Sunday, December 02, 2007

Consumables and Comestibles

I've mentioned in previous posts on Costco that those of us living in Japan who don't have cars (which is a far greater than the number of foreigners who do) can use a delivery service to ship large quantities of items to our apartments. Each box costs ¥600 ($5.40) to ship and they can be quite huge. In fact, the boxes pictured above take up a little less than half of the available floor space in our kitchen. Of course, that's just as much a reflection of the size of our apartment as the boxes themselves.

My husband's most recent sojourn to Costco yielded one of the largest collections of food and household items we've ever amassed at any given time. Unpacking these boxes and finding a place to put things literally takes a couple of hours and the contents are expected to last months in many cases. If we load up enough items, he can wait 4 months between trips and that saves both time and money (because of train fare).

This trip included much more "entertainment food" than usual because of the upcoming holidays and the total for everything came to around ¥75,000 ($675). While that may sound like a tremendous amount of money, it's not that huge when you consider the cost of living in Tokyo and that the items will last a long time. Some of the things we buy will take up to a year to consume. We have to look at the one-time big tab as a way of saving money over a long period of time. For instance, the big case of paper towels is about half the cost of Japanese paper towels and will probably last 8 months. Liquid laundry detergent which costs about twice the cost of a very small box of Japanese powdered laundry soap will last a year and won't cake up in the humid summer. The Japanese powder would last about 2 months.

In fact, one of the best ways to appreciate the savings is to compare the small Japanese jar of Skippy on the left to the big American one on the right. The small jar contains 12 oz. (340 g.) of peanut butter and the large one 64 oz. (1.8. kg.). The larger one only costs about twice the small one, but has six times the quantity. Please note that my husband and I aren't huge consumers of peanut butter and normally we wouldn't want this much peanut butter on hand. However, with Christmas coming, I expect to be making up about a hundred or so peanut butter cookies to include as part of gift bags for both my husband's and my students. Each batch of cookies takes one cup of peanut butter or an entire Japanese size jar. I'll probably need to use 1/2-2/3 of that huge American jar just for Christmas cookies.

Knowing all of the savings over the long run doesn't necessarily stop me from cringing when we fork over a large amount of money all at once though. It's still rather painful to consider blowing that much money on consumables and comestibles.


heng said...

I too, often buy my groceries from similar wholesalers, in Tokyo, it was Hanamasa and here in the Kobe it's 業務スパー.

Things are slightly cheaper but it's really about the amount of time you can save by buying stuff in bulk.

Mari said...

Hi Shari,
I go to Costco once or twice a year. I usually send home a package that would last me several months, too. It does save me a lot of money, and it is the only place where I can get really good detergents, cleaning aids, school supplies, and also books. I went last year to get a big batch of books for my English class. My company saved a little from that, too, considering the outside price was about 1.5x the price at Costco.

Shari said...

Heng: Hi, there. :-) We also go to Hanamasa as a "between Costco" place to stock up on perishables (especially real cheese since it's so expensive in Japanese markets). And, you make a very good point about saving time. Japanese people seem more comfortable with frequent shopping trips while I lot of other folks see it as a waste of time.

Mari: Hi. :-) I try to avoid the stationary section of Costco because it is so tempting to buy lots of nifty supplies that I don't need and probably wouldn't use. You're right about the detergent and cleaning aids! I'm not a fan of Japanese dish soap or laundry items, so we always get those things at Costco. Imported fabric softener is also nicer and cheaper.

Many thanks to both of you for your comments!

mjgolli said...

Wow! That is a lot of stuff! I guess I am spoiled and take my close location to shopping and relatively low midwest prices for granted. My parents and I ususally go to Sam's Club (the Wal-Mart-esque knockoff of Costco) once a month, and hit up a big grocery like Meijer or Kroger once a week. We take for granted these things and gripe and complain that traffic is a nightmare, or the lines are too long, or the prices too much. It takes a perspective like yours, that cheese cost like gold and peanut butter like platinum, to make those of us stateside much more thankful for our convenient home comforts.

Just if traffic in Beavercreek wasn't such a pain.........

- Mike