One of the things I love the most about living in Japan (at least in a big Japanese city is the absolute convenience. Part of that absolute convenience is the convenience store, known a conbini.
In Japan, conbinis are open 24 hours a day and there’s one on virtually every major street corner. You can buy pretty much anything you need there and I have met more than one single person, both Japanese and foreign, who basically purchases all of their food, meals, beverages, etc. from a conbini. It costs them a lot more than shopping at a supermarket, but the convenience factor for them wins (I personally would rather pay lower prices and shop at a supermarket).
Although I don’t do any major shopping at conbinis, I use them practically every day for small things.
So what are some of the major things I like about Japanese convenience stores?
1. They are always open and they are everywhere (if you live in the city).
2. You can buy a wide assortment of beer and booze at them 24 hours a day/7 days a week! Many carry the standard Japanese beers, but some conbinis, depending on the manager I suppose, may carry a selection of import and local craft beers!
3. You can actually pay your bills at a conbini (24/7). That’s write, your power bill, water, cell phone, Internet, etc. It does suck however when you are in a hurry to buy something and catch a train and you’re caught behind someone paying those bills!
4. Conbini bentos! Yup, convenience stores in Japan have a wide variety of lunch boxes and pre-made meals that are often pretty darn good. They’ll even heat them up for you before you leave the store if you like.
5. Onigiri or Japanese rice balls. They are rice balls with a variety of fillings (salmon, seaweed, fish eggs, beef, veggies) and they are great. They are a cheap, fast fix when you are hungry. All chains of stores carry their standard fare of onigiri and often have seasonal and special ones throughout the year.
6. You can actually buy underwear and socks at the convenience store. I have never done it, but I suppose if you are a businessman who had too much to drink the night before, slept on a bench or in a McDonalds and need some new undies before going to work the next morning, you are all set! (you can get that much-needed toothbrush and pack of body wipes – scented large wet wipes – to keep you wreaking so much at work the next morning)
7. Stationary! That’s right; convenience stores in Japan all carry a wide selection of stationery. Envelopes, notepads, pens, hi-lighters and anything else you need for work. If the conbini is close to a university campus or in a downtown business district, you can expect there to probably be a very impressive stationary section.
8. Fried food to go! Most conbinis have a fried food such as chicken nuggets, chicken fillets, French fries, pork buns, sausage and other unhealthy, yet tasty food in heated display cases on the counter. These are great if you’ve been out on the town drinking or are just looking for a quick and sinful bite to eat on your way home from work.
9. The incredible politeness of the staff at conbinis is amazing. The staff at convenience stores back home can often be surly (not happy with the fact that they are working at a convenience store), but not in Japan. The workers are very professional and seem to take great pride in their jobs. It’s pretty cool!
10. A million other little things…
I can buy concert tickets, make photocopies, buy oden, ramen noodles and mail packages. I can buy house cleaning supplies, cockroach traps, medical supplies, toys, candy, books, magazines, porn, DVDs, ice cream, etc. Some conbinis even have in-house bakeries and produce sections so you can buy fruit and vegetables.
love Japanese conbinis, They make me very happy to be here in Japan!
(Originally posted on another blog in October of 2013. UPDATE….I still love Japanese conbinis)
Kevin O’Shea is the host of the Just Japan Podcast. He is also the guy behind JustJapanStuff.com. Kevin is a Canadian educator who lives in Beijing, China with his family. Kevin called Kobe, Japan home for 10 years.
Follow him on Twitter: @jlandkev