Many people regard Japanese supermarkets as a must-visit when visiting Japan, because they not only reveal the daily life of Japanese people, but also handy for getting cheap meals and snacks!
Here, we will introduce the types of Japanese supermarkets, common words, popular products in Japanese, as well as practical product questions and how to handle checking out. Next time you go to a Japanese supermarket, you can enjoy shopping even if you don’t know Japanese!
Types of Japanese Supermarkets
Anyone who has been to Japan probably knows that there are many supermarket brands in Japan, and different regions will have different supermarket brands. The price range and target audience of each supermarket are sometimes different as well.
Here are a few common Japanese supermarkets.
● General supermarkets: Most supermarkets belong to this category. Larger stores usually have their own kitchens to make cooked food, bento, and even bread and pizza. In addition, in recent years, large supermarkets that are open 24 hours and set up dining areas have become more and more common.
・Examples: Seiyu, SUMMIT (サミット), LIFE (ライフ), Maruetsu (マルエツ), Ito Yokado (イトーヨーカドー), Don Quixote (ドン・キホーテ), AEON (イオン), OK Store (オーオーストア).
● High-end supermarkets: Usually located in department stores and upscale train stations, the number of stores is much smaller than ordinary supermarkets, and the prices are relatively high, but it is an indispensable good helper for many commuters and late returnees. They also tend to have a wide range of international food.
・Examples: Seijo Ishii, KINOKUNIYA (紀ノ国屋), Precce (プレッセ), LINCOS (リンコス)
● Business Supermarket: Because the customer base is locked in to purchase food for large quantities, unlike ordinary supermarkets, which have cooked food areas or many daily necessities, they adopt large-volume packaging based on volume pricing.
・The most common type of this type is a "gyomu super (業務スーパー)" as its classification name.
Common words in Japanese supermarkets
- Vegetables and fruits
- Fried foods
- Soft drinks
- Non-alcoholic beverages
- Sports drinks
- Carbonated beverages
- 炭酸飲料(tansan inryou)
- Instant foods
- Cup noodles
- Microwaveable dishes
- Candy/Japanese sweets
- Ice cream
- Potato chips
- ポテトチップス(Potato chips)
- Chewing gum
- Business hours
- Close of business
- Shopping basket
- Shopping cart
- Self-service register
- Point card
- Plastic bag
Popular Products in Japanese Supermarkets
What should you buy when you come to a Japanese supermarket? The following is a list of food types and trade names that many visitors buy in Japan.
● Potato chips: Many people come to Japan to buy potato chips. Calbee, a well-known potato chip manufacturer, has launched several different types of potato chips. The flavors are also very diverse, including French soup (consomme), lightly salted (うすしお), and seaweed salt (のりしお).
● Instant noodles: Instant noodles that can be eaten as long as there is hot water are a must-have product for many people coming to Japan. The basic flavors are tonkotsu, soy sauce (しょうゆ), seafood (シーフード), and salt (しお).
Although there are many Japanese instant noodle manufacturers, such as Nissin's CUP NOODLE, the quality of almost all instant noodles is very good. There are also popular fried noodles that can be eaten dry. Famous labels include "Yakisoba UFO" (焼そばUFO) from Nissin and "Ippei Night Shop Japanese Fried Noodles" (Ippeiちゃん夜店の焼そば).
● Food and seasonings: Those who love to cook by themselves can find many useful and delicious helpers in Japanese supermarkets. In recent years, many visitors will specially buy fried chicken panko crumbs (からあげ粉) and furikake (ふりかけ), dashi broth (だし), and other foods.
In addition, Japanese-style western foods such as jams, salad dressings, pasta sauces, etc. are also very popular.
All in all, the food and seasonings in supermarkets are suitable for busy people. It doesn’t take much time and effort to complete convenient and delicious dishes, and they often pack very well too. No wonder they're so popular as souvenirs!
● Beverages: Japanese drinks also have many die-hard fans abroad. For example, the famous Afternoon Tea brand is not only cheaper in Japan compared to exports, but also has Japan-exclusive flavors and packaging as well.
