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Unlike most Western supermarkets, shops in Japan tend to be divided into pure grocery stores for food and chemists/drug stores for other daily essentials such as cleaning products, toiletries and medicine. Although there are some Western-style supermarkets that incorporate all these things into the one place, the usual set-up is divided stores that may be in the same shopping complex.
In terms of product selection, Western staples such as bread and pasta as well as the usual red meat, chicken and fish is available. But the majority of the stock will usually be part of the Japanese culinary landscape, so if you’re looking for something specific from your home country, or anything overly exotic, your best bet is to go to an international specialty store.
You’ll also find that many major shopping chains or complexes will have dry cleaners and tailors associated with them. They will usually be found inside or next to the grocery store or supermarket itself, meaning you can also get any cleaning or alterations done while shopping for daily necessities.
Another important thing to keep in mind is the amount of money that groceries can cost. Some may be mislead by the cheapness of Asian supermarkets found outside of Japan. But especially if you live in a major metropolis such as Tokyo, you’ll find that prices can be surprisingly steep.
However there are a few tricks you can use to save money. A particularly common one is to shop around an hour before closing time. You’ll find at this time that many products, such as cooked bento boxes, are reduced drastically in price, often up to fifty percent.
Another convenient fact to take advantage of is that in Japanese grocery stores, it’s possible to buy fresh items in lesser portions. For example, if you’re living alone and an entire pumpkin or head of cabbage is most likely to go bad before you can use it all, you can buy such items in half or quarter pieces.
If you’re looking for an even further reduced price, with the added bonus of supporting local small businesses, the smaller family-run fruit and vegetable shops usually located outside the main complexes along shopping strips are another excellent option.
Unlike a lot of Western countries, where these types of shops struggle to match the prices of large chains, you’ll find in Japan more often than not that they offer the same product for a significantly reduced price. So long as you’re willing to make three separate trips between the grocery store, the drug store/chemist and the fruit and veg store in the shopping strip, you can potentially save a lot of money.