I finally got a chance to visit it! There were indeed some differences between this Costco and the Costcos I’ve been to in the US, but there were also the sweet similarities that made me very happy. Japan has several Costcos (18 according to the website), but this one only opened this year (2013) in March, so it’s still recent and therefore “special” :)
I had today (Monday) off due to being at school last Saturday for a culture festival, and I went with my pastor and a couple other people from church. I usually can’t go because I don’t have a car and my schedule doesn’t match up with others who are going, but today it worked out!
The Costco is located adjacent to the Mazda Center, a big red stadium where the local baseball team has games (called Carp, no “s”). The Mazda stadium is really easy to see, but although you can’t tell from this picture, the Costco is nearly hidden behind a row of other buildings (including an okonomiyaki shop), and so I didn’t get a good view of the sign until the last minute, and it was only a few moments until we’d pulled past the front, so I didn’t get a picture until after. The parking lot is behind the building, and if you go straight down the street in the picture and turn left, you’ll go up a steep incline to enter the parking garage. I never thought it was possible to hide a Costco, with its huge building and parking lot, but this one is really well hidden.
I couldn’t help smiling when I got there, because as we drove into the parking garage, there were a couple Costco employees in uniform taking care of customers’ carts and saying “irasshaimase” (“Welcome!” to our shop etc). Apparently, the fee to park there is ￥7000 (like $70) unless you spend $100 there (I guess ￥10,000?), in which you get a voucher and can park for free. Although I get that it keeps people from parking there and not going to Costco, it still seems crazy to me.
To reach the warehouse, you descend from an escalator to the “ground floor” outdoors where the food court is. It’s not just a normal escalator, though.
The escalator didn’t have any stairs! It was like those “flat escalators” you use to get places faster at the airport, only up and down. There’s a reason for this, though, which is…cart transportation.
As soon as your car wheels roll on to the escalator, the little grips on the wheels attach to the escalator and pull your cart all the way to the top where the parking lot is, and then they “let go” at the top.
This is how this Costco can have a parking garage and still allow people to buy copious amounts of stuff. I was just at Costco this August in Santa Rosa with my mom and my friends, and it took two of my friends to roll around that huge cart, so I think the carts here in Japan were still smaller compared to the US. Still…they’re a whole lot bigger than any form of cart I’ve seen in Japan thus far.
We ate at the food court for lunch first. I love pizza, so of course I got that. It tasted the same as in the US (although the crust might be a little thicker in the US). Some of the other things people ordered were the bulgogi wrap, clam chowder, and hot dog. The hot dog tasted the same, the onions and free toppings were still unlimited and free, and drinks were still free refills. It was awesome! I came with a group of guys, and they all ordered a lot, so the lady working at the window was like “do you need another drink or something?” haha. Nope, don’t worry, we’ve got this.
The clam chowder is reportedly much more fishy and clam-y than my friends were expecting, so know that if you order it. They also thought it was a little bland. We ordered some raspberry soft serve ice cream sundaes without the chocolate, and that was really good, too. (We were being healthy. Haha.)
The prices were a little more expensive, but not too bad–especially considering the size of a slice of Costco pizza compared to what I paid for a mini pizza delivery recently.
The reason I took so many pictures outside of the Costco is that there’s a sign by the door as you go in that has a list of things you shouldn’t do, with little pictures, and one of them is “no taking photos inside the warehouse.” I know some people would just sneak pictures, but I didn’t want to, so I’ll just talk about my observations. Out of the four of us who went, two had never been to a Costco anywhere, and three of us had never been to this Costco in Hiroshima, so everything was new.
- Most of the customers were Japanese, and many people had pretty full carts. I wasn’t surprised at the Japanese-to-American ratio, which just reminded me of Iwakuni anyway, but I was surprised at how full some of their carts were. Usually Japanese families don’t “stock up” and buy huge tubs of things the way American families tend to. I thought about my own apartment, and wondered where they were going to put it all. I’m happy that people like Costco and that it’s useful to them, though.
- In the sizeable wine and beer section, you can buy really authentic-looking, small sake barrels (like this one). Definitely haven’t seen that in the US.
- As a customer was picking out a full-sized pizza, my pastor said that when it first opened and he came here, it seemed like everyone had a pizza in their cart. Many Japanese homes don’t have an oven, but rather a toaster oven or that kind of thing, so I’m wondering how they cook such a big pizza–do they just cut the pizza up into slices and cook the slices one by one?
- When I was looking through the fuzzy blankets to pick a color, the ladies beside me were talking about how this blanket could be used for a futon.
- I think the clothes (pants) sizes were still too small for me in general, but the boots fit! I didn’t get them but I was still glad my feet fit.
- It’s mostly American products, but there are some Japanese products, too. There’s a “massage table” for sale, too, and we figure somebody must be buying it or it wouldn’t still be out there.
- I wanted to buy a three-leveled organizer for papers I have lying around, but when we tried inserting a stack of A4-sized folders, they didn’t fit right, so we think the organizer is made for 8.5 x 11″ paper (which is not used in Japan). I wonder what people are doing about that? Do they just put smaller-sized paper in, like B5?
- I’ve stopped liking Costco sushi in the US, but the sushi in Hiroshima Costco included uni (sea urchin) and scallop sushi, and everything looked really good. I wonder if it’s fresh? I think I remember the sushi in US Costco being only roll (rolled-up) sushi, but the sushi here included fish-over-rice sushi, and there was sashimi (fish only) as well. Also on sale in the fish area were octopus (like this), crab, and other types of fish. The pork ribs and other meat sections were plentiful as always.
- They still had free samples! I got to try a scone and a grape. Japanese grapes are thick and you have to peel them, but I was able to eat this grape like I’m used to with no peeling, so they must not be Japanese grapes. They taste like what I’m used to.
- There was a children’s book section, and all the books I remember seeing were in English (such as Dr. Suess). They had Harry Potter DVDs (like, all of them), a few Disney ones (like Aladdin), and Gossip Girl. I think they were all probably subtitled, and they seemed to be going for about ￥3000 ($30). I didn’t see another books section, but I didn’t see every aisle so maybe it’s in there somewhere.
I’d measured my door ahead of time so that I could put a big Christmas wreath from Costco on it, so we spent some time looking over the various wreaths and picking out a nice one. I ran to Daiso after I got back to get some fishing line, and spent a while this evening figuring how to get this fixed onto the outside of my door. I’m putting it up early to “test the waters” and see if my landlord or the apartment admin people have a problem with it–it’s a great wreath, though, and it makes this apartment complex cheery and festive, so I hope they let it be! :D
And with that, we bid farewell to Costco. Goodbye, Costco! We had fun visiting you.