Thursday, December 13, 2007
When my husband and I first arrived in Japan, there was pretty much no such thing as bulk food shopping for the average consumer in Tokyo. There are several reasons why this is the case though I'm not sure which is the primary one. If I had to guess, I'd say it's because the small size of domiciles makes it difficult to store large quantities of items is the biggest reason. Another is that married Japanese women used to be housewives for the most part and they had the time and inclination to shop every day. Finally, the Japanese value freshness and feel uncomfortable buying a lot of something and keeping it around for awhile.
While most families still don't shop for items they can purchase in bulk, restaurants do need to get supplies somewhere and that is where Hanamasa supermarket seems to have gotten its start. Back when we first encountered it, part of the advertising indicated that it was focused on (possibly small) restaurant supply. Given the huge quantities you could buy in one package, this made sense.
The origins of Hanamasa are in meat sales (it began with a butcher shop) and that's reflected in the selections they offer. At the picture at the top of this post, you'll see smoked chicken, sliced ham (named "Winning Ham"), and two kinds of sausage. "Meister Rudolf's" is Hanamasa's brand designed to imitate German-made meat products and a lot of the sausage is pretty fatty. When we cook it, we usually drain off as much as possible and blot them on paper towels. For meat, the prices are relatively economical. Five hundred grams (about 1 lb.) of hot sausage is ¥418 ($3.72) and 2.2 lbs. (1 kg.) of "bologna sausage" is ¥1,080 ($9.66). The only down side to the large portions is that it's too much to eat before it spoils so you really need to repackage and freeze portions.
In addition to their own brand-name products, they carry a constant supply of imports including cheese. Pictured above are mozzarella, Gouda (both from Australia), and red cheddar (from New Zealand). The prices recently went up from 100 yen (89 cents) per 100 grams (3.5 oz.) to 130 yen ($1.16) per 100 grams, but it's still cheaper than imported cheese in most markets in Japan. The blocks above are 1 kg. (2.2 lbs.) each and most cheese is sold in these large portions, but it keeps exceptionally well if you re-seal it in the same wrapping that it comes in. Cheese isn't supposed to be kept in plastic wrap and will get moldy faster if it can't breath.
While Hanamasa does carry fresh fruit and vegetables, they aren't a great deal cheaper than other outlets. I've also found that some of the fruit seems a bit past its prime, but I can't say that I've shopped for such items at Hanamasa often enough to say that that is consistently the case.
Finally, imported goodies are available sporadically. If you find something you like at Hanamasa, you have to stock up because there's every chance that they won't be around next time you visit.
As an aside, the day my husband shopped at Hanamasa, one of his students gave him the South Park tote bag pictured above. Somehow, it seems appropriate that a bag talking about Salisbury Steak day was given to him on the day he went to a place that specializes in meat. It also came in pretty handy for carrying some of the items he bought back home.