Oct 23, 2014
OK, so we all love living in Japan, and many of us would have to recognize the improvement in our diets made by the nation's cuisine. However, stay 'in country' longer than that initial 'honeymoon' period, and it won't be long before you begin to pine for a taste of home. But don’t jump ship just yet! Check out these nationwide import food shops in Japan first.
Costco shouldn't work in Japan. There just isn't enough space, is there? In a country where supermarkets desperately compete to be closest to the train station, and whose Lilliputian size servings still struggle to find space in 'micro' trolleys, America's wholesale retail behemoth seems an unlikely success story.
But a success it is, having expanded to 22 locations nationwide. Remarkably, they haven't had to compromise on size, with each store offering the same gargantuan warehouse set-up. The key word here is suburbia. Most stores are a bit of a trek from train stations, and to really get the best out of Costco, you need a car. If you can make it here though, a world of super sized gluttony awaits.
The products are the same; stacks of boxes, cans, and bags of food that you miss from home but can't find in your local 'sooopa' in Japan. The prices are not too different either, (just a shade more expensive).
Costco novices should note that you need membership to shop here. An annual plan costs 4,000 yen (ex. tax). Set it up online, here. Members may bring two guests into the store (presumably to help with the heavy loads).
Bags are not provided at Costco, and don't rely on there being any boxes, either.
For those who are interested, Costco is one of the few places in Japan selling ample sized turkeys. Check if your oven can accommodate it, first!
Maybe the most accessible place to find imported food in Japan. Stores are nationwide, with almost every major urban area having at least one, and they are never far from a train station.
The shopping experience here is the polar opposite of that which you will find at Costco. Stores are very tight on space (a situation exacerbated by staff handing out free cups of coffee at the entrance), products are pretty pricey, and almost nothing is offered in bulk.
That said, with over 10,000 items imported from some 90 countries, there's every chance of finding a treat from home. Pasta sauces, curry pastes, South East Asian flavorings, are all on hand to spice up your dinner. Chewy sweets from Germany, a favorite chocolate bar, and that bag of Swiss-made granola you've been looking for.
Kaldi also sells seasonal, chocolate based decorations for the festive times. Oh, and as the name might suggest, coffee. Lot's of it!
It can be easy to miss Supermarket Seijo Ishii. It has the look of those 'specialist' convenience stores that are made for people who think they're too good to shop at regular ones. In fact, that's not too far from the truth. Seijo Ishii is aimed at those with a little more money to spare. Sundry items and snacks that are as 'common as muck' back home, are billed as something only people with refined tastes (and deep pockets) can enjoy. Still, these nationwide stores are a useful resource for homesick expats. They have a great selection of jams and teas, alongside a more limited choice of snacks, chocolates, cookies, and cereals.
Seiji Ishii is a fine place to shop for imported wines and beers.
Meidi-Ya has been in the business of selling imported foods almost since Japan reluctantly opened its doors to foreign trade. The fact that it's still around today suggests an operation that is good at keeping customers satisfied. As well they should be. The groceries on offer in these mid-size stores are for those that enjoy the finer things in life. Unfortunately, they have prices to match.
But we're not so shallow as to be controlled by money, are we?! Either way, if you can get beyond the price tag, serving up some of these goods to visiting friends is sure to impress. It's also a great place to shop for cheese.
There are plenty of stores in prominent spots around Kanto. Further afield, locations are limited to Osaka (Namba), Nagoya, Kyoto, Okayama, and Sendai.
Yamaya probably does the best job of balancing easy access (stores are nationwide and usually in central areas), with reasonable prices.
You'll find a variety of that which you miss most; peanut butter, cereals, cheese, pesto, quality pasta. But where Yamaya really comes up with the goods is in its choice of juices and booze. A welcome selection of imported beers (more than a few coming from Belgium) share tight space with domestic craft/macro offerings. Brits who like their beer bitter, will also find something to quench the thirst.
