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 they may just use slightly different forms of words, but hopefully this can give you some examples of key words to listen for. In Okinawa, many people tend to speak more casually than in the mainland.
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; it will come after the country or prefecture place name. 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
India Indo インド
Canada Kanada カナダ
Brazil Burajiru ブラジル
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
Occasionally you may hear it referred to as “eco-bag” エコバッグ, pronounced “eko baggu.”
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 bukuro レジ袋
Ex: Would you like a bag? fukuro wa irimasu ka? 袋はいりますか？
or, Do you need a bag? reji bukuro wa 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.
You can answer several ways… #1, you have your own bag:
I have “my bag.” マイバッグを持ってる maibaggu motteru
Well, you can answer, or just sort of wave at your reusable bag which is really just what I do.
Option #2, you need a bag:
Yes, I need [# of] bag(s). はい、[1,2,3,etc.]-枚お願いします hai, [1,2,3,etc.]-mai onegaishimasu
Or, if you only have 1 or 2 items and are okay with carrying it, and don’t want a bag:
I don’t need a bag. レジ袋要りません reji bukuro irimasen
It doesn’t need to be put in a bag. レジ袋に入りません reji bukuro ni irimasen.
Just the “paid item sticker” is OK. ではシールを貼ります dewa shiiru o harimasu
Just the “paid sticker” is fine. シールでいいです shiiru de ii desu
It is fine like this (i.e., no bag). そのままでいいですよ sono mama de ii desuyo
Another possible phrase is “fukuro ii desu” 袋いいです (it roughly means, “it is fine so the bag is unneeded,” however the literal translation sounds like “the bag is fine”); it is sort of equivalent in English when we say “it’s fine” or “it’s okay”– it can often mean either a yes or no, so keep in mind it is just as ambivalent in Japanese. So, sometimes as a foreigner this phrase may come off as confusing, so when I use this it I also like to use the long “uuuhn” to say “no” before saying “fukuro wa ii desu” (short “un” is like saying “yes” so be careful!), as well as some sort of negatory hand signal. Especially in these situations as a foreigner, positive and negative hand signals can be very useful tools to help get across your meaning; I find that by just being a foreigner (despite one that speaks Japanese), some people can be nervous about communication. As a note, I don’t often use “iie” いいえ, which means “no”… since I don’t often hear it from Japanese people, so likewise I tend not to use it as much. Like many casual phrases in Japanese, you can drop or keep the particle (in this case, wa は) when saying this. **Also see the special section below regarding plastic bags.
If you buy a bento or prepared food:
would you like… … otsukeshimasu ka? …おつけしますか？ (this is said after the item)
… chopsticks? ohashi…? おはし…？
… spoon? supuun…? スプーン…?
… fork? fohku…? フォーク…？
warmed/heated up? atatamemasu ka? あたためますか？
***or sometimes more simply: hot? atatakai? あたたかい？
ex: ohashi wa otsukeshimasu ka? おはしはおつけしますか？ Would you like chopsticks?
If you are buying alcohol (sake 酒) or cigarettes (tabako タバコ), you must be 20 years or older. So you will usually need to push the button on the screen. This is easy as it usually flashes onto the screen and you just hit the big button marked「はい」(hai, yes).
Please push the button on the screen to confirm you are 20 years or older.
（画面の確認）ボタンを押してください。(Gamen no kakunin) botan o oshite kudasai.
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,” to not have). 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 will 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. Keep it simple.
When the cashier hands you back a receipt and/or change, listen for the key word:
change okaeshi お返し OR otsuri おつり
It is not really necessary to thank them, but a polite “doumo” doesn’t hurt:
thank you doumo (arigatou gozaimasu) どうも (ありがとうございます)
Of course, there are many levels of “thank you.” Doumo is the most casual, and so usually the most appropriate response to cashiers and store clerks. But of course, doumo arigatou is acceptable, slightly less informal. Most formal, would be doumo arigatou gozaimasu; this is usually something I only use with older people, my superiors, in a more formal situation, or sometime to show my utmost gratitude to someone for going out of their way to help me. Of course, there is also keigo (formal speech), but I will not get into that here…
As a funny note, “sankyuu” (サンキュー, coming from the English “thank you”) is something I hear often enough, typically more from younger people. Maybe you are thinking it is just something Japanese people say for foreigners, but it is actually used between Japanese people as well. So while I don’t really suggest you use it, don’t be surprised if you hear it.
**Special section on plastic bags:
For the more eco-friendly, a note: In Japan, it is very common for the register clerk to separate your meats, veggies, detergent, soap, etc. into separate small plastic bags, referred to as ビニール袋 biniiru fukuro (vinyl bag), not plastic bag. It can also be called ポリ袋 poli bukuro (polyester bag), it is interchangeable and you may use either one. Many people feel this is unnecessary from an environmental standpoint. So how to politely indicate this? The key phrase will be something like 入れなくてもいいです irenakute mo ii desu (It does not need to go in).
野菜などビニール袋に入れなくてもいいです yasai nado biniiru fukuro ni irenakute mo ii desu.
Translation: “The things like vegetables do not need to be put into vinyl bags.”
ビニール袋に入れないでください biniiru fukuro ni irenai de kudasai.
Translation: “Please don’t put (it) in the vinyl bag.”
そのままでいいですよ sono mama de ii desuyo.
Translation: It is okay the way it is. (i.e. you do not need to put into individual bags). You might supplement this with pointing to the vinyl bag and waving “no.”
Again, keep in mind there are several ways to indicate this, and this is just one example. You can use similar phrases mentioned in the previous section, as well.
ビニール袋は必要ない biniiru fukuro wa hitsuyounai.
Translation: I do not need (want) vinyl bags.
ビ二ール袋要りません biniiru fukuro irimasen.** This phrase is probably the easiest to remember!
Translation: I don’t need (want) vinyl bags.
Just keep in mind, it is the policy of grocery stores to separate certain items into individual plastic bags, so refusing it can seem a bit strange and they may look at you a little funny. Though more and more, some Japanese people are coming around to the idea. You can explain why you don’t want the plastics bags by saying “kankyou ni yasashii node” 環境に優しいので (because it is eco-friendly/environmentally-friendly). Also keep in mind the difference between reji bukuro レジ袋 (larger bag for carrying) and the poli/biniiru fukuro ポリ・ビニール袋 for individually wrapping items; it is best to be specific which one you are referring to as to not confuse the store clerk.