Costco Japan

9 Mar

Some time ago, one flyer caught my eyes. It was a one-time invitation (trial shopping without membership in exchange for 5% added to the total price) from COSTCO Kawasaki. I knew there were some COSTCO warehouses in Japan and this Kawasaki one has been there for a while. But I didn’t have a chance or motivation to go all the way to travel to COSTCO.

Because my husband and I don’t own a car, we have to rent a car when we need to go somewhere that is not easy access from the nearest train station. When we live in a city and use public transportations for commuting or travelling to most of the locations, the cost of maintaining a car deserves how many times of taxi rides…according to my father who also lives without a car.

Somehow I was inclined to try COSTCO in Japan. I’ve been to the one in the U.S over 15 years ago, so I know how it looked like. But I’ve never felt like visiting one of them in Japan until this time.

We rented a car at 3900yen for 6 hours. The gas we bought to refill to return the car was only 2 litters and 275yen. The rent-a-car shop is within 5-10 minutes walk from our house. It’s handy. It sounds slightly stupid to pay that money only to go to COSTCO. lol Never mind, I just wanted to try it while we had some free time. I’ve been wondering how COSTCO style is received by Japanese people who do not eat as much as Americans and tend to have a small family in a small house.

It was on Sunday, we expected there would be so many people. But wow…we didn’t expect such a heavy traffic only to enter their parking lot. 😦 According to my husband who parked the car, the man in charge of traffic control was terrible he didn’t guide each car where to park. This must be one of the reasons why there should have been such a long queue. There was a traffic congestion with numbers of cars waiting to enter COSTCO. I guess we spent over 20 minutes in the queue to enter the site. (>_<)

I was about to try one-day shopping as non-member, but I was told I could pay 4200yen to gain a membership that day and ask for a refund if I didn’t want to continue it after I finished shopping on the same day. There should be no risk, but just we had to wait for the registration. I thought many people would become a member just like this and they like COSTCO enough to continue the membership. At this point I was not sure if COSTCO is actually a great deal for us, because we have to think of the rent-a-car and that long queue as well.

We were planning to eat a casual lunch there. Being away from the U.S for a long time, I totally forgot how American size looked like. Everything from this place looked huge and the price was reasonable for the size.

Since there was no table empty inside, we had to eat outside where people come and go busily. 😦 We bought a pizza, a sandwich, a hotdog, a churro, a clam chowder, and a soda to be shared. This is a combo pizza. (300yen) I liked it.

This is called bulgogi bake. (400yen) My husband liked it, but I liked bulgogi with steamed rice better.

This is a clam chowder with some crackers. (300yen) I liked it.

And a hotdog with self-served sliced onions/pickles, sauerkraut, ketchup and mustard. (200yen, this price includes a soft drink.) I only had some bites because I was full. We also bought a twisted churro (100yen) to bring back home.

Apparently we ordered more than we needed but we wanted to try as many as possible at a time because we were not sure if we would come back there again in the future.

There were many foreign (American, Canadian, Mexican, and etc.) products as well as local (Japanese) products. Just as imagined things are packed in quantity, which was too much for a 2-membered family like us. BTW, does this mean COSTCO in those countries have Japanese products as well?

After all, there were not many that made us feel like purchasing. We bought some Kleenex, wine bottles, Canadian maple syrup, a bottle of soy sauce, some frozen food, bagels, poo-poo bag for pi-chan when she walks outside and etc. The paella and grilled chicken looked yummy but just too much of volume for 2 of us. (My husband does not eat much.)

We bought this ready made Chirashizushi for dinner (oversized again but) and we didn’t need anything more. The lunch was too much anyhow. (What kind of meals we were eating in that day…:( ) All in all, the total amount we spent for shopping was 12,000+yen. Hmm…I wonder if that is considered very cheap. I mean shopping from online may not be very different from that. Considering all the effort of driving and time we spent, we concluded COSTCO was not our taste. Everything comes in large quantity, I knew that. But I totally forgot all those American size and volume, which were just too big for 2 of us and our small apartment that has less space to store. We ended up with getting the membership fee back in exchange for giving it up at least for 1 year. We will rather pay a delivery fee and shop online from home, instead of rent a car to drive up to COSTCO, getting stuck in a traffic jam. Even if we had a car…we don’t think we will come back here again. It’s interesting to look around many products in huge quantity or from foreign country, but our life style just does not need COSTCO that much.

