Comparing Grocery Prices in Japan to America

25 comments

grocery store

Nerd alert: I love grocery shopping.

Knowing that my huge bowl of chocolate krispies only costs me thirty-five cents is a saver’s dream. I do enjoy the occasional night out at a restaurant with an appetizer, entree, and a glass of wine but at $8-$20 a shot these nights tend to come once every couple of weeks. My girlfriend is also an amazing chef so in America I would get gourmet meals that cost less than $3.

There’s one problem: I can’t cook. I’ve been by myself in Japan for two months and the idea of hanging out in the kitchen while my vegetables saute is not something I look forward to. Instead, my meals tend to be gourmet ham sandwiches or pancakes.

Since Baker over at Man vs. Debt wrote a great post on the different costs of living around the globe, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the prices of everyday grocery items in Japan, compared to the average prices in America. The results were very surprising.

For the Japanese prices, I took the average of the two local grocery stores in my town in rural Japan. For the American prices, I averaged Peapod, Jewel-Osco, and Aldi. For reader ease, I changed everything to dollars, ounces, and gallons.

Also, Japan’s prices have tax built in where as the American prices do not. Sales tax is around 7% in America and I did not include this in the numbers below. I’ll dive more into the inclusion of tax and tip in Japanese prices in a later post.

*The dollar amounts are based on the September 25th, 2009 exchange rate of 90.38 yen for $1 USD*

Bread

Japan: $1.33 for 6 french-toast style pieces
America: $2.50 for approximately 20 pieces
*77% more expensive in Japan*

Milk

Japan: $1.33 for ~.25 gallons
America: $2.50 for 1 gallon
*113% more expensive in Japan*

Cereal

Japan: $2.19 for 7 oz.
America: $3.50 for 15 oz.
*34% more expensive in Japan*

Eggs

Japan: $2.74 for 10 eggs
America: $1.90 12 eggs
*73% more expensive in Japan*

Potato chips

Japan: $2.75 for 4.7 oz.
America: $3.50 for 11 oz.
*84% more expensive in Japan*

Lunch meat

Japan: $2.73 for 6 oz.
America: $2.99 for 8 oz.
*21% more expensive in Japan*

Ice cream sandwiches

Japan: $3.59 for 6
America: $4.75 for 6
*24% cheaper in Japan*

Beer

Japan: $30.92 for 24, 11.8 fl. oz. cans
America: $18.99 for 24, 12 fl. oz. cans
*63% more expensive in Japan*

Hard alcohol

Japan: $21.83 for 23.7 fl. oz. of Jack Daniels
America: $28.99 for 25.4 fl. oz. of Jack Daniels
*19% cheaper in Japan*

 

These numbers are pretty staggering, but the Japanese don’t usually eat these types of food which helps explain their inflated prices. The portions are less so I constantly feel like I’m getting a greater bang for my buck when, in reality, I’m paying over 65% more for groceries in Japan.

This is an example of how important it is to run the numbers. When the dollar differences are only a buck or two we tend not to notice, but when you see the percentage differences and realize how much this comes out to over a month or a year, it makes you rethink your weekly Whole Foods trip.

Compared to America, Japan is notorious for higher prices but it’s experiments like this that really help me understand how my money is being spent.

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25 Comments

  1. Lazar says:

    Neat post! So what sort of things do you buy that you find to be an exceptional value?

    LaZ

    [Reply]

    Austin Reply:

    Since most of the items I purchase are “western-style” foods it’s difficult to find a great deal since there isn’t much demand for that food with the Japanese. However, they do sell rice in 25 lb bags and I’m sure if I could get a rice maker I could be making delicious rice for about 5 cents a meal.

    I also get school lunch which consists of a healthy and well-rounded Japanese meal and it costs 210 yen or around $2.34 a meal. It’s a great deal, tastes delicious, and introduces me to new foods everyday!

    [Reply]

  2. LaZ says:

    That makes sense. I never owned one, but Japanese rice makers seem pretty cool – like they could do anything! They’re kinda pricey if I remember correctly. thanks for the reply!

    [Reply]

  3. Rooster says:

    Interesting. A PF blog based in Japan. Will have to check back again. I do have to say though, school lunch isn`t always delicious!

    [Reply]

    Austin Reply:

    I’ve had about 3 weeks of lunches so far and I’ve loved every one so I’ll definitely take it. Thanks for commenting. Are you an English teacher? It must be difficult to surf up north, but your pictures seem awesome.

    [Reply]

  4. Lazar says:

    @Rooster good point but I think the lunch sets in Japan are better than in the US. At least I always liked them at TDR.

    [Reply]

  5. Rooster says:

    Ha ha, I guess it all depends on your school lunch centre! Mine isn`t TOO bad, but they do have some shockers from time to time. But yeah, I`m an AET and you need a thick wetsuit to surf where I live!

