Monday, August 20, 2012

If you want affordable beer in Japan get a Costco membership

09040301203614906There isn’t much for me to write beyond the title of this entry but I figure I should elaborate a little lot. After living in Japan for so many years I just accepted that beer was a luxury here and cut down on my consumption accordingly. Most would turn to harder alcoholic beverages but I prefer beer so I just ended up drinking less.
From what I’ve read about beer prices in Japan it seems the general consensus is that beer is expensive because of the unfairly high tax beer carries here. You can mostly thank the government for that. For more details I suggest a quick internet search from your provider of choice. It also doesn’t help that most Japanese don’t have much reason to complain as its all they’ve ever known so the price of beer will most likely never come down. So what does a beer adoring expat do in times like these? Turn to hard liquor or even the dreaded near-beer happoshu/daisan? Although many do, I’d suggest finding a friend with a car or get a drivers license and drive down to the closest Costco you can.
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I was just at the Iruma Costco in Saitama last week and found a few good examples to justify my reasoning. I found a few import beers, 2 Aussie and 1 Holland based beer that were priced significantly lower than the domestic Japanese. For example you could get a box of 24 Fosters for a “low” price of 2998 yen. You could also get a 24 pack of beer all the way from distant Holland for a measly 2980. These import beers have traveled long and far by boat and most likely taken their fair share of import taxes as well.
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So how about buying bulk domestic Japanese beer? Buying in bulk saves money right? Well, that depends where you’re buying from. If you’re at Costco, you’ll save almost enough to buy another 6 pack and then some compared to the large supermarket chains like Aeon’s Max Valu and 7-11’s chain stores Ito-Yokado. Max Valu sells a 24 pack Asahi box for 6480 yen according to its website and Ito-Yokado sells the same box for a much cheaper 5380 yen. Of course you may find deals While prices may vary from place to place, it’s generally much more than buying at Costco.
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So back to Costco… When you move over to the Japanese beers aisle you’ll immediately notice a huge jump in price compared to the import beers. Asahi, which is usually the most prevalent and cheapest beer in Japan sells for 4088 in the same 24 pack box. That’s nearly 1000 yen more for the same amount of beer. I find that to be completely illogical and silly seeing as how Asahi’s ingredients are grown, brewed, and bottled exclusively in Japan. At least if you buy the Asahi in Japan. If you buy it in say, America, it could be bottled in Canada and labeled as import because Canada is not America haha?
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Shopping at Costco could be a win-win situation for most beer fans as they can save a huge chunk of cash if they just bought their beer all at once. While it may not be practical for many people here, especially if you are without a car, it is the most economical route than buying a can or six-pack at a time. I drive around 2 hours to get to my nearest Costco. It helps reduce home sickness and reminds me that I don’t have to pay Japanese prices in Japan.
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^My meager haul
It always amazes me how some things like beer and even cheese can be a lot cheaper buying import than domestically manufactured products. I guess it’s just that imagined Japanese tax that makes everything more expensive than it really should be. At least I have a way of minimizing the effect a bit. Of course, sometimes paying a little more for something special like IPA craft beers makes sense. But when its your regular supermarket grade beer it’s just not right…
Here is a short video I also made on the same topic while I was at Costco. I think I did a better job writing about it though…

I actually enjoy Corona from time to time but I got burnt out on it living in Southern California for most of my adult life.


  1. I had been wondering about this ever since you first talked about it and filled me in a bit more on what prices were like there.

    It's utterly ridiculous! I'm not sure I fully understand why the prices are that high. Is it because the Japanese consumers are used to those prices, so the companies keep them like that or is it because of government taxes and regulations that the price is upped to recover costs?

    Are there no competing import beers in the corner stores? Only at places like Cost Co??? I'd assume if they were more available, they'd have to get cheaper to compete (or the stores would hike the prices on the imports).

  2. I think the beer companies in Japan are used to their profit margins as well as are the middlemen who are in distribution. The tax is a sizeable chunk of the cost of beer but I don't think it should be blamed as the sole reason for high prices.

    Retails in Japan don't seem to really try or are able to compete against Costco's prices. Since Costco doesn't advertise and they aren't all over Japan. I think the average Japanese business owner is able to tow the traditional line that beer is a luxury item. So beer is priced accordingly.

    It really sucks and I doubt it will ever change. All I have to hope for are trips to Costco and vacations back home in the US. Drink a good tall cold one for me. :)

    1. Oh I will. Thanks for introducing me to Red Trolley. It's a cheaper alternative to one of my favorites and tastes very similar.

  3. Thanks for the info. I just moved to Japan (Kawagoe) and have been mostly drinking the cheaper, "near beer" stuff. It almost makes me miss PBR or Coors/Bud/Miller Light! I'm from Oregon so it's quite a change in terms of the brews available. However, I lived in Korea for ten years so I do know what it's like to be deprived of the good stuff for a long time. It was much cheaper and easier to find decent beer over there, though - at least compared to what I've found around here so far. They have a microbrew called "Coedo" here, but at close to 300 yen a can it's not really worth it. I guess I will have to turn to the hard stuff or wine until I get Costco or online ordering figured out!

  4. Yeah I think you've got the right idea but eventually you'll opt for convenience like me and end up shopping local for your beer fix. So shop around as bit every store varies in their prices and stock. Import labels are starting to slowly creep into daily life here and its fast much easier and slightly cheaper to get what I want. I can't go to Costco as often as I'd like so I just end up drinking less. It sure has given me a better appreciation for good beers and helped get some excess weight off. :)