This was our last food shopping trip during our first four weeks in Japan. Next week we will be restocking our yen envelopes once again for the coming four weeks.
How did we do over the past four weeks? Out of our initial ¥40,000 ($365), we still have ¥8500 ($77.50). It will be rolled over into next month. Out of the $400 we brought with us for commissary shopping, we have $146.50 left. It’s doubtful we’ll need to go to the commissary again, but if we do Brett and I will take the train out to Atsugi and make a day of it.
This week we spent ¥7,418 ($67.60) at Seiyu, more than last week but less than expected since we bought meat again this week, more fruit than we did last week, and two bottles of wine as well.
Here are this week’s purchases:
Dairy: Along with milk (¥148/$1.35 or $5.12 per gallon!), yogurt (still ¥99), and Yakult we bought a package of cream cheese (¥348/$3.17) to enjoy with the bagels our DIL brought us this past weekend. I love the package design for the cream cheese – the English words seem almost a quaint design afterthought among all the Japanese.
Meat: We needed two packages of meat this week for the two CookDo stirfries we’re having. I chose the ground pork and beef mix because it was less expensive than pure ground pork. I will not get it again though as it had too much fat. The two packages cost ¥519/$4.73. Although it’s not meat, the tofu is protein so I’ve also included it in this group. It cost a whopping ¥46/42¢! Brett and I think at this price we should be eating more tofu (soft tofu was only ¥37 or 34¢).
Produce: We bought green peppers for (always so small!), a red pepper and a yellow pepper for ¥127/$1.16 each, 3 cucumbers, a bag of Fuji apples (six for ¥577/$5.26), four bananas (just ¥89/81¢), and two packages of strawberries (still ¥377). The strawberries are getting better and better as the season progresses.
Prepared foods: The two katsudon (¥398/$3.63 each) were purchased for our dinner on Monday evening, and Brett and I shared the 6-pack of inari zushi and the potato salad for Monday’s lunch.
Miscellaneous: We bought two bottles of French wine: Cabernet Sauvignon for Brett (¥780/$7.11), Chardonnay for me (¥898/$8.18).
Paper products: Paper towels were needed this week so we picked up this four-pack (¥298/$2.72) which should get us through the rest of our stay. Japanese paper towels are less sturdy than American ones, and yet not so flimsy as to be unusable (which is what we have found in other countries).
We found another new flavor of KitKats at Seiyu again this week – ‘strong’ matcha, whatever that means – but decided to get it next week.
We’re thrilled to have spent below our weekly allotment these past four weeks – it shows that if we’re careful we can live and eat well here!
This was a very different week for our food shopping budget because this past Saturday we went out to the commissary at the Atsugi base and bought a LOT of stuff there.
Atsugi is the closest large military facility, but it took a long time to get there due to traffic issues (coming back was much easier, thank goodness), and we were all more than a little tired when we arrived. We stopped first at the exchange, where Brett and I bought an inexpensive Crock Pot ($19.99), some measuring cups, a set of measuring spoons, two bed pillows, a package of pillowcases, and a bottle of body lotion. We got lucky when we checked out and won a 15% off everything coupon, a very nice surprise.
After shopping at the exchange, we stopped for lunch in the food court (Brett and I shared a Subway tuna sandwich), and then it was time to hit the commissary. As we discovered last year, the commissary is now about three times larger than it was when we were stationed at Atsugi (1989-1992), with a selection about three to four times larger as well. We took our time going through the store and filling up our cart. Our total at the commissary was $193.63, and along with our exchange purchases and lunch, we spent a total of $253.50. We brought $400 with us, so left with $146.50 still in our wallets.
Because of our commissary shop, we didn’t need as much from Seiyu this week, mostly just produce and dairy, along with a few other things. We spent ¥4929 ($45.43) out of our weekly ¥10,000 allotment and put ¥5,000 back into the envelope.
Dairy: We bought another liter of low-fat milk, 2 containers of yogurt (still just ¥99 each), 15 Yakult, a half dozen eggs, and we splurged on some New Zealand salted butter (¥498/$4.59). The eggs are called “red eggs” because the yolk is so deep orange it’s nearly red.
