Sunday, July 24, 2005

Item From the Past: Japanese Groceries

July 21, 1991

I arrived back in Japan the day before, after a month in the U.S., and for some reason I wrote down the items, with their prices in yen. If I remember right, it was about Y130 to the dollar in those days.

Ikechu grocery store, Nagai Nishi, Sumiyoshi ward, Osaka.

Raisinhappiness bread… Y160
Buitoni spaghetti, 450g… Y298
Genmai flakes (cereal)… Y378
Snow strawberry jam (400g)… Y349
Kewpie meatsauce w/mushrooms… Y219
Plums (10)… Y398
Chicken liver+hearts (88g)… Y223
Rokko Water (1.5l)… Y169
Eggs (10)… Y139
Sales tax… Y69
Total… Y2402

Japan is justly famous for its cost of living. But one can adapt to this. My taxes are lower, since I pay no US taxes on income earned here. Japanese income tax is a flat 10%. Sales tax is 3%. I have no car, which for me would be a useless luxury, and endlessly expensive. Gasoline, adjusted for pricing in yen and sales in liters, is about four times as expensive as in the States.

I buy few articles of clothes here. They’re expensive, but also it’s hard to find my size anyway. I’ve supplemented my clothing stock during my travels outside of Japan, especially in the reasonably priced stores of Hong Kong. I was slow in acquiring household appliances. Some I bought new—a gas cooker, about $100; a Korean-made TV, $200; a bottom-of-the-line VCR, also about $200; a DoDeCaHORN combination CD player/double cassette deck with AM/FM band, also about $200. The latter gizmo is nice, since I can rent CDs, and made tape copies for about $4, including the price of the blank tape. Other items I’ve bought from departing foreigner in “sayonara sales.” Recently I acquired a table, microwave oven, bookshelf, a lot of books and some other things this way, cheap. Even cheaper are the things I find on the street. My Osaka Gas Fan Heater 2200 is just such a find, the first summer I lived here. At certain times of the month, large items are picked up and hauled away. The items are called so-dai-gomi and are fair game, though most Japanese won’t take them.

Food is a major expense. It’s awful how expensive some things are, such as bread at the grocery store, roughly $1.50 for five or six measly slices; $4 or $5 for a glob of hamburger that American stores wouldn’t even pack that small; and liters of milk for about what a gallon would cost in the US. On the other hand, properly done, eating out for a single person is little more expensive than eating at home. I’m now knowledgeable on cheap Japanese cuisine. I know a score of places that offer meals for $5 to $8, some of them very filling, and most of them nutritionally and gastronomically excellent—noodle soups, chicken and pork cutlet meals, Japanese-style Chinese food, rice dishes and so on.

I have modest place to live, especially compared to the large apartment I had in Chicago. I pay slightly less for rent here in dollar terms, and somewhat less as a percentage of income. Except in winter, when the gas bills are outrageous, utilities aren’t bad. Another thing: entertainment. Luckily for me, I’m seldom inclined to visit bars, the greatest black hole for yen around. I do go to an izkaya once a week, but that’s as much cheap restaurant as bar. Otherwise I visit various sites, see a few movies at second-run theaters, and take day trips. These are modest needs.

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