Featured image photo credit Lawson by Yuya Tamai on Flikr
I never knew I could love a 7-11 sooooo much!!!
In Australia a convenience store generally has some fast (uninteresting/unhealthy) food options, snacks, chocolate bars, magazines, car stuff (deodorisers etc.), drinks, hot coffee and a limited amount of overpriced grocery items.
In Japan, a konbini (コンビニ – convenience store) has almost anything you could ever think you may want or need, ever!!! My first konbini visit was a 7-11 at the bottom of an apartment building we stayed at in Shinjuku. It was small and very crowded, both with people and stuff, with an ever-present ringing of what sounds a bit like an alarm. I never really worked out what the sound was, but what I initially found slightly irritating, I came to love and now find myself enjoying when I hear it in a Japanese drama or anime. It is a sound I equate with and find quintessentially Japanese. It is also where I learned how to say “Good morning” with the correct pronunciation…….
What can you buy in a Japanese convenience store? Whether it is a 7-11, a Lawson, Family Mart, Circle K or any of the other stores, you will be able to buy an impressive selection of food. Sushi, onigiri (rice balls) and bento boxes. Sandwiches, salads, pasta, ramen, curry, all of which can be heated on the spot, if you want them microwaved. A huge range of breads and baked sweet goods, such as donuts and Danishes. In winter you can buy oden, which is like a bowl of hot dashi broth and you chose which ingredients you want added, such as boiled egg, daikon or fish balls. Most konbini have a small area you can sit and eat your meal. This food is super delicious and incredibly good value. The onigiri and sushi are better than what you can get at any sushi takeaway in Australia, and really reasonably priced, (around ¥198- $2.60) and are wrapped so that when you unwrap them is the first moment the rice touches the nori, so it is not soggy, but deliciously crunchy. In Tokyo most konbini will list the fillings in English, elsewhere it is not so likely. You can try Google translate, OR do as we did, and play onigiri roulette. (WARNING- This can be a little scary… play at your own risk. Beware of natto…..) One thing that had me very confused, and I can read katakana, was the tuna and mayonnaise hand-rolls and onigiri. It was not until my Japanese teacher explained to me that in Japan, cooked tuna is called シーチキン or sea chicken. How cute…
You can also buy drinks. Not just Coke and bottled water, but almost any drink you can think of. Coffee, tea, iced tea, milk drinks, sports drinks, vitamin drinks and soda. Convenience stores in Japan are licensed, and so you can grab an Asahi or a sake to have with your meal. Also, incredible value. A beer in the konbini is often cheaper than a RAMUNE (Japanese lemonade). I often saw Australian and Californian wines, as well.
My son thought the most impressive aspect of konbini is that they sell manga, and lots of it, figurines from anime and video games. The games come on a card with a download code and are, again, simply great value. If you want to download games, check they are region compatible with your device. Also, an extensive range of Japanese magazines and newspapers.Some of the magazines are quite intriguing, and also VERY cool.
In addition to this, some stores have a selection of excellent Japanese stationery and office supplies. There is usually a photocopy and fax service and also a machine that is an ATM, as well as a means to top up your travel SIM card, buy event tickets, print photos, pay bills and organise parcel delivery. Incidentally, 7-11 ATMs are one of the few places you can withdraw cash from your foreign card in Japan. They also sell batteries and household goods, cosmetics, beauty products and umbrellas. Heaps of Japanese snacks and candy and they also generally have a toilet. One of the most interesting things I found was many convenience stores carry a range of underwear, socks, shirts and ties for salary men that stay at capsule hotels after a night of drinking, so they can return straight to work, in fresh clothes. The Japanese make convenience so convenient, it’s awesome.