Produce: This week we got 2 ripe avocados (small, but just ¥87/80¢), one tomato, a head of lettuce, broccoli, 2 cucumbers, and 4 bananas. The cucumbers had gone up in price this week to ¥87/80¢ each also. We’re planning to use the tomato and lettuce for lunchtime BLTs later this week, and the avocados will be for avocado toast for breakfast some morning. I can’t remember the last time I saw an avocado for under $1 in the U.S. and was surprised by the price here as they’re definitely imported. We didn’t buy any strawberries or apples as we still have some from last week.
Pantry: We bought just a couple of things in this area: 3 packages of CookDo (mabo dofu, pepper & pork stir fry, and sweet & sour pork, still on sale for ¥155 each) and two fancy instant udon packages (¥178/$1.64 each). Brett chose tempura shrimp noodles and I got kitsune (fox) udon, so-called because foxes supposedly like the fried tofu (aburaage) on top. They’ll be good for lunch one day.
Paper goods: One 12-pack of “Ariel” 2-ply toilet paper was ¥398 ($3.67), a bargain compared to what it costs in the U.S.
Miscellaneous: Seiyu had bags of KitKats on sale for ¥198/$1.83 per package! They didn’t have a big selection, but we found three flavors we didn’t already have: matcha, dark chocolate, and yuzu green tea (yuzu is a kind of citrus fruit), a new flavor for us. I also got a few take-out items from the prepared food section for my lunch: a pickled plum onigiri (rice ball), steamed kabocha squash, and coleslaw. The three items cost ¥386/$3.56.
We didn’t buy any meat this week which is one reason our total was low, and there were a few other items we decided we could go without. I forgot to get Pam at the commissary on Saturday though and was hoping I could find a similar product at Seiyu, but no such luck. We are now two KitKat flavors short of reaching our goal!
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.
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 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!
One of our first tasks on our first full day in Japan, besides getting some yen, was to walk over to the Seiyu store and get some food. We had brought along coffee, oatmeal, and granola bars in our suitcases so we had enough for breakfast on our first morning, but after that, the cupboards were bare.
Our weekly goal while we’re here is to spend no more than ¥10,000 ($90) or less on groceries for a week. Our first shop, on Wednesday, was over that, ¥13,025 ($118.40) but that’s because we purchased a few pantry items that will last through our stay, things like rice, oil, Parmesan cheese, butter, and mayonnaise, and we also bought two bottles of French wine (less than $8 each) that will last us for the next two to three weeks (we have a glass of wine of Friday and Saturday evenings only). We also bought a package of sushi (¥398/$3.62) to share for lunch because we didn’t have leftovers or items to fix anything else. By using the extra ¥4,000 we got from YaYu we stayed under our regular budget, but it was still a bit difficult.
Here’s what we bought for our first week’s shop:
Dairy items: We purchased 1-liter low-fat milk, a small container Parmesan cheese, 2 400-gram containers of plain yogurt (¥99 or 90¢ each), a half dozen eggs, 2 packages wrapped cheese cubes, 200 grams butter, and 10-pack of Yakult. What we call “real” cheese is difficult to find and expensive in Japan. Even though they’re sort of pricy at ¥398 ($3.62) per package, we like these snack bags for the variety they provide and because they’re pre-portioned. Yakult (fermented milk drink) is great for the stomach and digestive system so I plan to have one every morning. When I came to Japan as a teenager I could not drink Yakult without gagging but now it tastes good to me.
Meat: We bought one package of ground pork, one of thinly sliced pork for stir fry, one of cubed pork, one of chicken tenders, and a package of six Johnsonville smoked sausages. I really like that we can buy meat in Japan in these smaller portions of around 300 gm or 2/3 of a pound (larger packages are available though). Also, note the silhouette of the pig on the labels – it’s very helpful for making sure I’m buying the right product versus chicken or beef (which also have an appropriate silhouette). The prices can be seen on the packages and range in (converted) price from $1.87 for the chicken tenders to $2.88 for the ground pork and pork cubes. The sausages were the most expensive item at ¥697 ($6.34) but will be used for three meals. We also bought a package of frozen shrimp but I forgot to put it in the picture.
