When it comes to the term convenience store, it’s hard to think of a place where they live up to their name better than right here in Japan. Whether you’re in the market for a tasty snack or something to drink, your local convenience store has always got your back.
But while convenience stores are full of food, drinks, and other amenities, they aren’t the first place that springs to mind when people think of specialty stores. For example, if you were struck by a sudden urge to drink craft beer, you might find yourself looking up breweries nearby.
Luckily, those who live near the Yokohama Hammerhead complex in Kanagawa Prefecture need look no further than their local convenience store, which has over three hundred different craft beers in stock from all over the world.
▼ Yokohama Hammerhead is a seaside shopping complex.
Located about 12 minutes away from Yokohama’s Minato Mirai Station, Yokohama Hammerhead is a stylish bayside complex that is also a popular sightseeing spot, and also doubles up as a cruise ship terminal.
It was at around 7 a.m. that our reporter Haruka Takagi, strolling around the bay, spotted the convenience store in question.
While it might not be immediately clear, the store in question is a famous American chain of convenience stores with two numbers in its name, and rhymes with ‘Schmeven-Eleven’.
The convenience store may look like a regular run-of-the-mill store — there’s the usual supply of things like ice-cream and snacks.
But that’s not why Haruka was there. No, Haruka had heard a rumor that this very convenience store might be home to the widest selection of a certain thing in all of Japan.
And as Haruka wandered around the store, her eyes came across a colorful cabinet.
Yes, this was a convenience store with an impressive selection of craft beers.
At a quick glance, Haruka counted around 50 varieties of craft beer, with brands from both Japan and abroad. And while Haruka was impressed with the sheer amount of beer available — certainly a considerable amount more than your average convenience store selection.
But Haruka didn’t have much time to marvel at the large variety of beers on offer before she spotted a sign nearby.
▼ “But wait, there’s more! Beers from Japan and around the world!”
The sign promised even more craft beers and provided a mini-map to their location. So Haruka made her way to the back left corner of the store to continue her craft beer adventure.
▼ Even more refrigerated cans…
▼ …plus a selection of bottled beers, with some beer snacks close by.
According to Haruka, the photos she took don’t even come close to capturing just how much beer was available in this store. The sheer variety of craft beer was much more than that of even a liquor store, and she couldn’t help but wonder about the person who owned such a convenience store. Surely it was someone who loved beer as much as Haruka loves wine.
So Haruka hunted down the owner, Mr Nakayama, and asked him a few questions.
Haruka: This is a little different than your average convenience store. Why so many beers?
Nakayama: Well, when the Yokohama Hammerhead first opened back in 2019, this was originally just a regular convenience store with a couple of Yokohama souvenirs. But we weren’t selling much, and then the coronavirus hit a few months after we opened and our sales got even worse.
Haruka: Yokohama… now that I think of it, The Diamond Princess quarantined cruise ship was stuck in Yokohama too, right?
Nakayama: Right. Our store is mostly aimed at tourists, and once COVID-19 hit Japan the number of tourists dropped. It got so bad that we had to close the store, and while we were closed we came up with a plan to drum up business. That’s when we came up with the idea to sell craft beer!
Haruka: So the idea didn’t necessarily come about because you’re a huge fan of craft beers?
Nakayama: Not at all. In fact, I hardly used to drink at all. But beer always sells well and Yokohama is said to be the birth place of Japanese beer, so I thought, why not?
Haruka: I’m pretty surprised that someone who isn’t into beer decided to open a specialty craft beer convenience store.
Nakayama: Well, since re-opening the store I’ve fallen in love with craft beer. I’m pretty addicted to it now, haha!
Haruka: So what made you decide to have such a huge selection?
Nakayama: There’s a brewery here in Yokohama called Yokohama Beer. We started selling their products, and from there we got in touch with more and more breweries and beer importers. We set a goal to be the best beer convenience store in Japan.
Haruka: I really don’t think you’d find a store with such a wide selection like this anywhere else in Japan. It’s like a paradise for beer lovers.
Nakayama: It’s a place where beer lovers and also newcomers are welcome. Specialist craft beer stores can be a bit intimidating to some people, especially if you’re not familiar with craft beer. As we are also a convenience store, we hope people can come in and look around at their own pace. We hope our store can act as a starting point to anyone wanting to get into craft beer.
Haruka: By the way, how often do you change the line-up of beers on sale?
Nakayama: We restock about three or four times a week, and the turnover is quite fast. We probably have a whole new selection of beers every one to two months.
Haruka: That makes it quite hard to find your favorite beer then, right?
Nakayama: Perhaps… but just choosing and sticking with one kind of beer is a waste. There are so many different flavors of craft beer available, so it might be fun to try out a new flavor every now and then. You can have fun picking a new beer by its flavor, or where it’s from, or even what the can looks like.
Depending on when you visit, the store can have between 300 to 500 different varieties of beer on sale. Some beers are rare and difficult to procure even in the countries where they originally came from, so Mr Nakayama recommended that Haruka take her time choosing the right beer, and to treat the experience like a sort of treasure hunt.
Haruka tested four completely different craft beers from all around the world, and not only got to enjoy some delicious drinks, but also learned that there’s a whole world of beers outside her stereotypical image of what a beer "should" be. She recommends this store whether you’re a fan of craft beer or not, as it’s a good chance to experience new flavors and tastes. And who knows, you might even end up falling in love with craft beer, like Mr Nakayama did.
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