I could walk away from. After a while of only buying potatoes, the obaachan running the store decided I needed to try “Japanese potatoes” and handed me a bag of mountain potatoes, taro, to try. I assumed this was her recommendation and she wanted me to pay for them but no, this was a gift from here and all she wanted in return was my opinion on them next time I came into the store. As I didn’t know what taro was at the time, the gift was more like homework, but in the end, all was transformed into a delicious soup.
There are tons of affordable supermarkets in Japan that aren’t chains and may just appear in your local area. As you search, here are a few more stores that may help you get the biggest bang for your yen?
MEGA Don Quijote: Everyone’s favorite big discount superstore chain usually has a large grocery section as well, selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, pre-made bentos and other produce at prices you’ll certainly enjoy.
¥100 Lawson: If you have no choice but to visit a convenience store for your weekly shop, make sure you’re visiting ¥100 Lawson. This specialized version of Lawson is an easy place to pick up a few odds and ends that you might have forgotten or couldn’t find on your weekly shop. Pasta, sauces, a few choice fruits, vegetables and more, the store is basically a grocery store version of Daiso.
For those of you who are overwhelmed by the insane amount of new ingredients you can find in Japanese supermarkets, read our article series on Season Japanese Ingredients And How To Use Them.