Costco aside, all of the above offer online shopping.
Further shops in Japan stocking foreign and imported food including the following, some of which have limited locations.
Boosting fine foods to enrich life, they are essentially a high-end Japanese supermarket with a good selection of imported food items. And yes, they are the same people behind the book shops.
Located in Azabu Juban, Tokyo
The store tagline is “Food from all over the world to global people”. Granted, it is not the biggest store but very well equipped with food and delicatessen from all over the world. Good place for wine, cheese and that fine cut of meat or household products that we are so used to from back home. They offer home delivery services for the bulky purchase and also a special online store for their ham and cured meats.
At Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi, Tokyo and Yokohama Porta, Yokohama
The places was started with a philosophy of bringing in Italian food culture into Japan, enabling an authentic Italian food experience. In the store, wheels of Parmesan cheese, rare brands of olive oil, artisanal pasta sauces from the various regions of Italy and special home made fresh pasta can be found.
Originally a wine and spirits importer, there are also quite a few Shinanoya supermarkets selling a full range of food items beyond just cheese, olives and cured meats. Little known, the company’s mission of selling reasonably priced natural tasting food that is high quality and safe to eat. As such, they focus on food with minimal additives and fresh. If you are lucky to have a Shinanoya outlet with fresh produces, you can find the best fruits and vegetables from Hokkaido and southward of Kyoto.
Lesser known and not a big supermarket but Carnival comes in handy providing that hard to find Mexican or Middle Eastern food or ingredient. They also offer home made, fresh and super delicious Tortilleria for every occasion. On top of that, you can also count on them to have that fresh carnitas and rotisserie chicken you need for the home party you are having.
Much like Kaldi, Jupiter was originally a coffee, tea and fine foods importer turned supermarket. Taking advantage of its trade connections, they bring in the finest of cured meats, pasta sauces, pasta and confectionery to fill the void of foreign goods in Japan. You can also find Jupiter outlets all over japan.
Dean and Deluca
Known to be the purveyor of fine foods, this chain of stores is the place to go for fine gourmet foreign food like imported cheese, sauces, fine teas and quality foreign confectioneries. Usually attached to a cafe with the same name, you can also enjoy pastries and baked goods, coffee as well as light meals that is possibly served in their outlets in New York as well.
Essentially a wholesale market with connections to distributors and food processing factories overseas, they carry a good range of foreign food products, mainly from the southeast Asia region. Gyoumu’s business model is based on scale purchases, which also mean they can then pass the low cost down to their customers.
This supermarket located in Korean town in Shin Okubo, Tokyo is perhaps the best place to source for Korean food and drinks, without actually heading to Korea. There is a good variety of brands for Korean favorites sych as seasoned seaweed, BBQ meats, instant noodles, snacks and of course Korean beer, souju and makkoli.
Located on the other end of Shin-Okubo away from Korean town, Green Nasco provides you with a good selection of Halal food from Africa and Asia. Craving that Indian curry? Fret not, you can always find the right spice, lentils and chickpeas you need at Green Nasco.
Apart from the above mentioned stores, the following are links that you can count on for quality foreign foods that reminds you of home.
The Meat Guy
It is true that Japanese supermarkets aren’t the best places to find that good chunk of meat for your home recipe. The Meat Guy fills this space, specializing in the rare cuts of meat perfect for that meal that can cure your homesickness. Apart from meat, this online store also has a variety of foreign products that would put a smile on your face.
If Green Nasco is too far from you, head to Ambika for all the spices and products for that perfect Indian meal. Apart from Indian food and ingredients, Ambika also sells food items from the neighboring sub continents.Web: http://www.ambikajapan.com
The Foreign Buyers Club
Apart from their single walk-in store in Kobe, The Foreign Buyers Club is the perfect place to find that food item from North America. Upon entering the site, you are immediately brought back to the US supermarket where you can indulge on your American food cravings.
The online services below will go to Costco on your behalf.