Saturday, April 06, 2013

Ahhh... Costco.... but with some twists

This is a photo of the Hiroshima Costco I pulled off of the internet. It was raining today, so I did not get any outside shots of the store.
As much as I am enjoying my time in Japan, sometimes I just miss some of the things from home. Family and friends, of course, but then there are the little things, like Sonic unsweet tea, Wahoo's chicken salad, my Ford Explorer, six-lane surface streets with 55 mph speed limits, produce that doesn't cost an arm and a leg... And then there are the not-so-little things, like the giant Costco warehouses and their bulk-sized products of joy.

The kids and I had planned to be in Okinawa right now, but, Space A loving me like it does (dripping heavy sarcasm here), there was no space available for us when we tried to fly Space A yesterday. So, I figured this would be a good time to finally make the 1.5 hour drive (we've always taken the train before) to Hiroshima and check out the new Costco that just opened there last month. I chose to drive to Hiroshima for the first time in the pouring rain. I wasn't going to let that stop me, I had some disappointment to get over. Plus, if I was to going to be buying any bulk-sized products of joy, I certainly wasn't going to walk in the rain to the train station with them. I needed my car. Plus, the boys and I (Rodney should be in Okinawa by then, for a special week-long Master Sergeant seminar) plan to drive to Sasebo Navy base Monday and stay for a few days, I figured I'd better use this trip as a practice run for the real 5-hour road trip.

Fortunately, my friend Yolanda's directions and map, as well as Google Maps, all were great at different points in the trip, and we were able to find Costco without getting lost. An accident and pouring rain made the 1.5-hour trip closer to 2 hours, but so be it. I was on an adventure.

The view of the Carps stadium from the third floor of the Costco parking structure.
The Hiroshima Costco is not the sprawling warehouse with giant sprawling parking lot like you find in suburban America. It is right next to, as in you can almost reach out and touch, the Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium, where the Japanese professional baseball team, the Carps play. You drive around the stadium to get to the Costco parking structure. Yes, parking structure. It is three stories high, over the store itself, and, even though many Japanese work on Saturdays, it was PACKED. So packed, in fact, that we had to park on the top deck of the parking structure and dash through the rain to the escalator ramps down to the store itself. Imagine the concrete ramps you find at sports stadiums that you walk up along the outside of the stadium. Same thing at Costco... only these are escalators made for shopping carts. Bad photo, but you get the idea.

But this could be dangerous... I can just imagine a harried mother juggling twins and a cart accidentally letting the cart slip from her grip, taking out an entire escalator ramp full of shoppers. Of course, Costco already considered that (or the escalator ramp people did and Costco took their advice) and have custom wheels on the carts. The wheels have treads that slip in to the escalator floor and than have a rubber stopper to hold them in one place. No shopping cart bowling today!

After showing my membership card (yes my one from the States works, but a manager needed to override it at the register because I do not have a Japanese address, just a Military Post Office box) I entered the suburban family's shopping Mecca...

The design of the warehouse itself is just like the American Costcos I know and love, down to the seasonal items on the left and the electronics straight ahead as you walk in. The snacks are toward the front, the food and pharmacy are on the far left. The clothing section is in the center and the bathrooms are Western style (much to my, and my bladder's, relief). Some of the products are familiar, too.

Giant rolls of ribbon! Love these, but the selection is much smaller than in the States
The clothing section... this photo belies how crowded it actually was. I think everyone was crushed in to the food sections.
The kids were thrilled to see that the playhouse was on display... even though we don't have a backyard to put it in right now.
There were a lot of Asian products that I didn't recognize and could not read. And some I did recognize but doubted I would find in the States.

As we wandered around, I noticed that most Japanese had huge bags of dinner rolls or huge frozen pizzas, or both, in their baskets. These must be very popular items here. There are only cheese and shrimp pizzas to choose from - no pepperoni. And we tried a sample of the rolls, and they had a spiciness to them I couldn't identify.

Shrimp pizza

Spicy dinner rolls
And speaking of samples, yes, there were plenty to be had, but some of them you had to stand in line for, like with this beef dish below. The line starts with the lady in the white shirt with the basket and child in green and went back about nine people.

The kids are big fans of samples and said they had about five or six different ones. Those were just the ones without lines, so there were probably 12 different products being sampled around the store. Below they were trying a salad with salad dressing.

Ultimately, here is what we bought:

My basket of bulk-sized products of joy.
Not a lot for a State-side shopping trip to Costco, but with less storage and slightly higher prices, we kept our shopping trip "sane." I bought 16 items and spent 13,428 yen, about $150, most of it on fresh fruits and vegetables since they are not cheap at the commissary. We ate the raspberries before we got out of the city. Delicious! I got two spools of decorative ribbon, a set of camisole tanks for me, a pair of swimming trunks for Will, who had grown out of all the ones he's had.

If you are in to price comparisons, here is what I paid for some of the items (these are the ones I could read on the receipt... the rest were in hiragana.

Jar of Kirkland Minced Garlic: 538 yen (about $6)
50-foot spool of decorative ribbon: 698 yen (about $7.50)
Kirkland Bath Tissue (30 rolls): 1,988 yen (about $22)
Bag of six bell peppers: 888 yen (about $10 - these cost about $2 each at the commissary).

Of course, our receipt was highlighted by the personnel at the door as we left, and the food court is out the roll-up exit doors and to the right. We were there at lunch time so it was amazingly busy. It has many of the usual menu items... pizza, hot dogs, fruit parfaits and soda... all in the usual sizes. I can just imagine how a Japanese person's mind is blown by the sheer size of some of this stuff.

As we left, one of the Costco employees said, "See you next week!" I think we surprised him by the relatively few items we had in our baskets. Other military wives have mentioned getting odd stares because of their overflowing baskets. I think we'll make this a monthly trip... and on a weekday. Just like I used to in the States to avoid the crowds and the budget crunch. Some things never change.

No comments: