Ever been inside a Japanese grocery store? They are neat little organized places with food and products packaged neatly into predetermined portions. If you shop at them often, you may find yourself falling into a common trend.
Note how I said that Japanese grocery stores are small, and that most products are packaged into portion sizes that can be easily consumed within a day or so. And not only are the stores small, but so are the shopping carts and baskets. Everything from the packaging to the size of the bicycle baskets most people will ultimately be taking their groceries home in practically forces people to shop for food everyday.
And that’s just what most people do.
Whether living with a large family or just on one’s own, most people end up buying food on the day that they plan to consume it. Most premade meals at convenience and grocery stores – even something as small as onigiri – have a best by date for the day it is sold, so most people here are led to believe that food is freshest on the day you buy it.
Even if this is not the case, Japanese housewives in a conventional family will cook a new meal everyday. I noticed from asking around that Japanese people only make a portion that they can finish, and rarely do “mealprepping” the way we do it in the states. A lot of Japanese don’t like the idea of eating the same meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and get bored very quickly. Making a week’s batch of soup or curry and keeping it in the fridge is definitely not something most people here do.
The pressure to produce a new, innovative meal everyday is high in traditional family arrangements, but many wives and mothers also enjoy the experience of going out to shop and creating something fresh everyday. The image that it is healthier also definitely adds fuel to the culture.
It might sound more expensive to buy smaller portions. In the US we think that buying in bulk saves money, which it can, but not all the time. Buying in bulk in Japan doesn’t make a lot of sense. Fridges, kitchens, and houses are small in general so there isn’t a lot of space to store food. Pantries are also not really a thing, and food does expire. If something is not eaten before it turns, it ends up ultimately as money thrown out in the garbage or washed down the drain. And even if it is all eaten, I have found that many foods don’t even become cheaper as their quantity increases. A prepackaged bag of 6 apples costs about the same as 6 apples individually bought, for example.
For some people it may seem like a waste of time, but for others it is just another given task for the day. There are options for people that can only tolerate weekly or monthly trips to the supermarket. We do have Costco here, but you need a car and a membership, 2 things that many people don’t have. In the end, people adapt to their circumstances and enjoy the eat-something-different-at-every-meal culture.