Prepared foods:We bought a package of sushi for our lunch and packages of karaage (fried chicken) and potato salad for our first night’s dinner. We also bought two ready-to-cook packages of Chinese food items: shumai and gyoza. Prepared foods are a big thing in Japan and can be found everywhere, from convenience stores to high-end food establishments. They’re affordable and made from high-quality ingredients, and are sold fresh every day. The fried chicken and potato salad cost ¥848 ($7.71) but there was enough for two meals.
Produce: These purchases include package of three Japanese eggplants for making CookDo mabo nasu, a package of three carrots, a package of three onions, a head of broccoli, five Japanese cucumbers, one-half head of cabbage, a small box of fresh blueberries, 2 packages of strawberries, and a package of four bananas. Strawberry season is just getting started in Japan – be prepared to see them for the next several weeks! We bought the least expensive packages available at ¥377 ($3.43) each and will have them along with some blueberries on our morning yogurt. We skipped the packages going for ¥697 ($6.34) although the berries in those ones were huge. Fruit is generally quite expensive in Japan, but we hope to find ways to have it every day.
Pantry items/wine: Purchases in this category were Kewpie mayonnaise, three packages of CookDo sauce (eggplant with ground pork/mabo nasu, chili shrimp, and stir-fry pork with cabbage), a bag of rice (our most expensive purchase at ¥1,050/$9.56), canola oil, and a bottle of white Bordeaux wine for me, and red Bordeaux wine for Brett. The CookDo at Seiyu is currently on sale for ¥155 ($1.41) per package. If the sale is still going next week I will buy more and start stocking up as the typical sale price is $3.98 back in the U.S., and they don’t have the variety we can find here.
Paper products/cleaning products/personal items: Toilet paper was the only item we bought in this category. The apartment came with extra rolls of paper towels, boxes of tissues, lots of shampoo, laundry detergent, and plenty of cleaning supplies, so we’re good for a while.
We did not buy any bread nor snack items – we’re trying to keep away from that stuff this time around. It all looked very, very good and very, very tempting though.
Food in Japan can expensive, but there are bargains to be found if you look and shop carefully. We noticed that there had been price increases for a few items we used to buy when we were here last year, so we’ll do without those things this year. Also, by shopping at Seiyu we saved over what we would have spent at the slightly closer but more expensive Tokyu grocery store, so that was a win. Finally, we’re determined to spend less next time we shop!
September was a very good month budget-wise. Well, it was until we got to the last two days of the month. Spending on just those two days blew up all our good work and we ended up with a higher put us above where we wanted to be, by a little over $5/day.
On September 29 we visited the nearby village of Broadway, and besides our usual stop for tea and scones, we also purchased a small gift for YaYu, and we picked up two bottles of gin at the Cotswolds Gin Distillery Shop. Specialty gin is not cheap, but it’s something we can’t get back in the U.S. and something we’re especially enjoying during our time here. At the very least, the two bottles we purchased (plus the one we later bought in Edinburgh) will be enough to get us through until the end of our stay in the United Kingdom. Anyway, our DSA before entering Broadway was $35.45, upon leaving the village it had jumped to $38.75.
The last day of September was our travel day up to Edinburgh. We bought a few snack items at the village shop the day before to have on hand on the way up and bought one bottle of water on the train. But, there was a Kiehl’s shop in King’s Cross, and since I needed to buy moisturizer anyway (I had planned to look for it next week in London) I went ahead and bought a jar at the station shop. We had a light lunch at King’s Cross (sandwich for Brett and Moroccan bowl for me) and a small dinner after we arrived in Edinburgh at an Indian restaurant just down the street from our apartment (which provided leftovers for next evening’s dinner). However, adding in our bus fare over to Moreton to catch the train and a taxi from the station to our apartment once we arrived, by the time that day finished our DSA for the month had climbed to $40.24. Ouch. It could have been a lot worse, but careful spending earlier in the month saved things from really getting out of hand.
