Foodies often ask us where they should go food shopping when they are in Tokyo or Kyoto to eat high-quality Japanese food. First of all, it is good to know that it is actually hard to have a bad meal in Japan, especially in larger cities. Tourists often rave about the taste and quality of food they eat in restaurants in Japan, because the food is usually a lot better than what they are used to from Japanese restaurants in their home countries. But what about the famed depachika, the food departments in basements of large department stores?
High-End Food Shopping in Japan
Tourists sometimes wonder where people in Japan go shopping for groceries, as in the places they tend to travel to there is no large supermarket in sight. All they usually see are convenience stores and of course vending machines if they want to get something to eat or drink on the go. Of course, there are large and super large supermarkets in Japan, but you need to know where to look if you want to find them.
First of all, you can find many supermarkets in more suburban areas, but if you don’t plan on traveling there during your short stay in Japan, you can also look near stations. Many private railway companies in Japan have more than one way to make money, and besides railways, they often also own department stores, supermarkets, real estate, and entertainment venues. In many of Tokyo’s busy hub stations as well as smaller stations a bit further from the center you can find supermarkets right underground or near the exit of the station. These supermarkets tend to be middle to slightly higher end.
But where do the locals go shopping for special occasions? Then, they will often go to a depachika, or literally ‘department store basement’. Especially the more high-end department stores have amazing depachika, and you can find the finest products in the country in these underground food treasure troves.
Why is Japanese Fruit So Good?
One of the best parts of looking around in a depachika is finding the delectable fruits that are sometimes sold at astronomically high prices. Fruits come in many quality categories in Japan; you can find affordable, lower or medium quality fruits of many types, and (very high-end) fruits that are almost always produced in Japan.
In Japan, there has always been a lack of farmland, as 70% of the archipelago is mountains and therefore not useful for farmers. This is one of the reasons why many fruit farmers in Japan choose to grow only high-end fruits that they can sell for high prices, so they don’t need a large surface of land to be able to make a good amount of profit. Secondly, the water in Japan is of superior quality to many other places because it comes from clean mountain areas of which there are plenty in Japan.
Third, if you are an artisan or farmer of any other kind of professional, one of the most important things is to perfect your work or product. This means that fruit farmers go the whole nine yards to produce the most flavorful and beautiful fruit they can. This is for example done by culling all subpar fruits so that only the best ones come to full fruition and can take all the nutrients, taking great care of the growing fruits by packing them to protect them from the environment, and in some cases even massaging the fruits.
No matter what, the fruit farmers take pride in their jobs, and you will definitely be able to taste that if you are willing to shell out. The taste explosion of one of the grapes you see in the picture was out of this world and unfortunately spoiled me a bit by making it hard to eat fruits of a low(er) quality.
Lunch or Dinner From a Depachika
All kinds of typical Japanese foods can be bought at a depachika. If you want to know what kind of delicacies average Japanese people like to eat, look no further. Many depachika shops also create ready-made bentos that consist of a full lunch or dinner to satisfy those busy city-dwellers who have no time to cook after work. What foods should you look out for in depachika if you want to create a varied lunch or dinner out of a few nice, local snacks?
- Japanese-style croquettes; they come with different fillings and umami-rich sauces, crunchy from outside and soft from the inside. What is not to love?
- Salads; there is always a great selection of healthy, Japanese-style salads on offer in a depachika.
- Tempura; of course ebi (shrimp) tempura is good, but why don’t you also try something new like okura tempura, takenoko (bamboo shoot) tempura, or shiitake tempura?
- Wagyu beef; if you are not going to cook it at home, wagyu beef in depachika can best be had as a part of a small bento.
- A small bottle of sake; nothing goes better with Japanese food than sake, and the good part is that they always sell small bottles that you can easily drink by yourself without getting overly drunk. Drinking alcohol in public is not prohibited in Japan.
- Japanese pickles; a perfect side dish to go with your bottle of sake, and healthy to boot.
- Seasonal fruit; and as a dessert, nothing will be more satisfying that just a couple of shine muscat grapes or super sweet strawberries.
Great Souvenirs from Depachika
It is always difficult to decide which gifts to bring home from your vacation in Japan. There is no accounting for taste, and what you might think is a very beautiful kimono or gorgeous doll, someone else will not find nice to look at at all. Japanese people have a great solution to this problem; in Japan, you only ever give edible (or drinkable) souvenirs that are specific to the region you visited. Who does not like to receive a delicious gift that won’t take up any space after it has been consumed? Let us give you some ideas for edible souvenirs that you can buy in a depachika;
- Sake, shochu, or whiskey; if the person you are buying a souvenir for drinks alcohol, bringing a bottle of high-quality sake, shochu, or Japanese whiskey will certainly be approved of.
- Fruits that stay good for a few days; make sure you buy the fruits on the last day of your stay in Japan, so they arrive at the gift receiver still-fresh. People will love a piece of well-packaged and high-end Japanese fruit!
- Wagashi; these typical Japanese sweets look like little pieces of art, and come in pretty boxes. Make sure to check the expiration date before you buy the souvenirs, as some of them expire earlier than others.
Depachika Food Shopping Pro Tips
A trip to Tokyo or Kyoto is not complete with a visit to a depachika. How to best enjoy your little trip to foodie heaven?
- Choose the right department store; there are quite a few department stores out there, and not all department stores are made equal. If you go to a depachika that belongs to Mitsukoshi, Takashimaya, or Isetan, you will be sure to see some of the largest depachika in the country.
- On a budget? If you visit not long before closing time, some of the best foods go on sale for sometimes high discounts! These discounts usually happen from 7 pm or 8 pm.
- Don’t say no to the free samples. Especially for those who are not familiar with Japanese food, it is a good idea to taste something on beforehand to make sure you like the food. Not all stores give out free samples, but many do.
- If you are planning to purchase your lunch or dinner in a depachika, find a nice place to eat your food before you leave your house. It can be a bit challenging to find a nice, quiet place where you are allowed to eat nearby, so do your research! If you visit a depachika in the Ginza area, a great place to have your lunch or dinner is on the rooftop on the 9th floor.
- You are on a holiday, so allow yourself to splurge on one or two luxury items like fruit or wagyu beef this once! The depachika is a great place to try something like this, as getting the same thing in a restaurant or aboad is even more expensive. This is the place to experience something new.
Your Japan Tour
As seasoned Japan experts, we can help you create your perfect Japan tour including destinations like the depachika. Contact us to start planning your unforgettable holiday to this fascinating country full of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, culture, history, nature, and delicious food!