Food Shopping in Japan Week #2: What We Bought, What We Spent

KitKat collecting has begun with boxes of wasabi and rum raisin flavors! Our record is 17 different flavors on one visit but we’re aiming to beat that this time.

I realize this post comes close on the heels of last week’s shopping post, but Brett and I have decided that just like when we were in England, Monday will be our regular weekly shopping day. We don’t have any school pick-ups to do on Mondays (our grandson has activities late into the afternoon) so it’s a good day for us to shop in the morning with time leftover to head out for something else later in the day.

The Seiyu department store is about a five-minute walk from our apartment. The grocery store is in the basement and on the first floor.

After shopping at Seiyu in the morning and getting our stuff put away yesterday, we headed over to the Hiroo neighborhood to get some peanut butter at the National Azabu Market and also go to the New Sanno Hotel to make reservations for Easter brunch (the event will be sold out by March). Hiroo is about 30 minutes away from us by subway and requires us to change subway lines twice each way. The New Sanno Sunday Brunch is always amazing, but on Easter there will be added events for children including a small petting zoo and some arts and crafts activities. We thought the grandkids would enjoy that, and as Easter is also the week before we depart, the brunch will be an additional way to say thank you to our son and DIL for all their help while we’re here. The New Sanno also carries Diet Coke in their mini-mart – it’s unavailable in Japanese stores or vending machines – so we also wanted to pick up a 12-pack while we were there. Lucky Brett got to carry that all the way home.

The National Market is not very big, but it carries an amazing selection of items. It’s also a very smart location for a Baskin-Robbins!
Besides peanut butter, you can also grind cashew butter, honey roasted peanut butter, and almond butter at the National market.
On the way to the New Sanno from the National Market, we pass by my favorite small shrine in Tokyo. I don’t know its name, but it always moves me, this tidy little shrine tucked in among lots of big, expensive, and modern high rise apartments.
A little further down the same street is the French Embassy.
And, right around the corner from the embassy is the New Sanno Hotel!

The National Azabu Market is on the way to the New Sanno Hotel from Hiroo station. The Azabu and Hiroo neighborhoods are home to several embassies, and the National Market not only contains Japanese brands but many foods for foreigners living in the area. In our case, we were looking for unsweetened peanut butter as Japanese brands contain way too much sugar for our taste, and are also quite expensive. National has a machine where we could grind our own fresh peanut butter so we filled a small container with enough to get us through until we get to the commissary next weekend and stock up. Yes, we miss peanut butter that much, especially Brett! We also picked up some whole wheat rolls to have with our sausage dinner as well as a bag of small potatoes. Although it was hard to stay away when we were in the neighborhood, I am happy to report I did not go into the Sawamura bakery, where my favorite raisin bread is sold. I would have not been able to resist.

Below is what we bought this week, definitely less than our first week’s shop. Our shopping total from yesterday was ¥7055 ($64.68 plus $3 for the Diet Coke), but we still have a couple of things to pick up at the end of the week to go with our take-out takoyaki. I put ¥3000 back into our grocery envelope when we got home.

Dairy: We bought another liter of milk, two containers of yogurt (still ¥99/91¢ each), and 15 bottles of Yakult. Brett is now also drinking a bottle of Yakult every morning so we increased the amount from last week. Each container of yogurt provides three American-size servings.

Prepared foods: We purchased only two items in this category this week, a package of five nikuman (pork-filled steamed buns) and two tonkatsu, breaded pork cutlets that we had for dinner last night. The tonkatsu were huge but cost just ¥298 ($2.73) each. They were amazingly tender and delicious. The nikuman will get us through a couple of lunches.

Meat: We bought one package of beef cubes (about a half-pound for $4.53) for curry this week. For an additional ¥100, we could have gotten a slightly smaller package of Wagyu beef but we passed.

Produce: We bought a bag of six Fuji apples; three cucumbers; a huge stalk of celery for ¥149 ($1.37 – celery is not a traditional ingredient here); a bag of green peppers; four bananas; and two packages of strawberries. Fuji apples here are so much better than the ones we get in the States – much juicier and sweeter in comparison. I’m trying to eat one every day. The strawberries were still ¥377 ($3.46) per package. Green peppers in Japan are always very small for some reason, and typically come prepackaged in a bag of five.

Pantry items: Brett wanted some tea, so we chose a box of Twinings Darjeeling for ¥394 ($3.61), sort of a splurge (although I like Darjeeling too). We also got Bulldog tonkatsu sauce (which can be used to make yakisoba too); CookDo sauce for sweet & sour pork; curry sauce (enough for two meals); and a package of spaghetti that was on sale for ¥198 ($1.82). I love that the spaghetti is bundled into servings! CookDo sauces are still on sale, so I plan to buy a few more packages later this week.