Because of our visit to Edinburgh, we have started off the month of October with our DSA above where it should be (it’s currently just slightly over $38/day), although it is dropping quickly and we should be back to around $35/day or less by the time we leave for London at the end of the week. It will climb back over $35/day again while YaYu is here, but then we’ll have the rest of the month to bring it back down. With cold weather and rain in the forecast, we won’t be going out as much as we have been, and if we’re careful we should be ending the month at $35/day or a little below, right where we need to be.
I don’t even want to think about what we spent in May.
We left Japan with a daily spending average of $51.03, but we are ending the month in Oregon with a daily spending average of $74.46 – YIKES! I knew it was going to be bad, but not this bad.
What did we spend all that money on? Food! Lots and lots and lots of food. We had to feed YaYu while she was here and got a few things for her that she’ll need in Japan and, because we won’t have a car this summer, we did a couple of big shops at Costco when we did have a car – one when we first arrived, and another this past week. We also stocked up at Trader Joe’s and Winco, and we bought a few things at Target. Our cupboards, fridge and freezer are stuffed full, and we now have enough laundry supplies, toilet paper and paper towels to get us through the summer (the house came with supplies to get us started thankfully). Our Oregon spending also includes a Brita pitcher and filters which we will store when we leave, our TriMet passes, and the car rental to take YaYu to the airport.
All of this hopefully means that our monthly averages for the rest of the summer will be well below average. We will be paying admission for a few activities, making a couple of trips to Trader Joe’s, and visiting the OHSU farmer’s market every week for fresh produce, but between the two of us this summer I think we will be able to keep our spending to minimum (clothing and other travel supplies come out of a different fund). Fingers crossed!
One of the most interesting and fun places we visited back when we were stationed in Japan was Kappabashi, or Tokyo’s “kitchen district.” The district is actually a long street lined on either side with stores that provide supplies to restaurants, bakeries, tea and coffee shops, noodle stands and home kitchens – anywhere food is prepared and served in Japan. You can find everything kitchen-related here: dishes, pots, pans of all shapes and size, baking pans and supplies, utensils, knives, glassware, uniforms, cookie cutters, every kitchen gadget imaginable and anything else a cook might want or desire. There are also stores that sell lanterns for the front of restaurants, signs for restaurants, uniforms, and realistic plastic food samples used for restaurant display windows.
Brett and I told ourselves when we went last Tuesday that we were only going to go and look, but I tucked some extra yen into my purse in case we saw something we had to have. We have been planning to buy some plates and soup bowls while we’re here in Japan, and I knew there was a chance we might find something we liked in Kappabashi.
We had an easy train ride to the area, about 35 minutes from our station, a big change from when we lived here before and our train trip was nearly 1 1/2 hours each way. Two Japanese men stepped up at our station to help us buy our tickets when we couldn’t find the stop on the station map (if you look confused in Japan, someone will always step forward to help you). I remarked to one of them that he sounded like a native English speaker, and it turned out he had been born and grew up in the Los Angeles area, in the next town over from my hometown!
Coming out of the station, we turned to the right around the corner and headed down the street until we saw the giant chef statue, the sign that we had reached Kappabashi. Of course, the first shop we came to when we arrived had to be a large dish store where I could have happily spent all our money before looking at another thing because they had good prices and a big selection of beautiful dishes. However, I was able to restrain myself and only looked, and then Brett and I headed across the street to look at the rest of the shops.
We did well fin keeping our money even though we saw many tempting items, but finally met our match at a large all-purpose kitchen store that catered not to restaurants but to home cooks. This place had everything for the kitchen it seemed but the kitchen sink, and in every size, color, shape or design imaginable. Brett and I strolled around and ended up with a small stainless steel mesh basket (for washing rice), a six-pack of microfiber cloths, and a pack of bamboo chopsticks (with a twist at the top, my favorite design), all things we need to replace and could easily fit into our suitcases.
After walking for a while we turned down a side street when we spotted a huge temple sitting just a block off of Kappabashi Street. We had seen on an area map that lots of temples and shrines were in the area, but were surprised to see one this close. The little street also was home to a small antique store with a beautiful blue Imari hibachi sitting out front. Back in the day I would have probably picked up one or two things from there as well, but I restrained myself this time.
