By thomas | October 9, 2007
Relative to other places, the cost of living in Japan is high. Rent is expensive. Transportation is expensive. Clothes are expensive. Food is no exception. Just the other day I saw a single mango selling in the local grocery store for 3000 yen (I bought bananas). Steaks often clock in at over 700 yen and watermelon is notorious for being expensive.
We don’t have to give up eating our favorite foods though. We don’t have to pinch pennies by eating instant ramen all week either. There’s a nice workaround when it comes to buying perishable food: hangaku stickers.
Hangaku (半額 [はんがく]) means “half price”. As a rule, grocery stores don’t like to throw food away if they can help it. As perishable food approaches it’s throwaway day, stores will start putting discount stickers on the packages. Typically they will start with a 10% off sticker, then 20%, 30% (pictured right), 40% and finally the magical 50% hangaku sticker!
A 3000 yen mango reduced to 1500 still isn’t a very good deal. You’d have to really be into the mango-tasting experience to buy that one. But 350 yen for a steak? Sold. Have you ever had a steak for breakfast? It’s awesome.
The key to finding the half-off stickers is timing. Every store is a little different so you’ll need to stake out your grocery store in order to figure out the best time to buy. Here are a few tips to help you find the right time.
- Boxed lunches, salads, sandwiches and fresh-cut fruits like the pineapple pictured below will generally be thrown out the same day they are prepared. Go to the store at night and you will see the discount stickers.
- Items that can stay on the shelf for a few days, like steaks, will have a sticker on them that says shouhi kigen. Shouhi kigen (消費期限 [しょうひきげん]) means “expiration date” (literally “consumption deadline”). The store must sell the product before this date. So here’s what you do:
- Go to the store.
- Find your desired item. Let’s assume it’s steak for this example.
- Write down or memorize the shouhi kigen date printed on the packaging.
- Go home, steakless and alone.
- Return to the store on the day before the shouhi kigen date. You will need to go in the evening, after the dinner shopping rush has ended. Sometime after 7. The above steak has a date of October 7th. I bought it on the 6th.
- Buy your steak at the discounted price.
- Return home, cook it up and devour.
- Japanese people know this trick too, so if you go to the store too late, all the discounted items might be gone. Keep trying!
You can even get the expensive Japanese steak for a reasonable price.
As a final note, please be aware that expiration dates are there for a reason. It is recommended that you eat discounted food within one day of purchase to avoid food poisoning.
Do you have any tips for saving money at the grocery store? Drop me a comment!
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