The three items from National were ¥1078 (the peanut butter alone was ¥528/$4.81. However, that  was still less than a tiny jar of Smuckers Natural peanut butter, which cost over $6! Foreign products are not cheap.). The potatoes were ¥298 ($2.74), not a bad price, and the four rolls were ¥252 ($2.31 – sort of expensive, but less than we’d pay at a bakery). Our 12-pack of Diet Coke was $3, and the KitKats were $9.99 each (too much!!) but that expense comes from our miscellaneous fund as we’re not eating them while we’re here.

Finally, we took 8,178 steps (3.3 miles) and climbed and descended 20 flights of stairs on our shopping day!


20 thoughts on “Food Shopping in Japan Week #2: What We Bought, What We Spent

  1. I think it’s always interesting to hear what food costs in other countries. Some items sound a lot cheaper in comparison to others and I see you have the same problem there as in many places far too much plastic packaging.


    1. I love going into grocery stores and checking out prices, products, etc. no matter where they are! Writing these posts are helping me because I make myself convert the price to dollars so I can get a better idea of what I’m spending. Sometime it feels like I’m spending play money when I spend yen.

      Packaging is VERY important in Japan, and in many cases can be considered an art form. So, you rarely see unpackaged produce. Most everything is wrapped in plastic in the store if it’s not in a bottle or in a box. It’s just how it’s done here. Trash is burned though, so most of the plastic is not going into landfill.


      1. Right now the yen to dollar is pretty close to $1 = $100 yen, so conversion is pretty easy, although not exact. It still feels sort of unreal though. We did OK with converting the Euro, but never quite got the hang with Sterling – I always had to get out my phone to calculate.

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  2. I love how easy it is to buy small quantities of food in Japan! In Canada, just as in the US, so much is mega-sized, which is crazy, considering how many households consist of only one or two people.

    I also miss the amazing packaged prepared meals that were always such good quality and cheap to boot. I never did much cooking in Japan, partly because my kitchens were always so tiny, but mostly because of that. Plus Japanese food is so yummy and varied.

    The contrasting architecture, especially the little shrine, is lovely to see and really adds to the character of the various neighbourhoods.


    1. I really appreciate being able to buy smaller quantities here. I think we’re going to be in for a shock this weekend when we go to the commissary and see how big American products are again.

      I really don’t cook much here, but do like to make CookDo dishes and a few other things. I love the kitchen we have this time though, although we still struggle to get the stove lit at times (it’s tempermental). I love, love, love the prepared foods available here – they are priced right and make it so easy to a good variety of food.

      Coming up a shrine or small temple right in the middle of a block of modern buildings, or commercial buildings, is one of my favorite things in Japan. Our son used to live in Minato, near the Tokyo Tower, and these little shrines and temples were tucked in everywhere – there were so many of them!


  3. OMG. I am so ignorant, I did not realize Diet Coke would be hard to find in other developed countries. I would absolutely die…. ok, maybe not but I would definitely be unhappy…. and it cannot be found in vending machines??? Wow. I am in shock. I suppose that would help me cut back but I sure wouldn’t be happy about it… lol


    1. We did not see Diet Coke at all in Europe until we got to England (after three months without I thought I had died and gone to heaven!). There is no market for it here in Japan, although they do sell Coke Zero. Thankfully we can get Diet Coke at the commissary and at the New Sanno mini-mart. It’s our son’s favorite so whenever we’re here he stocks up! I still have just one a day – it’s my “vice” – but boy do I miss it when I can’t get it.


  4. I notice a lot of walking, which is so good. I’ve always enjoyed this kind of lifestyle that incorporates walking into daily activities. It is so much easier to get the exercise that the body needs without even noticing-one just goes about the daily life and not worry about going to the gym or such. Those KitKats are insanely expensive oh my!


    1. We walk SO MUCH in Japan – we have to. We walk to the store, we walk to the stations, we climb stairs in and out of stations, and so forth. It’s no wonder there are so many thin people here! Today (Wednesday) we walked over 10,000 steps (3.8 miles) and took 11 flights of stairs – that was just from going to our sons and taking the grands out to lunch and through the park, and then home.

      Those KatKats were expensive because they’re both “souvenir” packages, made for foreigners to take back home. Bags in the store for domestic consumption cost about $2.75. We don’t buy many of the souvenir ones except for flavors we can’t get otherwise (and rum raisin in my favorite KitKat flavor!).


  5. So fascinating!

    Is the milk from Japan or is it imported?

