So where do Tokyoites do their grocery shopping? There are large supermarkets, like Ito Yokado, Daiei, or Seiyu (a subsidiary of Walmart) but these require a lot of space so are usually found a bit out of the city. There is an Ito Yokado a few stops from Tokyo station on the Tozai line at Kiba, definitely worth visiting if you are curious about a large Japanese supermarket. In the city there are smaller supermarket chains like Akafudado, Inageya or Queens Isetan. As well, there are discount supermarkets, my particular favorite is called OK. It is like a regular supermarket, just cheaper. These three types of supermarkets are good for one-stop shopping. I go to these shops when I am limited on time.
I round out my shopping at 100 (or 99) yen shops like Daiso or Lawson 100. Here I pick up sundries like dried shiso (yukari) and kitchen or tableware. These shops are everywhere (we live on top of one) so I usually end up going in at least once a day for one thing or another. Something to drink, an onigiri between meals, or some chips, these shops have a wide variety of products.
If time permits, I prefer shopping at shotengai, or shopping arcades. Small specialty shops for items like tofu, rice, seafood, produce, or tea. Here you’ll find freshly made tofu or you can have the fishmonger help you select seasonal seafood and have him filet it for you. I wrote a piece on shotengai for Metropolis magazine.
When I lived in Monzennakacho, very close to the city center I did most of my shopping at Ito Yokado and Akafudado. Not only a supermarket Ito Yokado sells almost anything else you would need for your home, similar to a Super Target in the USA. Akafudado is a smaller supermarket, but the shop in Monzennakacho also sold other items for home, etc. on the upper floors.
On Saturday mornings I would take my scooter a few minutes to Tsukiji Market and shop in the outer market. Tsukiji is ideal if looking for good quality kombu, katsuobushi, pickles, tea, and much more. If I am hosting a dinner party, Yamaya is good for getting wine and Hanamasa is great for discounted meat and vegetables.
For nihonshu and shochu there are several options including depachika or specialty shops like Hasegawa Saketen for nihonshu or Shochu Authority for shochu.
Our home near Kokubunji, in the Western suburbs of Tokyo, is close to a great discount supermarket called OK. Most of our shopping is done here because it is minutes from our home and the prices just can’t be beat. Shinji buys a lot of our seafood at Uoriki as he used to be a buyer for them.
I also love to shop at depachika, especially for prepared foods. I don’t like to fry at home so if I wanted to have some tempura with soba noodles I would pick up the tempura at depachika. Top quality seafood, meat, and produce are also available at depachika. While it can be expensive, some items will go on sale later in the day so if time permits, I like to poke my head into depachika before dinner. My favorite depachika are Isetan and Takashimaya.
There are many small chain supermarkets that vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. Names to look out for include Peacock, Tobu, or Tokyu. There are too many to list. Here is a list of supermarkets in Tokyo.
When I get a craving for Western products I usually go to Nissin (pronounced nishin) or Meidi-ya (pronounced meijiya).
If you are visiting Tokyo and would like to visit a large supermarket I suggest Ito Yokado near Kiba station on the Tozai line. Koto-ku, Kiba 1-5-30.
Here is a list of popular shotengai (shopping arcades) in Tokyo.
Here is my list of “gotta gets” at the supermarkets.
Here is Steve Trautlein’s article on International Supermarkets in Tokyo.