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Shopping Like A Local

Fruit stand outside store

It’s seems to be fairly common knowledge that food costs in Japan are some of the highest in the world. So, if you really want to live like a local, you just need to get wise on the best ways to get the most for your money when buying groceries in Japan. That’s exactly why we wanted to put some grocery shopping tips together for ALTs living in Japan – we want to help you get the most out of your money. Read on for handy tips on the cost of groceries in Japan and how not to break the bank.

Points mean prizes

 Start by getting point cards for any supermarkets you’ll be frequenting. The great thing is that, like many UK supermarkets, nearly EVERY store chain has one, and getting the points is like free money. Use your points to significantly reduce the average food costs when living in Japan – you’ll be amazed at the savings you can make on the cost of your groceries!


One of the more popular ones, from the Aeon group even offers 2x or 5x points on certain dates every month at their supermarkets which can result in huge savings on your grocery shopping. The card is also valid for use at Mini-Stop convenience stores. In addition to that there are always bonus points on many items which can add up quickly. Points can then be redeemed 1 for 1 to spendable yen. Make sure you take your own reusable bag, as nearly every supermarket will offer a small “eco-discount”, usually ¥2 for doing so. And remember, the goal here is to live like a local – you want to be savvy with your savings and do what you can to reduce the cost of groceries in Japan. In addition to the store branded cards, there are also point cards that have a consortium of different businesses as members. Ponta is a good example fo this, as are Rakten Super Points (Rakuten) and D-Points (docomo).


Timing is everything

Meat in a supermarket

Our next tip is all about your timing. When you think of timing in relation to grocery shopping, you’re normally going to think of when you can fit your food shopping into your schedule. However, we want you to think about the time of year and what you might be able to get at a good price. 


Seasonality is so important if you want to save money on your grocery shopping in Japan – buying ingredients that are in season means that what you’re buying is more than likely to be grown in Japan, resulting in lower prices. Do some research around seasonal produce in Japan and start to get accustomed to what’s in season when.


In addition, most stores will have a discounted day each week with many featured produce items on sale. Meat… let’s face it many westerners love…love…LOVE meat!

Japanese bento boxes at supermarket

Prepare for the prepared

Finally, Japanese supermarkets are well known for their amazing variety of prepared foods. While they may be moderately priced, you can always find a bargain if you just can’t bear to cook and go usually between 8-9pm, when nearly everything is marked town to half price. Just look for the stickers which are usually red to show the mark-downs – it’s a great way to reduce your average food costs when living in Japan.


It’s quite common for shoppers to linger around the display table waiting for the staff to apply the discount stickers, at which point it becomes a free-for-all.

Over anything else, try new things, and you may just find something you never knew you couldn’t live without.


You can find so many ins and outs to  live like a local in Japan. Hopefully, with some of these tips, you’ll be able to get around town and get yourself fed well. Another time we’ll look at other local secrets like using a convenience store to its maximum potential.

About the Author

Brian McDonough is a consultant at Interac, Japan’s largest provider of ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers). Originally from the US, Brian has lived in Japan for over 25 years, giving him a unique perspective on the cultural differences and challenges people face when moving to Japan. He has first-hand experience of working in Japan as an American.