What do you think of COSTCO? Or do you have other warehouse shop like this? Do you know any better ways to make use of it? Let me hear your thoughts!

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35 Responses to “Costco Japan”

  1. Neonsafari March 9, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    Thanks for the recounting of your trip to Costco. I spent a month in Fussa last August and didn't spot the Costco there until the evening before I left. 12,000 yen sounds about right and about a third of what I typically end up spending here in the states…I buy too much LOL,__Anyway, thanks for the pictures and your blog.__Take care/__Ron

    • kirin March 10, 2011 at 4:06 am #

      Thank you Ron,
      I guess I expected I could buy more for 12000yen. I'd say it's not so reasonable after all. Yes, truly some things are reasonable but other things can be sold cheaper at local stores.

      • Neonsafari March 10, 2011 at 6:37 am #

        Exactly like in the states… 🙂 When I was in Japan in August I wish that I had found the one in Fussa earlier, as my camera's viewfinder had died in the extreme heat and direct sunlight on Miyajima. Luckily it turned out that the camera still worked, I just couldn't tell what I was taking pictures of exactly… 🙂

  2. Katie March 9, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    Its crazy how the Costco where I live (Memphis TN) and the one in Japan look almost exactly alike (even the insane parking) except you have a better variety at your snack bar for pizza. My husband I go to costco personally at least every couple of months because of the convience of buying goods like meat we can freeze for long periods of time since I'm a middle school teacher with very little time on the weekends to do much else but grade papers or take care of personal matters and take care of the baby I just gave birth too.

    Our costco carries some Japanese products like sushi (which is some of the best store bought I've ever!) and a decent brand of instant noodles. My favorite import product there though is the Coke Cola imported from Mexico since it contains real cane sugar and not corn syrup like it is made in the US.

    • kirin March 10, 2011 at 4:11 am #

      To freeze large amount of meat should require us to have a big freezer. A big freezer should require a large kitchen, that requires a large house…^ ^; I could have purchased a bulky chunk of meat but after all there's no space in a small freezer at a small kitchen in my small apartment house. (*~*)

      I smelled "America" when I entered Cosco!

  3. Patty March 9, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    I didn't realize Costco has gained popularity w/ the Japanese. Mainly because everyone live in these tiny apartments, and Costco is known for value in bulk. Even if you know you'll need alot of tissue for daily use, where do you put all the extras until you need it? Even in the States, Costco actually has alot of name brand clothing, nice quality wine, but the same issue, unless you live in a big house, where do you put the bulk items? They do sell Japanese items, but mostly electronic. I just assumed that is because I live in Texas and people aren't so open-minded.

    • kirin March 10, 2011 at 4:15 am #

      Exactly, exactly that's what I meant!!
      I have no idea why Costco can be frequented by us, who mostly live in a tiny house. However I hear several moms like to shop there to share with several other households. They split everything they buy at Costco. But no, I have no such friends.

  4. Rosa March 9, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

    My family has had a Costco membership for many years but honestly after living in Japan I realized how wasteful it is to buy so much stuff. We call is club 300 because every time you go you spend so much money and you don't get a lot of variety. When I came back from Japan, I tried to convince my mom to stop shopping at Costco, it took me a while but she finally decided not to go there anymore. I wonder if Costco will become popular in Japan…?
    To answer your question… They do sell sushi but that's it. They don't sell real Japanese products.

    • kirin March 10, 2011 at 4:22 am #

      I wonder how Costco can be supported by the Japanese. Even IKEA, they failed the first time when they expanded their business in Japan.
      The good thing about Costco can be that we can reach out imported products but, we could buy them at Donki, Seijo Ishii, or some other places too. It's also risky to buy unfamiliar American brand's detergent in bulk, for example. What if it's too strong to my skin? What if I didn't like the smell or effect after I bought 3 at a time?

      Thank you for answering my question. It's strange why they don't carry Japanese products when they do American or Mexican products over here? Maybe Japanese brands are too uncompetitive! lol

      • Patty March 10, 2011 at 3:03 pm #

        See, I'm curious that IKEA failed in Japan, because their whole theory is to have great furniture in a limited space. In their home country, Sweden, they have tight quarters like Japan as well. So I'm surprised that didn't work.

