A neighborhood can hold many juicy secrets, and I learned that first-hand on my slow walks around random streets. You probably thought I meant scandals and other enticingly sordid affairs. I’m referring to the unmanned vegetable stands full of fresh, cheap, homegrown local vegetables. I’m not sure if it’s because of my age or something else, but I’d welcome this type of juicy secret over something more saucy any day.
In Japanese, we call these unmanned vegetable stands mujinhanbaijyo (無人販売所) or “unattended sales place.” They usually consist of a simple wooden stand. It usually holds the vegetables and a coin box. The coin boxes are generally locked down to some degree, but I’ve bought from some with a makeshift coin box out in the open.
They’re quite easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for. It took me an embarrassing three years to spot my first stand. Another two years to find many others around my town. Thinking about how I could’ve had more greens in my stomach (and wallet), I want to silently cry.
In this particular case, the stand was tucked right by a farm behind the main streets. If you stood just one street over, you would’ve thought this shelf was a discarded item rather than a vegetable stall!
The Price Tag Your Wallet Would Love
Let’s talk about prices. I think it’s not a secret that vegetables are costly in Japan. One bag of spinach can easily cost you ¥300 or about $2.85 USD, and we all know how spinach withers away the moment you place it in a pan.
Fruits are even worse! A box of fresh cherries is ¥1500! Want fresh strawberries? That’s another ¥1500. Luckily, I don’t like to eat that much fruit, but my poor partner eats them for dessert daily. Obviously, we didn’t buy any fruits when they cost us an arm each time; which is why I wished someone had recorded my reaction when I found boxes of fresh cherries for only ¥100! I bought every box that was on sale. I’m not joking. I had the best cherry granola breakfast for the next few days.
In my town, the unmanned vegetable stand nearest to the main street sells vegetables at a shocking average of ¥100, but the ones further away sell them at an even more shocking ¥50! When I was working remotely, I’d use my lunch break to buy potatoes, lettuce, spring onions, radishes, cucumbers, and more for ¥50~100. That’s what I call cheap! I consistently had feasts for essentially nothing while supporting locals.
This stand is my current favorite. These vegetables are always delicious, fresh, and cheap. For ¥50 a bag, my meals always had a hefty amount of greens.
Plants and Herbs
Besides vegetables that you can immediately chop up to eat, you can also grab some delightful plants and herbs for your home. Pictured below are pots of baby broccoli, cilantro, and “black garlic.” Not pictured are the pots of eggplants and tomato plants that I was so tempted to buy!
Look out for this various stands in the rural parts of Japan. Also check out STAY JAPAN to book a guesthouse with Japanese locals.