Groceries in Tokyo

I mentioned in a previous post that Tokyo is once again at the top of the list of most expensive cities to live in. To give you an idea of how expensive it is, let me share with you the unit costs of the grocery items I bought this weekend.

My husband loves to cook but wasn’t feeling well enough today to go out of the house for grocery shopping. I decided to get some exercise on this nice spring day by taking my bicycle and buying ingredients where I knew they would be cheapest in the half-mile radius around our house. Let me just clarify that we live in Tokyo but not in the central wards – we’re in the cheaper east side. Grocery shopping in Minato-ku, the ward where many expats live, would give you different prices from the ones listed below.

Fresh produce in Tokyo are costly
Fresh produce in Tokyo is costly

I went to four different places to get the items I needed. A small shop that sells all kinds of Chinese and Southeast Asian ingredients was my first stop to get some specialized items. Then I headed a few blocks to the wholesale meat shop chain Hanamasa, which carries a wide variety of meat cuts, much more than what you would find at other stores. Vegetables are also cheap at Hanamasa but they come in big packs – I knew we wouldn’t be able to make use of all of the items and they would just end up going to waste. So I headed over to another supermarket chain called Maruetsu, which sells vegetables as individual items or in smaller packs. I was back home when I realized I had forgotten to buy garlic and lemon, so I bought these at the convenience store a block from our apartment.

Item Unit Cost in JPY Cost in USD
Rice vermicelli Pack 270 2.75
Egg roll wrapper Pack 240 2.44
Chicken breast Per 100 grams 49 0.50
Beef for stew Per 100 grams 119 1.21
Ground Pork Per 100 grams 98 1.00
Shrimp (~1.5 inch long) Pack 20 pcs 399 4.06
Tomato Per piece 98 1.00
Red bell pepper Per piece 98 1.00
Potato Per piece 49 0.50
Cabbage Half a piece 128 1.30
Carrots Pack 4 pcs 198 2.02
Grapefruit Per piece 138 1.40
Green olives Jar 340g net weight 198 2.02
Wheat bread Pack 6 slices 198 2.02
Garlic Per bulb 58 0.59
Lemon Per piece 78 0.79

I spent a total of 4,866 JPY today. With these fresh ingredients, hubby made a beef stew and an Asian noodle dish for dinner this evening. Tomorrow, he will make pork spring rolls. He was able to cook such large quantities of food that we will have left-overs to cover a few more meals for the rest of the week. I plan to pack lunch for work on Monday.

When we go out to eat or take out fast food, we normally spend an average of 1,000 JPY per person. This weekend, we’re dining at home, which means forgoing the usual 8,000 JPY weekend budget for meals outside. That’s already a savings of 3,134 JPY! Another way of looking at it is that we spend a maximum of around 600 JPY a meal per person when cooking at home. This is still so much better than a McDonald’s meal, not just in terms of cost but also in terms of taste and nutritional value.

I also learned a piece of good news today. There is now an online shop in Japan called Yoyo Market that is offering items from Costco for delivery! Costco is very far away from where we live and taking that trip requires a car (unless you plan to carry all the stuff you bought on the train going home). We don’t own a car. We could rent one cheaply for a quick trip, but neither my husband nor I can read Japanese, making driving in and out of Tokyo a daunting task for us. We’ve identified some imported items we frequently buy that are a lot cheaper at Costco. I’m looking forward to more savings ahead!



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