I visited Costco on my vacation to Japan last year. I was surprised to find a 48-piece sushi platter and bulgogi bake — and I even got a free sample of booze.

I visited Costco on my vacation to Japan last year. I was surprised to find a 48-piece sushi platter and bulgogi bake — and I even got a free sample of booze.
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Visiting Costco in Kyoto Japan
Costco has 33 warehouses in Japan. The groceries, food court, and appliances are a bit different from what shoppers in the US are used to.

  • Richard Truong is a software engineer from Pennsylvania who has been a Costco member since 2016.
  • On a trip to Japan last year, Truong stopped by a Costco in Kyoto.
  • While the environment was very familiar, he found several food offerings he’d never seen in the US.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Richard Truong. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I work as a software engineer for a large insurance company in Pennsylvania, and I’ve been a member of Costco since 2016. I started taking lots of pictures of the signs and prices at my local warehouse because that’s how I would budget my food expenses in college.

I enjoy traveling around the world to understand different cultures and different places because you see them on TV and in the movies, but it’s never really the same as actually being there.

It’s fun to wander around Costco warehouses in different countries and see what they have — what’s similar to the US and what’s specific to that region.

Japan is pretty cool with their food. If I had a way to cook while I’m traveling, I’d maybe buy the wagyu beef cheaper there, instead of going to a restaurant. But traveling solo, it’s pretty hard to try a lot of foods in bulk. It would not be great to have five pounds of beef to eat and five liters of alcohol to drink by myself, but I’m pretty sure I could at least down a whole sushi platter.

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Japan has 32 Costco warehouses. Here’s what I saw on my visit to the one in Kyoto.

