Going shopping in a foreign country can both be an exciting adventure as well as a frustrating exercise in futility. Thus, becoming a smart shopper first of all involves getting to know your way around and where to find what you want. Of course, if you really want to be a "smart shopper" in Japan, then you'll learn to read Japanese and pay attention to the flyers advertising bargains. But as that takes practically a lifetime for most foreigners to accomplish, THE ALIEN TIMES will try to provide you with some tools to accomplish the next best thing -- learning from others' experiences where (and to a certain extent when) to go to get what you need at the best price. Department Stores
The newly opened Asse store is introduced elsewhere in this issue, but to round out what is available in this area, there are three other department stores in Tsukuba and several along the Joban train line. Jusco and Seibu are the two main stores in the Creo Shopping Center in downtown Tsukuba, with several small shops located in the "mall" between them. Seibu has the most variety and is considered to be the best quality (along with typically higher prices). Jusco and the nearby Daiei typically have lower priced clothing and other such items. All three have their pluses and minuses when it comes to the food section. Seibu's grocery section is rather small, but has more imported items (usually at rather high prices, but with occasional bargains on such things as Skippy peanut butter and Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup). Also, Seibu specializes in various prepared foods, particularly traditional Japanese cakes and other such delicacies. One good strategy for buying perishable items such as meat and milk is to go in the evening on the night before a day when the store will be closed (see below under "Teikyubi"). Many items that are unsold at that point are marked way down (as much as 50% off).
Other department stores within a reasonable distance include several located at stations along the Joban Line. These include Seiyu and Itoyokado in Tsuchiura, Nagasakiya in Arakawaoki (opposite side of station from Tsukuba), Seiyu and Izumiya in Ushiku and several major chains in Kashiwa, the nearest "Tokyo-like" metropolitan shopping district (about half way to Tokyo). Grocery Shopping
While one can bring most of the clothing one needs from home, for the most part, grocery shopping must be done locally. The main exception to that, of course, is ordering imported foods through the Foreign Buyer's Club (see elsewhere in this issue). One of the favorite local food stores for the foreign community is Hanamasa Meat Pavilion, located in Matsushiro between the Suwa Hotel and the Catholic Church. Needless to say, it specializes in meats, and if you are really adventurous, you can even try alligator and kangaroo meat! Its prices for beef, pork and chicken are definitely worth a special trip, with typical prices for lean hamburger meat at 68/100yen gm (about U.S. $3/lb.), thick steaks at 98/100yen gm (about $4.40/lb) and boneless chicken breasts at 680/2yen kg. package (about $1.50/lb) comparable with (or even better than) U.S. prices. Low fat milk is another bargain, especially on weekends, when it is usually 100yen per liter. In order to get the discount prices on most items, however, you have to buy two of them. Eggs, bread, frozen vegetables and some fruits (particularly bananas) are also priced lower than most anywhere else.
For the most complete selection of food items to choose from, the food sections of Asse, Daiei and Jusco department stores, along with Kasumi Supermarket, are probably your best bets. There are also smaller food stores in the Takezono, Namiki and Matsushiro "mini" shopping centers that may be worth utilizing if they're more convenient to you. Another small grocery store that is worth mentioning is the Okada store located just to the north of the Hanamuro intersection on Tsuchiura-Gakuen Sen. It often has very good prices on fresh vegetables. There are also several small "Farmer's Market" types of direct sales of vegetables during certain times of the year. There locations and times vary, and so if you are interested in that, ask a Japanese neighbor for information.
If you are looking for fresh bread, Morgen's Bakery, located a couple of blocks east of Nishi Odori on the north side of Doho Park, is probably your best bet. They have some nice whole-grain types of breads, along with being located next to a good cake shop, "Shiigeru". "Do-it-yourself Stores"
Until recently, the "Nichiyo Daiku" (Sunday Carpenter) was somewhat of a rarity in Japan. Most Japanese have grown up with the idea that you call in experts for anything more complicated than changing a light bulb. Thus, the rather common pattern in the U.S. of being a "household handyman" and doing your own minor wiring, plumbing, etc. has not been common in Japan. This is changing, however, as is evident from the recent increase of "Do-it-yourself stores".
Without a doubt, the "premier" store in this area is Joyful Honda, located at the corner of Higashi Odori and Route 6 in Arakawaoki. It is a huge store with a wide variety of home improvement type items. In fact, if you need more than small pieces of lumber for your project, it really the only place to go. It's prices are generally as low (high?) or lower than most other stores, but it's not that unusual to see some items at better prices at Kasumi Home Center (a much smaller, though still fairly good sized, store in Takezono). Joyful is a good place to look for appliances, small furniture items, carpet, bicycles, auto and cleaning equipment as well as tools and garden equipment. During the winter season, many people buy their kerosene there, as it is sold at a significant discount. Located across the parking lot is a related store called "Smile Honda" (Don't you love these original "English" names). It specializes in heating, baths and other sorts of contracted home improvements (in other words, not "do-it-yourself"). And across the huge parking lot (certainly the biggest in this part of Japan), is another related store specializing in seasonal items. It's a great place to get Christmas decorations for the upcoming season (many imported from the U.S.).
Rounding out this section, to go along with the Kasumi store in Takezono (and another larger one in Ushiku on Route 6 west of Ushiku-Gakuen Sen -- Route 408), there is also the new "D-2" store next to the new "Asse" department store in Yatabe to provide competition for Joyful. Discount Stores
A couple of small discount stores are worth mentioning. "Merci" is a very interesting store that has a variety of decorative items at often unbelievably low prices. It also serves as an outlet for leftover items from businesses that have gone bankrupt, and so some very good buys can be found on general items as well. It is located on Science Odori not far from the new Asse store. It is about 1 km north of Asse on the opposite side of the street and reminds one of a giant barn. The decorative items are located in the "attic", and it is a great place to check out if you are looking for something inexpensive to take back to your country as a souvenir.
Another small discount store worth knowing about is "Heart One" located across from Daiei on the ground floor of the "Excel" building. It has a variety of discounted items and though the variety is somewhat limited, you can get some good bargains on food items and pet food. Its prices on alkaline batteries are the lowest around.
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