For green tea, famous brands like Ayataka and Iemon are also loved by many people, and there are even health-supporting teas that have no caffeine and inhibit fat absorption.
In addition, because Japanese people are quite fond of drinking, so there is a large selection of alcohol in the supermarket. Many people will buy well-known brands such as ASAHI, SUNTORY, KIRIN, and YEBISU for beer. In addition, sake, plum wine, and other alcohols make great travelers - or just something to sip on the way back to your hotel.
● Prepared food: These come in a range of different styles. Onigiri rice balls are often found in several flavors, including savory soybean, tuna fish with mayonnaise (tuna mayo), topped with bonito fish flakes (okaka), mentaiko (tarako), umeko (ume), kelp (konbu).
For fried foods, among the most common are croquettes (korokke) and various tempura (Tempura), and pork cutlets (katsu), each of which come in a variety of flavors and styles.
Food labeling terms in Japanese supermarkets
Look on the packages of any processed food, and there's a fair amount of information on the label. Here are some of the key points to keep in mind.
● Difference between "best by date" and "expiration date"
Many people actually don't understand the difference between the "best by (賞味期限)" and "expiration (消費期限)" dates. In short, the "best by" refers to the period when the product will taste most delicious. Even past this date, the product is fine and safe to eat, however it might taste less delicious than when it was fresher. "Expiration date" is exactly that: a date past which the product should not be consumed.
●Allergen labeling (indicated by アレルギー)
The Japanese Agricultural Standards (JAS) Law stipulates 27 types of allergens that must be labeled on processed foods. These include milk (乳), eggs (卵), flour (小麦), buckwheat (そば), peanuts (落花生), shrimp (えび), and crab (かに).
In addition, 20 other common allergens that are recommended for listing include abalone (あわび), squid (いか), salmon eggs (いくら), orange (オレンジ), kiwi (キウイフルーツ), beef (牛肉), walnut (くるみ), alcohol (酒), mackerel (さば), soy (大豆), chicken (鶏肉), pork (豚肉), matsutake mushroom (まつたけ), peach (もも), yam (やまいも), apple (りんご), gelatin (ゼラチン), banana (バナナ), flax/sesame (ごま), cashew (カシューナッツ).
It should be noted that these 20 allergens are recommended for labeling, not mandatory, so products containing these allergens may not be overtly labeled. People with food allergies should have a look at our article on food allergies in Japan here.
●Storage method-related words
- Direct sunlight
- High temperature and humidity
- Avoid -
- As soon as possible
Useful Phrases for Japanese Supermarkets
- Do you have ○○?
（○○wa arimasu ka）
- Where is the ○○?
（○○wa doko ni arimasu ka）
- Do you have ○○ in stock?
（○○ no zaiko mada arimasu ka）
- What is the best by date for this?
（Shyomi kigen wa itsu made desu ka）
- Yes, I'll show you.
（Hai, go annai itashi masu）
- Sorry (we don't).
- Sorry, we don't carry ○○.
（○○wa uchi dewa toriatsukatte imasen）
- We've run out of ○○ / We don't have ○○ in stock.
（○○ imazaiko wo kirasite irun desu）
- Do you have a point card?
（Pointo kado o omochi desu ka）
- Do you have a bag?
（Fukuro o omochi desu ka）
- Shall I put this in a bag?
（Fukuro ni ire shimasu ka）
- Shall I place this in a separate bag?
（Fukuro o owake shimasu ka）
- Do you want ○○?
（○○ o otsuke shimasu ka）
- Is it ok if it's a one time payment on your credit card?
（Ikkai barai de yoroshi desu ka）
- Please hold down the age confirmation button
（Nenrei kakunin botan o oshite kudasai）
- Do you want your receipt?
（Resito wa dounasai masu ka）
- Yes, I have one.
- I don't have one.
- Yes, please.
- No, it's ok.
（Iie, daijyobu desu）
- I'd like (quantity) of this one
（kore o ○○ (quantity - use your fingers when possible) kudasai）
- Thank you
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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