We crossed over to the opposite side of the street after a while as we could see several dish stores (the side we started on had more pots, pans and other cooking implements). Dish stores are always fun for me to go into because I absolutely love Japanese dishes! We eventually found some reasonably priced pottery salad plates in one store that called our names ($8.60/plate) and bought five, and then found even more reasonably priced pottery soup bowls ($2.88/bowl) in another store and bought five of those. Both were carefully wrapped up and will be carried onto the plane with us when we fly home. We also found and bought two packages of our favorite toothpicks – we’ll never need to buy them again in our lifetimes.
One of the most interesting things to check out on Kappabashi are the stores selling plastic food samples. We wandered through a couple of them with large selections of plastic food and were amazed by the skill and artistry of the work. I’ve added a video below of how plastic food is made – it’s quite amazing. Plastic food is not cheap either – pieces of sushi start at $5 and go up from there, and an item like a fancy ice cream sundae or bowl of ramen can cost over $100. The video below shows how a couple of different items are made (it’s in Japanese, but you don’t need the sound to understand what’s going on).
We had a great time visiting Kappabashi and we’d like to go back once more if we can – we think we’d like to get two dinner-size plates, and some dessert plates if we can find some we like. The train station for Kappabashi (Tawaramachi) is also just one stop away from Asakusa, where Sensoji-Temple is located, and we could make a day of it. But for now we’re happy and satisfied with our purchases and the items we bought, and glad we made the effort to go again to Kappabashi.
Although we have access to the commissaries and American-style supermarkets and products on several bases in the Tokyo area, Brett and I decided we wanted to do as much as possible of our food shopping “out on the economy” (the military expression for anything off base). Not only would it be more convenient, but we wanted to see what it would cost to feed ourselves if we lived here, and what and how we eat might change.
Japanese shoppers typically only buy enough food for a couple of days at a time so that they are getting the freshest food possible. And, because Japanese meals usually consist of small servings of several different items, and kitchen storage space is minimal compared to the U.S., product sizes are much, much smaller than what Americans are used to. There are no big family packs of anything, no big cuts of meat, or five-pound bags of fruit. Loaves of bread have maybe six slices at most.
We did our weekly food shop at the Tokyu supermarket this past Saturday. We feel very lucky to have such a big supermarket nearby as they offer store brands and regularly have sales going on. Shopping carts, as I’ve mentioned, are just a standard plastic shopping basket on a trolley, but because the sizes of everything are so small we can really pack a lot into one of those baskets.
We spent a little more than we usually do last weekend, but that was due to the addition of a few items we don’t regularly buy, like two bottles of wine and a bag of flour. We also purchased a couple of splurge items, and spent more on one item because we decided to buy the more expensive “American” name brand (Johnsonville sausages) when we couldn’t figure out any of the similar Japanese products.
We began our shopping trip with a visit to the bakery just down the street, where we bought two raisin rolls, an onion and cheese roll (for me), a cinnamon doughnut (for Brett) and a matcha cookie (for me). The raisin rolls were deliciously yeasty and light and we ate them for breakfast on Sunday morning along with some fruit. The onion and cheese roll was my breakfast this morning.
Below are pictures of what we bought this week at the supermarket, a fairly typical weekly shop for us. It was an all-food shop as well – we didn’t buy any toiletries or other non-food items. To give an idea of how small the below items are, everything fit into one standard size plastic shopping basket.
Our produce purchases included a small head of broccoli; a bag of small eggplants (for mabo nasu); a carrot and a potato for curry; red, yellow and a bag of small green peppers for a pork & pepper stir fry; two tomatoes for BLTs (we have some bacon in the freezer, and lettuce in the fridge that needs to get finished); half of a cabbage for another stir fry and some cole slaw; and bananas and strawberries.
Our meat purchases were beef stew meat for the curry; ground pork for the mabo nasu; thinly sliced pork for a stir fry; a bag of frozen shrimp for chili shrimp; and Johnsonville sausages. We’re not exactly sure what type of sausages they are but we’re going to have them for breakfast. None of the meat packages weighs more than a quarter pound. The beef was the most expensive at $7 for that tiny package while the pork for stir fry was around $2.89. The seafood selection at the store is immense, but there are many things we don’t recognize. There are also several cuts of meat we don’t recognize either.