    I love the different architecture….the rounded corner and sloping roof of the Seiyu store, the writing on the fence posts in front of the historic shrine, the modern, low profile French embassy!

    I’m sure some people would view grocery shopping at different stores in order to save money as a total pain but the upside is you don’t fall into too much of a routine and you are out exploring different areas.

    The amount of stairs you climb is astonishing!


    1. The milk is all from Japan. Hokkaido, the northern island, is a big dairy area, as is northern Japan, but there are dairies all over, really.

      Tokyo is really a mish-mosh of architectural styles. Seen from above it looks like nothing but concrete, but when you get down on the ground the variety of styles is amazing, from modern to very traditional and everything in between.

      Stairs are a necessary evil here. Most of the ones we climb are for getting in and out of subway or train stations, and down to the platforms. We climb up and down 16 flights just going to our son’s home and back (less if we use the escalators). Add in a couple of subway line changes and before you know it we’re up to 20! No need for a Stairmaster here!

      We stick close to home for most of our food shopping, but there are certain things we like to get at other stores. We’re checking out a new discount store in Shibuya on Friday!


  6. As I was reading this, I paused to ask my husband to think about places he’d like to spend a month, knowing Tokyo will be toward the top of his list. We’re at an interesting juncture of thoroughly loving our new coastal location, but still wanting to travel. Just not as much as we did previously, which has shocked us both. I think of you two settling in Kauai at some point, and wonder if you’ll find it affects your wunderlust as well. If we could only clone ourselves so we could be in two places at once!

    We’re heading to South America in a couple of days, where I’ll be collecting dark chocolate for family gifts, among other things. It will be fun to compare the differences between the five countries we’ll be visiting. They do great chocolate down there, as to be expected!


    1. Oh, I think if I lived where you do that we wouldn’t want to travel as much as we do now. The one issue with living on Kaua’i is that it’s so far from everything, and we have to get to Honolulu before we can go anywhere! We’re thinking that we might focus more on Australia, New Zealand, and Asia if/when we settle there again. I somehow can’t imagine what a journey to Europe would be like, but people do it all the time, so who knows?

      Have a good time in S. America. We loved our time in Argentina and Uruguay, and would like to go back. I don’t remember eating chocolate while we were there though, just tasty beef and empananadas!


  7. If that’s $9.99 for 12 delicious KitKats, I would buy them too, haha!

    When we’re in the UK, the grocery stores always seem to have small amounts of produce packaged in plastic. And most of the packages cost less than 2 pounds. I like being able to buy smaller amounts than here in Canada. Also wonder if they sell more because people are more willing to try and buy when they’re spending less and reducing food waste.


    1. I’m willing to pay $9.99 for a few packages of KitKat flavors I can’t find otherwise. The Sanno also had sake and plum sake flavors, but we will get those later. They used to also carry champagne, but didn’t see that this time. It was good!

      I wish the U.S. stores carried smaller amounts as well. Some do, but they can be hard to find. I think the smaller sizes are popular here because meals are done differently and include several small dishes rather than a main and two sides. So, you don’t need to fix such big amounts of any one thing. I also think Japanese people generally eat less than Americans (and probably Canadians) do.


  8. Interesting to see the options there and the pricing! And I love the comments/discussion. I am always amazed when I consider all the single use plastic we use worldwide. I heard an NPR story saying China is planning to ban single use plastic – starting with shopping bags and straws? I have tried to cut our use way back, but I admit it has been a challenge in certain areas of life.

    I would love a store where I could grind my own peanut butter. My favorite is Skippy smooth (childhood favorite), but I usually buy a pricey natural PB from a local company in an attempt to be healthier. Ha! I’m the only one eating it (DH hates it), so a smaller amount would be great.


    1. There is a LOT of single use plastic here, but they recycle at levels we can only dream of in most places in the U.S. You rarely, if ever, see trash on the ground either – no water bottles or aluminum cans littering the streets. BTW, Hawaii has already banned plastic shopping bags, and you have to ask if you want a (paper) straw!

      Both Brett and I love peanut butter, especially Brett. A spoonful in the afternoon for me is a quick way to get rid of hunger pangs for a few hours. Our favorite it Adams crunchy (we buy those huge containers of it at Costco). I was very tempted to make cashew butter while we were at National Market, which I love, but at $9/container it will have to wait. The fresh peanut butter was great, but needed a tiny bit of salt.

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    1. All this peanut butter needed was a little salt (the roasted peanuts were unsalted). We plan to pick up four jars at the commissary tomorrow, enough to hopefully last the entire time we’re here. But with Brett’s love of the stuff even that might not be enough!


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