This page contains some simple and useful phrases for shopping in a Japanese grocery store. I find myself repeat these types of things every day, so even if you do not understand much (or any) Japanese, learning a little bit of the language goes a long way when interacting with cashiers and store workers. Keep in mind these phrases I am sharing are just some basics; some people may speak more formally or more casually or use slightly different words, but hopefully this can give you some key words to listen for.
When you are shopping, instead of asking where something is in the store, it is considered much more polite to ask if something exists in the store:
Do you have … … wa arimasu ka? …はありますか？
Ex: You want to know where to find sugar (or need help with which bag of white powder is sugar), so you would say: Satou wa arimasu ka? 砂糖はありますか？
If you are looking for a place, it is more appropriate to ask where:
Where is … … wa doko desu ka? …はどこですか？
Ex: Where is the toilet? Toire wa doko desu ka? トイレはどこですか？
If you want to know what the cost of something is:
How much is this? kore wa ikura desu ka? これはいくらですか？
Figuring out the cost of something: In the store, sometimes it is by piece, or sometimes by weight. If it is by weight, you will see ＊＊＊円/100g (remember the unit of choice is grams here, not pounds). If it is by piece, then it gets tricky, as the Japanese system for counting objects changes depending on the object (below are some common ones)! For this pricing scheme instead of /100g on the sign you will see a number and a symbol:
For round objects, like oranges, you will likely see 1玉.
For smallish objects, 1個.
For chicken wings, 1羽.
For long cylindrical objects, 1本.
For flat objects, 1枚.
Particularly small items may be 1粒.
A bundle is usually 1束
A box is 1箱.
I could keep going on (yes, seriously, there are all sorts of odd counters for objects in Japan)… but hopefully this makes it more obvious what to look for when making purchases. If you have to ask for a certain number of items at a display case or counter, I usually stick to the easiest and generic counting system (while usually holding up the number of fingers):
1 hitotsu 一つ 2 futatsu 二つ 3 mittsu 三つ 4 yottsu 四つ
5 itsutsu 五つ 6 muttsu 六つ 7 nanatsu 七つ 8 yattsu 八つ
9 kokonotsu 九つ 10 too 十
While shopping, it is useful to know that Japan labels where the products are from. 産 “san” is the indicator on the label to look for. Some farmers markets in Okinawa will even label the produce by town/city or even by farmer. Some examples:
Okinawa Prefecture Okinawa-ken 沖縄県
China Chuugoku 中国
S Korea Kankoku 韓国
USA Amerika アメリカ
Mexico Mekishiko メキシコ
Phillipines Firipin フィリピン
Thailand Tai タイ
Vietnam Betonamu ベトナム
At the register, レジ “reji”:
If you have your own reusable shopping bag (very much encouraged here), the word is “borrowed” from English, “my bag”:
reusable bag: mai baggu マイバッグ
If you do not have a bag, the cashier might ask you if you would like one. Listen for:
bag: fukuro 袋; sometimes you may hear: reji fukuro レジ袋
Ex: Would you like a bag? fukuro wa irimasu ka? 袋は要りますか？
or, Do you need a bag? reji fukuro ha hitsuyo desu ka? レジ袋は必要ですか?
Often, grocery stores will charge for plastic bags, so the clerk will tell you how much per bag, and if it is okay (generally 3円). They will try to shove it all in one bag for you, but it doesn’t seem possible they may ask how many bags you would like. Since most places charge for plastic bags, it is a good idea to have 1 or 2 foldable, reusable bags with you when you got out food shopping.
If you buy a bento or prepared food:
chopsticks? ohashi? おはし？
spoon? supuun? スプーン?
fork? fohku? フォーク？
warmed/heated up? atatakai? あたたかい？
In Japan, pretty much every single store, conbini, cafe, etc, has some sort of rewards/point card. And they will politely ask you at the register if you have one.
point card pointo ka-do ポイントカード
stamp card sutanpu ka-do スタンプカード
You may be asked if you have a point card: Pointo ka-do arimasu ka? ポイントカードありますか？ (more casual, I hear this more at conbini) or Pointo ka-do o omochidesu ka? ポイントカードをお持ちですか？ (more business-like, shops in malls are more likely to use this)
To which you reply “hai” and hand over your card, or you can say something like “arimasen” or “janai” (or perhaps “mottenai”). Depending on the cashier, you may be asked if you would like to start a point/stamp card: Sutanpu ka-do o tsukurimashou ka? スタンプカードを作りましょうか？ (literally, “shall I make you a stamp card?”). Again, phrasing may vary, but listen for something similar to this and they will usually be holding up a point card or pointing to a picture of it as they ask.
If you would like them to start a point card for you, a simple “hai, onegaishimasu” is probably the best reply.
When the cashier hands you back change, listen for the key word:
change okaeshi お返し
It is not really necessary to thank them, but a polite “doumo” doesn’t hurt:
thank you doumo (arigatou) どうも (ありがとう)