The Costco warehouse is about an hour outside of downtown Kyoto, roughly midway between Kyoto and Osaka.
This Costco is not in downtown Kyoto, but it's about an hour away. Almost in the middle of both Osaka and Kyoto.
There was a parking lot on top of the warehouse, and a special escalator that you could put your cart on.
It looked like there was a parking lot on top of the warehouse, and an escalator that you put your cart on.
I showed the greeter my membership card, but since I have a foreign one that’s on the back of my Citi credit card, he definitely looked confused. I guess he’d never seen one of those before.
I showed the card reader my membership, but since I have a foreign one that's on the back of my Citi credit card, he definitely looked confused because I guess he’d never seen it before.
Inside, the warehouse seems very familiar, the same Costco experience. What’s different are the individual products.
Inside seems very familiar, kind of the same Costco experience, so it's really down to the individual products are different.
I found shopping in Japan to be a more pleasant experience than in the US, since the US is more chaotic and Japanese people usually are more respectful and calmer.
I found Japan is a more pleasant experience than the US, since the US more chaotic and Japanese people usually are more respectful and calmer.
Clothing-wise, it was pretty similar. A lot of the clothing brands are also sold in the US, like Puma, Nike, and Adidas.
Clothing wise, it was pretty similar. A lot of the clothes were similar to US brands like Puma, Nike, and Adidas..
There were plenty of US brands…
There were plenty of US brands...
… and some items came with reusable storage containers that I hadn’t seen in US stores before.
... and some items came with reusable storage containers.
Portion sizes actually were a lot smaller on individually packed items even though they’re sold in bulk.
Portion sizes actually were a lot smaller on individually packed items even though they’re sold in bulk.
There was a pear, peach, and currant tart I’d never seen before.
There was a pear, peach, and currant tart I’d never seen before that was definitely unique to Japan.
Costco called these “luxury” croissants for some reason.
Croissants for some reason they call “luxury” croissants.
One big thing that I noticed was a lot of the meats were US meats.
One big thing that I noticed was a lot of the meats were US meats.
A lot of the meats were labeled as USDA Choice, which was interesting to see, considering Japan is the home of Wagyu beef.
A lot of the meats were pretty much USDA, which was an interesting thing to see, considering Japan is the home of Wagyu beef.
There was also a remarkable variety of seafood.
There was also a remarkable variety of seafood.
Sushi is probably one of the things that most people look for in a Japan Costco, but surprisingly there were only two options: one was a smaller package of salmon and mackerel sushi….
Sushi is probably one of the things that most people look for in a Japan Costco, but surprisingly there was only two options: a smaller option of salmon and mackerel sushi…
… and then there was a bigger, 48-piece sushi platter that was a pretty good deal
… and then there was a bigger platter 48-count that was a pretty good deal
It seemed like there were more party-sized pre-made foods instead of single-family pre-made foods.
It seemed like there were more party pre-made foods instead of single-family pre-made foods.
There were rotisserie chickens, of course…
There were rotisserie chickens, of course...
… plus options like charcoal-grilled chicken wings…
... plus wings with flavors like charcoal grilled chicken...
… and garlic beef rice that smelled delicious.
... and garlic beef rice that smelled delicious.
There’s also the alcohol section, which I never see back home in Pennsylvania.
There's also the alcohol section, which I never see back home.
They gave me an alcoholic drink, which was a different experience because my local Costco doesn’t sell alcohol, so it’s kind of unfathomable to get a sample of alcohol.
They gave me alcohol drink, which was a different experience because my local Costco doesn't sell alcohol, so it's kind of unfathomable to get a sample of alcohol.
All the food samples were delicious, and I would consider buying the products if I actually lived there.
All the samples were delicious, and I would consider buying them if I actually lived there.
I took a look at the fridges and a couple of appliances.
I took a look at the fridges and a couple appliances,
A lot of them are a bit more narrow because a lot of Japanese houses are smaller, more apartment-style.
A lot of them are a bit more narrow because a lot of Japanese houses are smaller, more apartment-style.
It looks like the appliances are still well-equipped tech-wise too.
It looks like they are still decently well-equipped tech-wise too.
They had a grill that’s used for Takoyaki, which is like a pancake ball that you put octopus inside. Very good.
They had a grill that’s used for Takoyaki, which is basically a kind of like a pancake ball that you make and put octopus inside. Very good.
I noticed a Tiger rice cooker, a brand that I’ve seen in the US.
I noticed the rice cooker, which has a tiger, that I've seen in the US.
Soaps and shampoos were in plastic refill bags that don’t take up a lot of space like other plastic containers.
Soaps and shampoos were in plastic refill bags that are more reusable, and don’t take up a lot of space like plastic containers.
The Costco food court in Kyoto is way different from the US one. There are a lot more options in Japan.
Costco food court is way different than the US one. There's a lot more options in Japan.
Shoppers were neatly putting their carts around the perimeter of the dining area, making a kind of barricade.
Shoppers were neatly putting all of their carts around the perimeter and it was making a barricade.
The hotdog is still technically $1.50 if you convert Japanese yen to US dollars. You’ll also find the Costco staples that you’d see in the US, like pizza, coffee, ice cream, and smoothies.
The hotdog is still technically $1.50 if you convert Japanese Yen to US Dollars, and you have the common staples of the hotdog, pizza, coffee, ice cream, and smoothies — all the normal stuff you'd see in the US.
But in Kyoto they also have very different items, like the bulgogi bake instead of the chicken bake, a shrimp bisque, a roast beef sandwich, and falafel salad.
And then they have way different items, like the bulgogi bake instead of the chicken bake, a shrimp bisque, a roast beef sandwich, and falafel salad.
The chicken nugget bucket was pretty popular, and it was pretty massive. There were like 30 chicken nuggets and a bunch of fries — definitely not a one-person kind of meal, but I tried it anyway.
And the smoothie was actually a bit different than the US. It was a little bit more sweeter, and more smooth.
The shrimp bisque was very smooth, very rich. Definitely something I was surprised they sell because you don’t really see soup options at US Costcos. It was pretty amazing.
The shrimp bisque was very smooth, very rich. Definitely something I was surprised they sell because you don't really see soup options at US Costcos, but it was pretty amazing.
And the smoothie was actually a bit different than the US. It was a little bit sweeter and more smooth.
The chicken nugget bucket was pretty popular, which was pretty massive. There were like 30 chicken nuggets and a bunch of fries — definitely not a one-person kind of meal.
I definitely would come back if I was staying somewhere with my own kitchen and maybe a car to take stuff back.
I definitely would come back if I was staying somewhere with my own kitchen and maybe a car to take stuff back. If I had a way to cook, I’d maybe buy the Wagyu beef cheaper there, instead of going to a restaurant.
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