One of the questions that I am often asked by those who are here in Okinawa is “Where can I find reasonably priced groceries in Okinawa”. This question usually comes from military members who are familiar with shopping at the base commissaries but have not had the chance to venture out to the grocery stores just outside the gates. Most are looking for reasonably priced food because the commissary prices are unreasonably high on some items. Others are looking for food which has not been shipped in from the US resulting in produce which is fresher, longer. Luckily Okinawa has a number of places where shoppers can get reasonably priced and fresh groceries.
If fresh produce is what you’re interested in then you may want to check out a local Farmer’s Market. These markets are located all over the island and feature various products from Okinawa’s main island as well as the small island’s just off the coast. Unlike farmer’s markets in the US the markets here in Okinawa are structured almost like a grocery store with shelves and food packaged with price tags on the packages for easy sale.
The variety of foods and prices that you find at the farmer’s markets here in Okinawa vary by season and location so be aware that you may have to adjust what you intend to eat based on what is available and in season if you so choose to shop at the farmer’s market. It’s also important to understand that the selection your farmer’s market has available changes not only from day to day but also hour to hour. For the most selection it’s best to visit the farmer’s market early in the day.
Another option for getting reasonably priced food is to visit a local grocery store. Most of the grocery stores here in Okinawa feature some of the same goods that you might find in farmer’s markets as well as goods from other parts of Japan and neighboring countries. The selection also includes fresh foods as well as packaged foods like pasta, canned goods and cookies.
Although some of the deals you can find at grocery stores don’t beat the prices you can find at farmer’s markets on week days there are ways to get better deals on the weekend. The best time to go grocery shopping here in Okinawa in on a Sunday morning (usually at 9AM when the store opens). This is a big shopping day here in Okinawa and there are special sales on everything especially produce, meat and fish. You can save quite a bit of money shopping on Sunday morning as many items are marked down to 99 yen for what is called “Pay Day Sale”.
So where should you go if you’re new to the island and want to dabble in the art of shopping at a Japanese grocery store? I recommend heading to AEON in Mihama. I realize that this may be far for some of you based on your location but it’s a great place to visit at least once so that you can get your feet wet. Aeon has a large selection of decently priced groceries and the best part is that the store over the years has done it’s best to accommodate to those who cannot read Japanese. English labels are throughout the store helping you find your way around and try out some items that you may not have found otherwise. Once you get the hang of shopping here you can figure out how to get what you need at other grocery stores throughout the island.
That’s my advise on finding reasonably priced (and fresh) produce while here in Okinawa. It’s really not too hard to do if you take the time and put in the effort to actually get out and see what the stores have to offer. The only thing to keep in mind is that although a person, even who eats American cuisine, can get everything they need off base there are a few things that you might not be able to find because the brands are not available here OR because the items are not produced in Japan. It takes a bit of adjustment but you can get it squared away in no time.