“I thought every American baby was born with a Costco membership.“
It’s something that my high school Studio Art teacher once said as a joke, but could be half true. Costco is the largest membership warehouse club chain in the US. Growing up, all of my friends came from a family with a Costco membership. A few families had a membership with competing chain Sam’s Club. Some other families, including mine, had membership at both. In addition to its 416 US locations, Costco also operates in the UK, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. Membership is renewed on an annual basis and is valid world-wide. So, for foreigners living in Japan with a Costco membership, this can be great news so long as you live near a Costco location. There are currently 9 locations in Japan: Tamasakai (Tokyo), Amagasaki (Hyogo), Hisayama (Fukuoka), Makuhari (Chiba), Kanazawa Seaside (Kanagawa), Kawasaki (Kanagawa), Sapporo (Hokkaido), Iruma (Saitama), and Shinmisato (Saitama). We live near none of them.
Enter The Flying Pig.
The Flying Pig is an online retailer that sells imported groceries and general merchandise in bulk from Costco, but operates as an independent entity. Here is a descrption from their website:
Reasonable prices on imported groceries and general merchandise in Japan? When pigs fly! But that was before Costco Wholesale opened its doors here. Afterwards, there were only two problems left: not everyone can get to a Costco warehouse very easily, and Internet ordering isn’t available. In a nutshell, TheFlyingPig.Com was launched to overcome these issues. (Please note that TheFlyingPig.Com is an independent entity, and is not owned or controlled by Costco.)
Most items are purchased and shipped from Costco Japan locations, but some items (termed “PI” or “Personal Import”) are purchased and shipped from Costco Hawaii. Customers can browse the site in English or in Japanese. After selecting the items for purchase, you are given up to four easy payment options: Credit Card, PayPal, Cash on Delivery (COD), and Electronic Bank/Postal Transfer (furikomi). Sometimes, all options may not be available, depending on where the items are being shipped from. We recently made a purchase of all Personal Import items and so we were only given the option to pay with credit card. The prices are very reasonable, considering that most of the food products are imported, and Costco is your only other option for buying groceries in bulk. This is the first time since moving to Japan that we have a pantry fully stocked with dry food goods.
The above box contains:
- Quaker Instant Oatmeal Flavor MULTI-PACK 52-ct
- Nana’s Own Premium Mashed Potatoes (12 Pouches with 6 Servings Each) 1.87-kg
- Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner “The Cheesiest” (12-ct)
- Act II Mini Bags Butter Microwave Popcorn (32 x 45-g)
- Quaker 100 Calorie Chewy Granola Bar Variety Pack (60-ct)
- Cattle Drive Gold 99% Fat Free Chicken Chili with Beans (6 x 425g)
- Lea & Perrins Original Worcestershire Sauce 20-oz.
- Crest Glide Deep Clean Floss (Cool Mint, Lightly Waxed) 6 x 40m
I am most excited about the big box of popcorn. I’ve just about finished the popcorn that my family sent to me in a care package. In addition to the foods, we also purchased dental floss. Many foreigners moving to Japan may have heard that it is impossible to buy things such as deodorant, toothpaste, and dental floss that is similar to what they were using back home. This is not entirely true, but familiar brands may not be easily found either. I have found Aquafresh toothpaste in our local pharmacy. I’ve also found dental floss in the pharmacy and supermarkets, but it is very expensive — over 500 yen (>$6 USD) for one small pack of floss. It’s ridiculous. The 6-pack from The Flying Pig cost us 1,798 yen, or roughly 300 yen per pack. This is much more reasonable!
I am lucky to be living in a city with a diverse population. Hamamatsu is home to about 20,000 Brazilians, about 3,000 Peruvians, and even has sizable immigrant populations from Indonesia, South Korea, the Philippines, China, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Because of this, there are several ethnic restaurants throughout the city. Churrasco is especially delicious here (and half the price of what I paid in San Francisco!). Yesterday, I ate at a restaurant which serves both Italian and Indian cuisine. There is more than one chef, and each is of a different background. Our waiter was man who moved from India about one year ago and spoke great English and great Japanese. The curry at this restaurant was by far, the best curry I have eaten yet.
There are also several import food shops in Hamamatsu. There is a small one near the station which I sometimes visit because they carry some Filipino products– sinigang mix packets, patis (fish sauce), chicharon (pork rind), etc. My uncle sent me a care package from the Philippines, but looks like I won’t need another one during the rest of my stay here in Japan. My favorite import store though is actually a chain that can be found in AEON shopping malls — Kaldi Coffee Farm — and this is why:
- There is always a nice employee near the entrance greeting all customers with a sample of fresh-brewed coffee.
- The coffee is always delicious.
- They always have good background shopping music.
- They have a great wine selection.
- They sell holiday/seasonal items.
- They sell foods imported from all over the world!
I go to Kaldi’s… too often. I usually spend… too much. But, I never regret it! It’s always nice to have a taste of home – in fact, it’s priceless.
But sometimes, we luck out and can find something familiar in our regular Japanese supermarket. Just this week, they introduced a new item in the bread section: hamburger buns! It’s about $1 for a pack of two, which is pretty cheap. We jumped on the chance to make our own burgers, and I have to tell you, our homemade burgers are by far the best burgers we have had in Japan! Nick made the hamburger patties from 100% beef and seasoned with only salt and pepper. I prepared lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, cheddar cheese, onions (for Nick), and ketchup. We also found french fries in the frozen food section. :o)