One thing that has always seemed like a necessity to me in Japan is the bag boy system. No such thing here in the land of the rising sun. The shopper goes to the check out line and places her basket full of groceries on the table (no conveyer belts). The cashier will scan each item taking it out of the basket and placing it in another basket and the shopper will pay, take the receiving basket to another table and bag the groceries herself. The conscientious cashier will have put the potatoes and canned goods at the bottom of the basket so in order to get them into the bag first, the shopper has to take the lighter groceries out of the basket first and place them on the table to repack the heavier items in the plastic bag first. To me this seemed like just an extra step that could have been avoided if there had just been a bag boy around.
When Takumi was in jr. high I suggested to him that he go to the local supermarket, tell them about U.S. bag boys and offer his services. He could bag groceries, carry them out to the car for the customers, bring the shopping carts back to the store (in Japan you can't leave your cart in the parking lot. Shoppers have to take the carts back to the store entrance.) Pretty soon, shoppers would be flocking to the supermarket and then Takumi could get his friends involved and he could become an bag boy entrepreneur. I recall that he just rolled his eyes at me and alas, there are still no bag boys in Japan.
But, someone started a global warming campaign in Japan and now many people carry around their own "My Bag". I know, this is normal in Europe but not in America and the idea is just catching on in Japan. I have a nifty little compact My Bag that unfolds and unzips and can fit right in the receiving basket at the check out counter. The cashier places all my items in my bag carefully arranging the heavy things in there first and after paying I pull the draw strings, slip my arm through the handles and toodle off to my car. No stop at the bagging table, no carts to push back to the store (it's a pretty sturdy bag) and no plastic bags once I get home!
Another plus is that each supermarket will give you a little card and every time you use your My Bag, they will stamp it and when the shopper has collected 15 to 20 stamps (depending on the store) the card can be turned in for a discount as a reward for helping save the environment. I have quite a collection of cards that I have to riffle through before I can find the right one to be stamped but I'm trying to do my part in reducing plastic production by using My Bag.
I need to go buy bread and tofu today so I'm off again with My Bag!