Produce – sakumotsu さくもつ

Before coming here I heard a lot about the high cost of living in Japan, especially because the exchange rate is so terrible. I’ve actually been kind of surprised to find it’s not so bad. Sure, some things are more expensive, but usually* it’s a high quality service that I’m willing to pay for. Trains, for instance. I happily pay my train fare knowing that a the luxury of a reliable and vast train network doesn’t exist back home. Restaurants, too, are much cheaper than I anticipated. It helps that there is no tax and you don’t have to tip, but even so, a quality meal will cost me about 700 or 800 yen (8 or 9 dollars), sometimes even less!

Which is why it confuses me so much when I enter a grocery store and see how expensive the produce is. I’m not talking about the phenomena of expensive gift fruit, which is a whooole other story. I mean every day produce. It makes cooking at home often much more expensive than eating out, a strange reversal of what I’m used to! There are two grocery store chains near me, and the following prices are all from the cheaper of the two: $3.50 for a single bell pepper, $5.00 for SIX clementines (that’s what I used to pay for one of those huge boxes of them!), bananas close to a dollar apiece, onions three for $2.00. A little package of green beans for $2.00. Corn is a dollar a cob. Eggs to on sale once a week for 100 yen, but usually they cost the equivalent of nearly $2.00 – for only ten, not a dozen! I understand that the produce is expensive because it’s imported, but even the items with stickers that indicate locally grown seem pricey, such as the onions I bought today. It’s just expensive, period.

I’ve heard that Japanese farmers use a lot of pesticides on their produce. I was surprised! I expected Japan to be really into organic farming. If you’re interested in learning more about the general state of organic farming in Japan, read this interview with a Japanese organic farmer. It explains how Japan became involved with pesticides, as well as the challenges that Japanese farmers face today. I may have read a Michael Pollan book or two in my lifetime, but I’m a complete non-expert in global food systems, though always interested in learning more (like from my super foodie friend Jeff, who is generally my go-to guy about this kind of stuff!)

IN CONCLUSION, I want to make more of an effort to buy local and organic. Not being able to read Japanese means that at the supermarket, I can’t always tell what is local and what isn’t. I’ve been curious if there are alternatives to chain supermarkets, and sure enough, a friend pointed me in the direction of this Japan Agri market that sells locally grown “low pesticide” fruits and veggies. I’m going to go tomorrow and see what it’s like- luckily there is a location kind of close by. The website is only in Japanese (unless you have a browser that can translate it) but the happy, winky veggies at the top are enough to convince me it’s worth checking out.

This will be the first in a two (or more!) part investigative series. I’ll report back with my findings soon.

*Ok ok, I realize that I’m ignoring a huge one here: rent. Our rent is subsidized so I tend to forget how expensive it is for most people. In fact, I don’t even have a concept of how much it costs, just that it’s quite a lot.


One comment on “Produce – sakumotsu さくもつ”

  1. hi laura! found your blog…and i am totally with you on this post. i don’t strictly buy organic at home but am looking for some options other than the grocery stores here. there is a chain called ”green co-op” but i haven’t yet figured out whether you have to become a member to shop there, and i’m not really sure what they sell…

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