We bought two bags of raisin cookies (there are only five packages in each bag and the cookies are tiny); a package of sesame biscuits; two bags of soy peanut crackers, our favorite snack; two matcha cream cookies that we want to try (they were very good!); a bag of cheese snacks for the grands; two individual containers of purin (a flan-style custard) for dessert one evening; a package of Boursin pepper cheese, a surprise find as well as a total splurge for us; and wheat crackers to have with the cheese.
Beverage purchases included a small container of fat-free milk to use for pancakes and cereal; a bottle of unsweetened iced tea for Brett; two bottles of French wine, one red and one white (both are from Bordeaux, are delicious, and were surprisingly affordable); and two bottles of water. The bottled water is for drinking – there are still lingering concerns because of the Fukushima accident. All plastic bottles in Japan are recycled – we have a separate container for them in the apartment.
Miscellaneous items include three Cook Do sauces (chili shrimp, mabo nasu, and pork and cabbage stir fry); a box of curry sauce cubes; a small bag of flour for pancakes; and a bag of Chinese steamed pork buns (nikuman).
Tokyu supermarket, like almost all markets in Japan, has a wide selection of high-quality, affordable prepared foods for sale. We bought two katsu (panko-breaded fried pork cutlets), finely-shredded cabbage, and tonkatsu sauce for our Saturday night dinner – all I had to do was make rice and we had a delicious restaurant-style meal for around $8!
Everything we bought is recognizable to us, and we know what it tastes like and what to do with it, but about 75% of what’s available in the market are things we have no idea about how to cook or what they are (even if I can read the label). So, we are fairly constrained in what we buy compared to what’s available although we try to push our boundaries from time to time.
Food is expensive in Japan – there’s no getting around that – and we’re fortunate to not have to feed a family over here, at least not cooking the way we do now. For just Brett and I though the expense hasn’t been bad. The total amount spent this past weekend was $123.76, more than usual but still within our food budget of $500/month. Brett would like us to segue into more frequent shopping trips so that we don’t have to carry several heavy bags of food back to the apartment, but I worry that doing so might mean we spend more. Maybe shopping twice a week might be the answer though.
Some of what we bought will segue into next week’s meals as we’ll probably have dinner a couple of times with our son and family. Still, we’ve got everything we need for some tasty meals this week!
Cold rain was falling once again when we got up on Monday morning, and at first we thought we just stay in for the day. We did a couple of loads of laundry, but by early afternoon we were starting to go stir crazy so we grabbed our coats, gloves, umbrellas and our trusty canvas shopping bag and went to visit Shibuya, two stops away on our subway line, and one of Tokyo’s busiest major transit, shopping, and nightlife areas.
Our plan was to spend some time checking out the Tokyu Hands flagship store, and then head back to Shibuya station to ride one stop to Ebisu Station so we could visit the Muji store, which had been recently expanded.
Shibuya is always busy and full of people, and the fact that it was raining didn’t change that other than everyone was carrying an umbrella, so walking around was a bit of a challenge. The Japanese seemed to do it effortlessly while Brett and I struggled to not bump into others with our umbrellas. Thankfully the walk from our subway exit to Tokyu Hands was easy, and only took a few minutes.
Tokyu Hands has been called the ultimate DIY store, but it also showcases plenty of Japanese design and innovation. The flagship store has seven floors, plus two basement levels. Each of the floors (other than the basement) is divided into three levels – A,B & C – so combined with the two basement levels there are 23 floors, each dedicated to a different theme, from tools to interiors to kitchen to bathroom to paper to crafts to stationery and so forth. It can take a while to go through each floor, but it’s still a lot of fun and a good way to spend a couple of hours. We found a few things we had been looking for, like 3M Command hooks for the kitchen, an over-the-door hook for the bathroom (there are no hooks in this apartment), a notebook for Brett, and a new rice paddle for the rice cooker (the one in the house had melted and didn’t work very well). I also restrained myself in the kitchen section and only bought two small Japanese dishes (that I can use in multiple ways).
