The duck and I are going on a spree: S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G!

The duck and I love shopping for groceries (maybe even a little too much, but to each their own, right?), and grocery shopping in Japan is no exception. Once we have managed to get our lazy behinds out of the house (and mentally prepared ourselves for a journey beyond the extensions of our home that are Konbini), there is no stopping us!
Let’s go back a few weeks. We had just moved into our new place and were excited to fill that empty refrigerator of ours. So, we quickly compiled a shopping list (= we added one more item to the list that we had started before even moving in – that’s how much we love grocery shopping), memorized the way to a more or less nearby grocery store, and set off on our first grocery shopping adventure – dreaming of bags filled with beautiful and nutritious food.

grocery duck

And we did return with something that would at least guarantee us to not starve for the next few hours. But shopping for proper food in Japan (for the first time) turned out to be quite a bit of a challenge. Let me explain why:

First comes excitement, then comes despair

When it comes to food, I am quite a complicated person. There are lots of things that I do not eat, so whenever I buy processed food, I am usually a pro in efficiently skimming ingredient lists. With all the other foods that do not belong to the “I don’t eat this”-category, I am not overly picky, though. In fact, I am one of those people who can easily eat the same meal five days in a row (not to mention my breakfast which has pretty much not changed in the past few years) if that means saving money and time. Because of that, no matter where I lived, I could usually assemble the basics that would aid my survival in a new place pretty quickly. But “quickly” does not work for the duck and me here. That has three main reasons:

  1. What is this? What do I do with it? We usually buy quite a bit of fruit and vegetables, fresh and frozen, which should not be too difficult in Japan, even if you don’t speak the language, right? Well, if you know a lot about regional and seasonal produce in Japan, that could be true. Unfortunately, we are not cool like that. Our first grocery shopping experience showed us a surprising amount of vegetables we could not place properly. That also meant we did not know if we were actually capable of turning them into something more or less edible (we have pretty low standards, but we do like our food to be safe and acceptably textured). In fact, we often come home from a shopping trip with our heads full of mental notes on vegetables and recipes to research. Because of that, our vegetable options here in Japan are still pretty limited.
  2. What IS this? How can anyone afford this? We knew that fruit can be a bit pricey in Japan. But we were not prepared for what we actually found. Of course, I am writing from a cheap person’s point of view, but still, apart from the occasional bunch of bananas, fruit has turned into a major treat for us. When we saw kiwi fruit on offer the other day for around 80 yen (only three times the price we are used to, as opposed to the usual five), we went all out and bought two(!). And, I admit without shame, the following few days, I might have been a bit too excited to be having them for breakfast. That thrilling offer was an exception, though, unfortunately. Usually, we make our rounds through the fruit section at the grocery store, taking stalker fruit photos while ugly-crying internally. It’s not just fruit, though. There are many things that are usually staples in our diet, like herbal tea or rolled oats, but around 250 yen for ten tea bags and 350 yen for 300 grams of oats inflicts quite a bit of pain upon our stingy little hearts.
  3. What is this (supposed to be)? What is it made of? Well, it’s not only some Japanese vegetables that we are not familiar with. Most of the items at the grocery store we just walk past because we have no clue what they actually are. And for the rest of them (those with pretty little pictures or easy names), we have to pull out our universal weapon against ignorance: our phone with the Google Translate app. There is this funny little feature that translates Japanese to English in real-time, which has us stand in an aisle for minutes, laboriously pointing the phone’s camera at an item’s ingredients list while quietly giggling at some of the translations the app gives us. I am pretty sure that most of the local grocery store employees know us by now because of how weird it looks when we just stand there for minutes holding our phone against random items on the shelves.

But hey, despite the incredibly large amount of time that we spend in grocery stores (still hardly ever coming out with more than two bags), it’s fun! And that’s all that matters. We’re still super excited whenever we enter a grocery store, listen with joy to those familiar melodies, walk past the talking shelves cheerfully, frequently sense that something fishy is going on until we realize that we’ve just passed the store’s fish section, admire the cute and fun packaging, are delighted by the super friendly employees, stare at all the food for far too long, …
The list is endless.

A few additional notes:

  • We are doing much better now at figuring out what to get. Sometimes we can leave the store after just a half hour!
  • From time to time, friends introduce us to new foods, which is pretty cool – maybe, by the end of our Japan adventure, we will be able to walk through any grocery store, in our sunglasses and leather jackets, checking out all the food items because we know every single one of them. We’ll keep you updated on that.

So, this has been a pretty broad post on some of our experiences going grocery shopping in Japan. We’re still here. We’re still stumbling upon new stuff all the time. We’ve just gotten a bit lazy, that’s all.

Phew! This was exhausting. We’ll have something to eat now. Buh bye!

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