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How Not To Go To The Grocery Store

Apr 20, 2015, By: Audrey

Learn from my mistakes. You don’t have to be as bad at grocery shopping as I was for our first few years in Japan. Here are a few pitfalls to avoid in order to ensure a smoother shopping experience. Try not to:

Push a squeaky stroller

The squeaky stroller’s curse is two-fold. Obviously, it squeaks. We first landed in Sapporo in winter. I didn’t know that the locals pull their babies on sleds instead of forcing them through snowdrifts in strollers designed to roll on clean, dry sidewalks. This resulted in moisture getting into the wheel bearings and squeaking every time I rounded a corner at the store. Or backed up. Or rolled forward. Or stopped. Or started. The squeaking was pretty much constant and obnoxious.

The second problem wasn’t the squeak, but the fact that I had to hang a grocery basket on my elbow to carry my selections. This doubled my width walking the aisles, essentially blocking anyone from passing me from either direction. And I may have knocked a cup or two of ramen noodles off an endcap display once or twice.

Forget your grocery bags

Since moving away from Sapporo, I have been in stores that supply bags with every purchase. However, most stores are bring-your-own-bag style. If you forget, you may have to pay 5 yen (about $.05) to purchase one.

Steal the milk

This is somewhat related to the “squeaky stroller” pitfall above. Because milk is heavy, I used to put it in the mesh basket under Gus’s stroller instead of in the shopping basket on my arm as I shopped. Several times I managed to get through check out and almost all the way outside before remembering I hadn’t paid for the cartons underneath.

Wait for someone to pack your groceries

Japanese grocery stores are strictly DIY when it comes to loading your purchases into bags for the trip home. If your giant bottle of soy sauce smashes your eggs on your way home, you have no one to blame but yourself. At the store, if you seem to have your hands full (like, you have two kids in tow), the cashier might carry your basket to the bagging area for you. It’s usually a separate counter not too far from the registers.

Recycle your bankbook

I don’t make a habit of this, but it did happen once. Just outside grocery store entrances, there are big bins for collecting recyclables. Our milk and juice come in cardboard cartons, which we rinse, cut open, and dry before stacking to carry to the store.

One particular day, I had the stack of flattened cartons in my backpack alongside our bankbook. (The bankbook is like a combo ATM card and check register. We need it to get cash at ATMs, and to keep track of how much money is in our account. Very important not to lose it.)

Walked to the store, pulled the cartons out of the bag, dropped them in the appropriate bin, and proceeded inside to shop. Realized when I got to the register that my bankbook was no longer in my backpack. Panicked. Mentally retraced my steps and figured I must have dumped it in the recycle bin. Went outside and started digging through the carton bin. By the Lord’s mercy, I found it and didn’t have to try to explain the situation to anyone in Japanese.

Leave your cash at home

If you walk to the store but leave your cash at home, you have to walk home again to get it, which makes your errand take four times as long. Checks and credit cards are quite rare. I’ve never seen anyone use either at a grocery store. So don’t forget your cash at home. It’s a big pain.

I hope these tips have prepared you to be better at buying groceries in Japan, should you ever find yourself in that situation. Or maybe you can just picture us in daily life here a little more vividly. Happy shopping!


Maruya grocery store

Maruya—our grocery store.