At the top of the store is a small snack bar where we took a short coffee break. Well, Brett had coffee but I decided to try a “tea float” – iced Earl Grey tea with a large swirl of soft ice cream. It was amazingly delicious and refreshing, and I will definitely be going back some day for another!
Leaving Tokyu Hands, we walked back to Shibuya station by a different route in order for Brett to experience the famous Shibuya crossing in front of the main station. After making it across we stopped in front of the station to check out the Hachiko memorial statue, hero of one of the most beloved stories in Japan. Hachiko (an Akita) used to walk to Shibuya station every day to meet his owner, a doctor, when he came home from work. Sadly, the doctor died one day while at work, but Hachiko continued to come to the station every single afternoon for 10 years to wait for the doctor. Hachiko is still honored and remembered for his perseverance, loyalty and fidelity, and the statue is a must-see for anyone visiting Shibuya. It’s a well-known place to meet someone, and these days there is usually a long line of people waiting to get their picture taken with the statue (even in the rain).
Japanese train stations are usually not merely places to get on and off, or change trains – in urban areas they are typically surrounded by large shopping districts, especially in the busier parts of the Tokyo area, like Shinjuku or Yokohama. Many larger stations have one or two levels underneath like giant shopping malls as well as stores above and around the station. Ebisu is surrounded by a huge shopping venue called Atré, consisting of eight floors with all kinds of stores, including food shops and restaurants. There is a huge escalator in front of the station that takes shoppers up to the fourth floor, where the entrance to Muji is located as well as several different food-related shops.
Our first stop in Atré was Kyo Hyahashiya, a Japanese confectionary, for one of their scrumptious matcha (powdered green tea) roll cakes, a splurge as they are not cheap. Their cakes and sweets are made in the Kyoto style and most feature matcha in some form. The roll cake is made from an incredibly light matcha sponge and filled with a rich matcha cream and a touch of red sweet bean paste – it’s my favorite Japanese cake. Besides receiving lots of bows from the staff following our purchase, our clerk also wrapped our bag in a plastic cover because it was raining – Japanese service at its best!
Brett had spotted some large cinnamon rolls in the window at the nearby Dean & Deluca store along the way, so we went back there and bought a couple of those for today’s breakfast (they were surprisingly affordable), and at the cash register we found my favorite Japanese cookies, raisin-creme sandwich, so we bought a couple of those as well. Raisin-creme sandwiches were a very popular cookie back in the early 1990s, during our second tour, but not so much these days so I am always happy when I can find them.
Our final stop for the day was the Muji store, which used to be located on one floor at the top of Atré but is now a full two stories in a newly built annex. Muji is something like a Japanese IKEA, but besides simple, stylish and affordable housewares they also carry simple, and stylish clothing and books, and have a nice food section as well. I could happily live with just about everything in Muji, but Brett and I restrained ourselves and only bought a few items from the food section.
Then it was back to Shibuya where we caught a very crowded, packed express subway back to Sangenjaya station for our short walk back to the apartment. In spite of the rain and the crowds we had an absolutely wonderful day, found things we needed, and didn’t spend much!
We always knew that our stay Japan would be expensive and push the boundaries of our budget. Following two weeks in Sydney and New Zealand, we arrived in Japan slightly over budget. Our first two weeks here ratcheted our daily and monthly spending up even more. With a few no-spend days so far this week we have managed to get our daily average back down to a more acceptable level, but we’re ending the month with a daily spending average of $56.93 ($194.04 for the month). Ouch.
The biggest reason for our higher average in Japan were trips to the commissary and exchange at NAF Atsugi and another trip this week to the commissary at the Yokosuka naval base. Although prices were low we bought a lot of stuff to settle in and replenish supplies, as well as things we needed in the apartment, like food storage containers, extra toilet paper, and laundry supplies.
The upside is that we are starting March with a comfortable amount of yen in our wallets, and we are well-stocked with essentials and pantry basics. We will need to buy produce, meat and other smaller items (i.e. butter, yogurt) from the Japanese supermarket in the next few days but otherwise spending should be at a minimum.
February – not our finest month when it comes to staying on track with the budget. I tell myself that it could have been worse, and that we’ll hopefully see a better monthly average at the end of March.