By Josiah Wilson, Tono RPA
So you’ve probably realized that the biggest tip for shopping in Japan is to not buy everything from the convenience store (even though they do offer pretty much everything you need to survive). But what other ways might you be able to save money? We’ve attempted to round up some useful tips about shopping in Japan, and hopefully some of them are new to you.
Use point cards, but don’t let them use you
Many stores offer point cards, and in nearly all cases these are free to set up, though you will need to fill out your name and address (a clerk can probably help you with this, although it may be difficult if you can’t speak any Japanese). Of course signing up for these means that the store will be tracking and recording your purchasing history, so if that bothers you then don’t sign up.
Now, if you do sign up for these cards, you’ll slowly but surely accumulate points, which generally exchange at a rate of 1 point for 1 yen, though the method by which the points are cashed-out varies from store to store.
In addition, you’ll likely notice that certain products will often net you bonus points when purchased. Be careful about being sucked into buying things that you otherwise weren’t planning on getting! The best way to make use of a point card is to simply shop as you normally would, perhaps using bonus point items as a “tiebreaker” between brands when the prices are the same.
Know the best days to shop
Many grocery stores have special weekly sale days, on which a wide variety of products (particularly produce, meat and fish) will be marked down at especially good prices. The days vary by store, and we’ve collected the days of some of the most prevalent grocery store chains in Gifu for you.
By doing as much of your grocery shopping as possible on these sale days and being smart in your purchases, you’re bound to save a fair amount each month.
Premade foods such as bento, onigiri, and store-baked breads, will get marked down dramatically as closing time approaches. Usually they get marked down in a few waves, first 20% off, then 30%, and finally a whopping 50% off. The first wave usually happens between 5 and 6 PM, and the last wave usually goes out around an hour and a half before the store’s closing time. Of course the exact times vary from store to store, and sometimes from day to day. Try checking your local supermarket at different times throughout the evening, and see if you can learn the best time to visit to snag the best deals at 50% off before they get too picked over.
Check the expiration date
Fish and meat will also get progressively marked down, although this happens on a daily basis rather than an hourly one. If you’re buying something to cook for tonight, there’s no reason not to grab something that has a sell-by date of today, and it’ll save you a fair bit of change. And of course, food doesn’t immediately go bad once it’s past the sell-by date. Depending on what you're cooking and how you’re cooking it, you may not even be able to tell the difference between something best by tomorrow and something best buy yesterday. As long as you follow proper food storage and preparation precautions, you should be fine up to a day or two past the sell-by date, and perhaps even longer.
Use reusable shopping bags
Japan’s position on plastic bags is… mixed. On one hand, if you buy two items from the convenience store they will often have them shoved in two separate bags before you can even blink, but on the other hand, most grocery stores have started to charge their customers between 3 and 5 yen for each plastic bag they use. Get a sturdy reusable bag, and take it with you whenever you go shopping. If you drive, keep one in your car for those times when you swing by somewhere on the way home.
If you somehow forget your reusable bag, many stores will have cardboard boxes (from food shipments) near the checkout area. You can use one of these instead of paying for a bag. These may be collapsed and need to be retaped, but if they are collapsible then there should be a roll of tape nearby. Of course you’ll now have to deal with disposing the cardboard box, but many stores have cardboard recycling drop off areas, so you may be able to just take it back with you next time.
Love the 100 yen shop
There are 100 yen shops everywhere in Japan, and they offer far more items and at much higher quality than dollar stores in the US, pound shops in the UK, and so on. If you need some basic home goods, such as cooking utensils or storage containers, check here first. You’ll be surprised at just how much they stock.
That’s all we’ve got this time, we hope you learned something new and useful! If you think we’ve missed anything, please comment and let us know!