If you are relocating to Japan or are just looking to find some of your favorite American standbys look no further than Costco. Currently there are 26 Costco locations in Japan. 11 of those are actually located in the Kanto region. However they do span all the way from Hokkaido to Kyushu, so wherever you are in Japan, you can probably get to a Costco with a little planning!
I only have experience with the Iruma Costco location. As this is closest to my home I never traveled to any other costcos to see the differences in available products or compare the experience. However there are many Costco youtube videos from foreigners in Japan that have also found this place to be a life saver while living abroad long term. You may find some of their blogs really helpful before you venture there for the first time.
First of all, if you already have a membership it should be just fine to use it in Costco at any location they are worldwide. And if you do not have a membership but are unsure of buying one because you won’t be in Japan for an entire year- that ok .You can use your Japan membership worldwide as well. I do know this for a fact as I bought my membership in Japan and have used the same card in the United States with no problems at all.
I did not have a Costco card before I lived in Japan. So I actually had to sign up for membership while overseas. This was really simple. You can do the entire application online. You just need to go to costco.co.jp and scroll to the bottom where it will have links to membership information on the left side. You will click the link for membership, change it to English and fill out the information. Do the best that you can. My address did not match up with their spaces perfectly as my address has an English format and a Japanese format. I did not know the Japanese format because we do not usually have to use it. They will fix any of this at the membership counter if you have this problem. Once you fill out the form, you will submit it electronically. Then you will be given a confirmation number. Take a picture of the confirmation number or write it down. Have this available for when you arrive at Costco to get the membership.
Now you are ready to go and pick up your membership. Once I filled out the application online and took a picture of the confirmation number with my phone, I arrived at Costco and went to the membership counter. I just simply presented the picture on my phone of the confirmation number. The attendant entered the number in, verified my information but looking at an ID and then had me sign a couple of papers. Then I paid the fee. It is currently 4,400 yen (which is around $42 or so) for the year.
They will have you slide down to get your picture taken at another booth and thats it. You will wait a few minutes for your card to be printed and then you are free to shop till you drop. The entire process was really easy.
Once you have your membership and you are ready to shop it is the same process as the United States. You will be happy to know that many of your favorite items will be there too. We enjoyed being able to have access to things like Costco birthday cakes, pizzas, cookies, bulk juices, certain brands of clothing all from the U.S. and all the same taste and style at our Japan Costco. The other great thing is that we also found a lot of Japanese items that we enjoyed in larger sizes. Of course Japanese grocery items are usually in very small portions and for a family it is not idea. It was easier to go to Costco and grab a large portion rather than to keep running to the store constantly.
Also – great news. As it is so crowded all the time… there is never a shortage of samples! We found that our Japan Costco had much more samples all the time than our Texas Costco has. The only bad part about this is that you won’t necessarily be getting more samples as the lines just to get a small sample are sometimes 15-20 people long. And in Japan as you may know – people are willing to stand in line for anything. In fact, the more people that are in line, the more other people want to join that line! Where in the U.S. we would probably just avoid a certain thing if there is a line… the opposite happens in Japan.
The main downside to Costco in Japan is that it is very very crowded. All days of the week, all times of the day it is crowded. At any time the food court line will be more than 30 people long. Any time that we wanted something from the food court area my husband would go get in line with my son and they would wait in the ling as I waited in the ling to check out with our groceries. I would usually be finished checking out before they were even halfway through the foood court line. Then I would line my cart up with all the others in a “cart parking lot” that is created by the Costco employees. The area is just rows of parked carts and people all touching each other as there is absolutely no space. All check out lanes, food court tables, aisles are completely full at all times.
The other small annoyance is that it can be a little difficult to get boxes. There are always plenty of boxes available to put your things in (because in Costco Japan just like the US there are no bags) but they are just hard to get to. Most Japanese do not want to put their groceries in the free boxes as getting rid of your trash in Japan is an entirely different monster. They do not want to deal with the task of getting rid of cardboard boxes but for us our trash system was different so it was no big deal. The crowd at the check out area does make it hard to get to boxes though. And I think part of this is that none of them want boxes so no one realizes that you are going for the boxes that are underneath the checkout areas.
The parking is another obstacle. The good thing is that they do have their own parking garage attached to the building. We always end up parking on the roof because it is always crowded. But it is free parking – which you can not find anywhere in Tokyo- and there are escalators that you can put your cart on to get to your level of the parking garage. Go Japan!
Yes, It is that easy! Had I known all of this when I first arrived in Japan, I would have bought a Costco membership a lot sooner!