        And to answer your question, they don't carry too much Japanese product is because of the buyer for each store. Each store see what is popular in that area and buy for the store accordingly. For Costco in LA or SF, they probably have more Japanese products than in Texas or Tennessee.

      • kirin March 11, 2011 at 1:00 am #

        IKEA has been successful since their 2nd approach to Japanese market. But I don't know…you know DIY is not very popular in Japan. Not many people will like to build a furniture according to the instructions and spend hours for that.
        But I personally think their lamps or cups or small goods are cute and cheap, which is nice.

        Thank you for explaining how products can be different in each Costco. I see. Then it's possible the imported things I can find in a Costco Japan are already supported by the majority of Japanese Costco users…

  5. sedonia2 March 9, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    I used to shop at Costco sometimes but I don't have space to store the amounts of stuff you have to buy there. lol. It once took me over two years to use up a box of Sweet and Low packets (artificial sweetner) I bought there. It used to be 20 USD for a year's membership but I think it's more like 100.00 now.

    • kirin March 10, 2011 at 4:23 am #

      2 years!! I wonder when I could finish the maple syrup from Costco, which was not as tasty as the one I have frequented from a local super market… 😦

    • Neonsafari March 10, 2011 at 6:39 am #

      That is why I won't buy a car there…I only need ONE car, not a truckload of them…LOL

  6. Nohema March 9, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

    Hello Kirin!
    I really enjoy reading your blog even though I usually don't make any coments on your articles. Here in Mexico my husband and I shop at Costco, we don't go very often because our family is just as small as yours. We don't own a car either so each time we go there we have to take a taxi, but it's only a 15 min drive so that's ok. We spend between $100 – $200 USD and buy things like dog's food, toilet paper, soap, cat's litter and iced tea (I love Snapple!) we save some money buying there (also we don't like to shop often so buying in bulk makes sense to us ^.^)
    I'm very sad to say that Costco doesn't sell many japanese products here, it'd be amazing if they sold Ramune! They mostly sell American, Mexican and a variety of European products. I do enjoy walking through the aisles and finding products that aren't easy to find at other supermarkets. And my husband loves buying food there (he really eats alot!)

    Congratulations on your blog!

    • kirin March 10, 2011 at 4:26 am #

      Thank you for reading this blog, Nohema.
      Also thank you for taking your time to leave a comment over here! 🙂

      How interesting, Ramune?? You like it? ^___^
      I wonder why Costco doesn't carry Japanese products. There were many familiar Japanese products as well as many foreign products over here…

  7. Stephanie March 9, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

    Costco is amazing ! you find everything to eat for a month or so at a reasonable prize. At least for me, i'm used to american food, so when i travel and i have to stay for a month or so…it's difficult to find some american food . You can't eat everyday at restaurants $$$, so you cook at home to save some money. Back at home, my family also buys things that they eat/use a lot like cooking oil, bread, milk, etc.. and they don't have to go out to buy food again for the next month. Costo comes in handy.

    • kirin March 10, 2011 at 4:31 am #

      I see. I didn't think about that…I mean American food. Japanese grocery stores wouldn't sell the American food as the one you can find in the U.S. American food is just too much for me, that's why I didn't notice that point. Thank you for your comment, Stephanie. 🙂

  8. Hyuna March 10, 2011 at 4:13 am #

    My parents love Costco. I'm just a college student so I have no reason to go there for my own personal shopping but for people like my mother who has to buy food for 4 people, it's very convenient and money-saving. The food we have in our Costco (in New Jersey, USA) is just churros, pizza, hot dogs, and maybe shakes? We don't have soup or the bulgogi cake, although that does look really yummy. But yea, for people who have large families (and maybe eat alot?) Costco is paradise!

    • kirin March 10, 2011 at 4:59 am #

      The food from there sound very similar! ^ ^

  9. Stephanie March 10, 2011 at 4:37 am #

    Hi Kirin!
    Thanks for having such a wonderful blog. I enjoy reading it, learning more about Japanese culture and your recipes!!

