This post is part of a series about the differences in ingredients between Japan and the U.S. When I first arrived in Japan, I had a lot of trouble at times because I wasn’t used to these differences, so hopefully this information is helpful! For the full list of posts in this series, see this page.
In general, there is less variety of meat available in Japan. The three main types are chicken, pork, and beef, of which beef is the most expensive. Horse meat is also available in some places. Most beef and pork is sold in packs already sliced thinly, which is really convenient for Japanese / Asian cooking. You can get some larger pieces of meat, especially pork (loin, shoulder, belly, pork chops, etc).
Chicken, or 鶏 (tori) is generally sold as boneless breast or thigh meat. The breast meat is sold as chicken tenders (ささみ, sasami) or the whole breast (ムネ, mune), which is cheaper. Chicken drumsticks and wings are also available. Occasionally you can find a cut-up whole chicken. I’ve heard that you can request a whole chicken from the supermarket’s meat department, but haven’t tried that myself.
Pork, or 豚 (buta), is a very popular meat in Japan, and is sold in many different cuts. The domestic pork has more fat and more flavor than imported meat. Some commonly seen cuts are pork chops, pork tenderloin (called ヒレ, hire), thigh (モモ, momo), belly (ばら, bara). I can sometimes find pork shoulder or spare ribs.
Beef, or 牛 (gyuu), is the most expensive of the commonly-seen meat. You can find imported American or Australian beef, or domestic beef. The domestic product is the most expensive (and high quality). Japanese beef is usually very finely marbled with fat and is used for dishes such as sukiyaki. You can find both thinly-sliced beef and steaks, domestic and imported of each type, but there isn’t a lot of variety in the cuts. I sometimes see “blocks” of beef thigh.
As far as ground meat, most stores carry ground chicken, pork, beef, and pork/beef mixture. If a recipe calls for ground beef, I usually use the mixed meat because it has a beefy flavor, but is much cheaper.
Other meats are probably available, but I don’t generally see them. Once in a while I’ve seen lamb. Some are available frozen at Costco and other import stores (e.g. turkey).
“Bacon” is sold at grocery stores, but is significantly different from American-style bacon. Sausages of various types are sold as well. Cold cuts are not popular, except for ham. We have also seen salami and pastrami occasionally.
Some other prepared meats are available for slightly higher prices, including pre-marinated, pre-cut, or pre-made but uncooked hamburgers and meatballs.
Meat prices are higher than what I saw in the U.S., and are labeled per 100g. As I mentioned, chicken will generally be cheapest, followed by pork, and then beef. However, there are often several different types of meat which vary in price depending on their quality and whether they are domestic (usually more expensive) or imported (often from the United States or Australia). A final thing to be aware of is that laws in Japan about food storage tend to be more stringent than in the U.S., so supermarkets often discount meat at the end of the day, and it’s easy to find meat 30% or 50% off.