Living on the other side of the Pacific Ocean from your birthplace is a sure way to make you miss things you used to take for granted. I am a pretty hungry guy, so a lot of what I miss is food related. Things have actually gotten a lot better over the years, and I can find almost anything I want these days. Almost.
Enter the newest Costco in Japan. For those who don't know, Costco is a wholesale style buyers club where you can get steep discounts by buying way more of a product than you really need. The local expats here enjoy it because it often has American and foreign goods that you just cant find anywhere else. People have long trekked into the neighboring prefecture of Saitama for a chance to fill their fridge with a dozen bratwurst. Now Maebashi has its very own store, filled with just about everything.
This was my first trip to a Japanese Costco, and it was fascinating, and cart filling. Much of the basic offerings are the same as in the states, huge bags of candy, great cuts of meat, giant blocks of cheese and more. Though there were nods to the Asian location as well, with tubs of kimchee and pallets of ramen noodles on offer too. One funny thing I noticed is that the books they had were almost universally in English, which seems strange. They must sell, because I can`t imagine them stocking them otherwise. One thing that shocked us was the sheer number of people buying frozen pizzas. The Costco frozen pizza is far cheaper than anything in the stores here, but is also far larger. Knowing the relative size of Japanese freezers and ovens, I was wondering just how this was going to work. My ride, a local, let us befuddled Americans in on the secret. People will cut up the pizza before its cooked so it will fit in the oven. Ingenious, if a little time consuming.
Being that it was opening weekend, things were pretty wild. Carts jockeyed for position with all the fervor of a Formula 1 race, and more than a few heels got nailed by the cart behind. Overall though, I was impressed with the efficiency of the staff. The lines were long but they moved quickly, much more so than I had expected. The famous Hot Dog and Drink combo was in full effect, a dirt cheap 250 yen. That and a slice of pizza for under 500 yen? I am sold!
In the end I came away with quite a few goodies, including a 24 pack of non-name brand microbrew, a box of raisin bran, some bratwurst, some pre-cooked breakfast sausage patties (they didn't have fresh sausage, alas) and a giant bag of limes. On the list for next time is real ground beef (its often mixed with pork here), tons of cheese, New York cut steaks and more. It is really nice to have this sort of thing lurking in the neighborhood, even if I will need to beg for rides and the use of my friends membership cards!