    [Reply]

  6. sandy says:

    I didn’t realize Japan was that much more expensive. Stick with the ice cream sandwiches and alcohol—yummy
    Eggs are 99 cents @ Jewel ; )

    [Reply]

  7. darg says:

    This goes for back home for me as well, but grocery prices will change drastically depending on which store you go to. There’s this place around me called OK Discount Center that’s literally half price or lower on most of the stuff I get compared to the standard super market down the street from it. And if you can’t find one of these, a lot of people do a good portion of their daily shopping at 100 yen stores because they carry such a vast array of goods, so check that out too.

    Besides that, sounds like you need to learn how to cook! I never really cooked til I moved out on my own as well. :P

    [Reply]

    Austin Reply:

    Luckily, my girlfriend lives with me now and she’s an outstanding cook. We’ve been tracking our grocery purchases and were spending about 10,000 a week for the two of us. We eat pretty well and find it to be entertaining, so it’s worth the money. How much are you spending every week? I’ll have to check out the 100 yen store soon to see if we can save there.

    Thanks for the comment!

    [Reply]

  8. Kevin says:

    Don’t forget to factor in the exchange rate that your using too. Current rates, USD1/JPY90 range, really works to increase prices in Japan.
    Interesting blog, I look forward to reading more.

    [Reply]

    Austin Reply:

    I believe I used an exchange rate right around 90, but this was written about a month ago so I’ll have to double-check. I originally thought the exchange rate was to blame for the high prices, but I quickly realized a lack of demand for the items I was purchasing was the reason.

    Thanks for reading, hope to talk to you soon!

    [Reply]

  9. darg says:

    10,000, seriously? Are you talking all 3 meals at home every day? Even if I approach that I’d say 6,000-7,000 or so… I work at home and do most of the cooking for me and my gf, eating breakfast and lunch here as well. Also granted I’m not eating steak every day – learn how to cook fish, use more chicken (dirt cheap here!) and less beef (real expensive here!), change up your veggie use, and learn a few Japanese dishes and that should come down.

    Besides the 100 yen stores, also look for fruit/veggie stands as well. Depending where you are, those are cheaper than markets too… Japan likes having its small specialty stores, so if you go to a bigger store to find everything in one place then there’s a good chance you’re paying a premium for that convenience.

    [Reply]

    Austin Reply:

    I agree it looks steep, but when you run the numbers you can see it more clearly.

    The 10,000 a week is for my girlfriend and I so it’s 6 meals a day or 180 meals in a 30 day month.

    10,000 yen a week for four weeks is, of course, 40,000 yen.

    If I divide the amount I think I will spend every month on meals – 40,000 – by 180 meals it comes out to 222.22 yen per meal. This is realively cheap when you look at it per meal. When you add in going out once a week or so, I can definitely see that 40,000 yen for two people in a month is a correct amount. We live in a small town and the grocery options are fairly limited.

    If we look at your guesstimation of 6,500 every week, or 26,000 per month. Your per meal amount comes out to 144.44 which is dirt cheap.

    We’ve been tracking our grocery spending since the beginning of October – around the 8th – so I’ll let you know on November 9th how we faired.

    [Reply]

  10. Cory says:

    Was that 24 cans of beer… on tanrei? Kirin, asahi, yebisu tend to be closer to 4500 to 5250 yen for a case in Tokyo. Were you pricing the green label “beer”?

    Buy your fruits and veggies at a yaoya.

    Non-tariff market barriers, cartels and distribution account for the extra cost.

    [Reply]

    Austin Reply:

    You know, it was over a month ago so I don’t remember exactly which beer it was, but I thought it was asahi.

    I would love to go to Yaoya but I don’t have one near me :/ small towns = limited options.

    Where are you located?

    [Reply]

  11. Billy says:

    Dude, do yourself a favor and learn to cook. It’s healthier, cheaper and more convenient eating at home.

    [Reply]

    Austin Reply:

    That’s the thing. My girlfriend and I do cook – more emphasis on her cooking than me. We like to eat pretty well so the meals get pretty detailed so we end up spending a little bit of money. We’re trying to find ways to cut down on more expensive items that aren’t necessities though.

    What’re you doing in Japan?

    [Reply]

  12. Rick Martin says:

    Nice post. I wonder if there’s any Japanese site that compares prices in this way? That could be super useful.

    [Reply]

  13. Lena LeRay says:

    Something else to consider is that prices for these things vary widely depending on where you are in America, even without sales tax. I live in Alaska, and I haven’t seen a gallon of milk for $2.50 in years. I think the cheap milk goes for $3.00 when on sale these days.

    [Reply]

    Austin Reply:

    Very good point. I’m sure Chicago prices are a little above the American average, but Alaska has to be in the top 5% of prices. When were you in Hokkaido?

    [Reply]

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