  10. Sparklewolfie March 10, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

    Oh I just went to a Taiwan COSTCO recently! It is really necessary to have a car 😮 Luckily, a friend could drive my mom and me. COSTCO is good for bulk supplies such as tissue, detergent and frozen foods that can keep for a while. There were many American products in the Taiwan COSTCO too! I think there were some other European brands, but mostly I was not paying attention to the country of origin – I like to try the sample foods and look at household objects instead!

    There were many people at the Taiwan COSTCO too – we arrived before it even opened and there were quite a few people waiting there too!

    Another way to shop at COSTCO without a car is to take a taxi. But then you should probably only go once a month or so when you need to stock up on basic supplies… ;D

    We also tried the food there and got the pizza and the bread roll thing with meat inside. The food is VERY filling! One slice of pizza was enough for me @_@

    • kirin March 11, 2011 at 1:05 am #

      Thank you for sharing Taiwan Costco.
      Sounds like a long queue at every Costco. 😦 If we had taken a taxi, it'd have costed much more.

  11. Steven Stier March 10, 2011 at 10:59 pm #

    I have never been a member of a buying club like Cosco. But like you I have gone inside one because I was curious. It does not make sense to me to pay a membership fee to save money. I am not sure that I would ever save as much money as it would cost me to join. And since I live alone, I do not need such large amounts of anything. Besides, I like to buy from local stores whenever possible. I like supporting small local businesses. I understand that there is a store called Jusco in Japan which is similar to Walmart. Is this true? Do you shop there?

    • kirin March 11, 2011 at 1:12 am #

      Jusco is a large grocery and daily goods store but it's not specially cheap. http://www.aeonretail.jp/netshop/index.html
      It's familiar in Japan but somehow I've never located myself near Jusco.
      Also, I'm not familiar with Walmart. I think Walmart tried to expand their stores in Japan as well but failed and withdrawn since then. It's interesting why Costco survived and Walmart failed in the Japanese market.

  12. Mary March 10, 2011 at 11:42 pm #

    Hey Kirin! In my family, we usually go to the nearest supermarket to get the weekly groceries, but back in New York, my mother did enjoy going to Costco for bulk shopping. Instead of buying tissues or toilet paper or deoderant every one-two weeks, we'd have a supply to last the month,lol. In Arkanasas, they have a similar warehouse store, called Sam's Club, which my uncle like to use, as he owns a small food buisness, but not really for personal shopping. ^^

    • kirin March 11, 2011 at 1:13 am #

      I see Costco can be highly supported by some restaurant owners!

  13. Lore March 11, 2011 at 8:43 am #

    It looks like costco me and my boyfriend might like. Since this year started we decided to buy all the things we need for the home once at month instead every week. And we decided to try purchased through the web, we spend less time, we spend less money becouse don't have to go to the supermarket and the shipping is free. We're happy with this way of shopping additionaly we live in a big house and we have much space for this reason we can buy 2×1 offers or big size packs ^^.

    • kirin March 12, 2011 at 4:39 am #

      That sounds good! If you don't have to worry about the spare space to store things, it's a good idea to do it at once to save time and effort. ^ ^

  14. Jasmine♥ March 11, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

    This reminds me of a warehouse store in the USA that's called Sam's club. It's owned by the makers of Wal-Mart~
    and P.s Kirin I hope you are okay. I heard what happened in Japan.♥

    • kirin March 12, 2011 at 4:40 am #

      Hi Jasmine,
      Thank you for your concern. I'm fine. Tokyo is not that bad. Northern part of Japan is devastating. 😦

      • Jasmine♥ March 12, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

        Yes the cities of Sendai and other ones *I forgot the other parts* are devastating. It's really sad to know this happened. I heard that yesterday there was an after quake in Chiba. 😦

      • kirin March 13, 2011 at 4:14 am #

        Yes, there were more earthquakes in Nagano and Chiba. We never know when another one will hit us. Will keep alert.

  15. Mekahel March 11, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

    I've shopped at stores like Costco and Sam's Club a few times but generally they are really only for big families, like you said. I've known people who shopped there religiously and I always wondered where they put it all. :p But like people have mentioned its a perfect place to buy things you know you'll use before they expire.
    I don't think I like those stores much because I like the time I spend shopping in my grocery store and I love being able to fit everything I need in one buggy! ^_^

    • kirin March 12, 2011 at 4:43 am #

      Sam's club is not seen in Japan but sounds like popular there.

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