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A sad Oden Day in Japan as stores seem to be steadily stopping self-service pots

10 Comments
By Master Blaster, SoraNews24

Ever since 2007, February 22 has been celebrated as Oden Day by people who follow obscure Japanese holidays. We here at SoraNews proudly stand among these people and were excited to do something to mark this special occasion.

The reason for this date is that the number two can be pronounced as fu in Japanese, so 22/2 can sound like fu-fu-fu as if someone were cooling the piping hot stewed foods by blowing on them. And with electric pots full of fresh oden being a classic fixture of Japanese convenience stores, our reporter Mr Sato thought it might be fun to see which store had the hottest.

However, when discussing it with his colleagues someone mentioned that it seemed like convenience stores stopped selling fresh oden a while ago. Mr Sato had never really thought about it, but realized that he hadn’t seen one in a while either.

To get a clearer picture, he decided to go around to all the convenience stores near the office and see if they were selling oden. There were 13 in total, consisting of four major chains 7-Eleven, FamilyMart, Lawson, and Ministop.

Among them, there was only one Ministop location and it had no oden pot in front of the register. However, they did sell some pre-cooked, packaged oden sold under the retail behemoth Aeon’s store brand Top Valu.

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There were three Lawson stores along his route and none of them had oden pots either. Only one of them sold packaged oden, but one of the stores was a Lawson Store 100 which is a bit of a cross between a 100-yen store and a grocer’s so they did sell the ingredients for oden, for whatever that’s worth.

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Of the four 7-Elevens Mr Sato came across there was zilch in terms of fresh oden. Three of the stores had their own brand of pre-cooked oden in a cup and the last one didn’t even have that.

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FamilyMart ended up as the only store carrying the classic oden pot torch. However, of the five locations Mr Sato visited, only two had fresh oden near the registers. Two other FamilyMarts only had packaged oden and one had nothing.

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Granted, this was a very small sampling of the vast number of convenience stores across the country. However, I did a similar survey of all the convenience stores within a one-kilometer radius of my corner of Osaka, and of the three Lawsons, five 7-Elevens, and four FamilyMarts, only one FamilyMart had an oden pot at the counter. Interestingly, the little tables that used to hold the oden trays and condiments were all still there but instead had small cakes or daily specials on display.

One might logically assume that these often-uncovered, moist, communal serving dishes were a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the truth is they were marked for death years before the disease appeared. As the major convenience stores underwent a period of explosive expansion in Japan around the early 2010s, the costs of preparing oden and cleaning the trays were proving to be increasingly burdensome.

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These stores we’re also introducing fresh-brewed coffee machines which quickly became popular with people who wanted something in between fancier coffee shop offerings and canned coffee. Around this time, the Krispy Kreme boom had died down and donut chain Mister Donut was making business headlines for raking it in in the Japanese donut market.

Almost in unison, the major convenience stores seemed to realize that they already had the coffee, so why not tap into the lucrative donut market too? This triggered a fierce period of competition known as the “Donut War” (Donatsu Senso) in which all the major convenience stores and Mister Donut vied to be THE place for donuts.

▼ A convenience store donut case circa 2016

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Anyone who went to a major Japanese convenience store around 2016 might have remembered a big display case of donuts near the register while the cashier asked, “Would you like to try a donut with that?”

And when it came time to make room for that donut case, the humble yet cumbersome oden pot was first on the chopping block. Putting donuts in the place of oden, they’d be killing two birds with one stone by also getting rid of the more labor intensive stewed foods.

▼ These days, you’re probably more likely to find fresh oden at a Lawson in Indonesia than in Japan

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However, about a year or two later all of the convenience stores failed to see any significant growth in the donut market and were instead just taking crumbs from Mister Donut’s market share.

▼ Mister Donut was really feeling the pressure at the time though and at one point offered all-you-can eat donut deals.

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The convenience stores gradually gave up on donuts and the cases disappeared, leaving a window for the oden pots to stage a comeback had the pandemic not thoroughly squashed any momentum they might have had.

▼ Now, if you’re looking for that old-school oden fix, FamilyMart is your best shot

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And so, on this Oden Day in the year of our savory lord 2024, let us embrace the few remaining oden electric pots as a nostalgic relic of a simpler time in Japanese convenience stores.

Reference: Diamond Online

Source, images: SoraNews24

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- Japanese oden maker revolutionises the way we eat at home…with a few adjustments

-- Daily Yamazaki convenience store’s “Flying in the Sky Donuts” are competition for Mister Donut

-- Japanese convenience store food takes a walk on the weird side with…cup pork?

© SoraNews24

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

10 Comments
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Probably lack of demand, it’s not exactly nice. Sell it at the Family Mart next to our place though, hate the smell of it to be honest, lol

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

Never a fan. its kinda gross to think about all the dust and whatever that may have made it into the soup that’s been out all day

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Renny

Well, it’s a relic of olden times best left alone even for nostalgic reasons. Wouldn’t eat, even if they paid me.

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

Personally, I love oden... and in a pinch, enjoyed it... it's probably better than the fried food items and nikuman that sit under heat lamps all day. I guess now I'll just go to a yatai or make it at home. Most konbini foods aren't great for you anyway...

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Oden made properly is really good, the daikon or potatoes sucking up all that dashi umami. The gyu-suji throat or whatever it is is also pretty good. Unusual cuts of meat cooked properly can be really tasty or epic textures.

The main problem I have with oden is the low quality of Japanese "karashi" mustard, which is heat and nothing else. It has no depth to it.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

The death of combini oden was when they stopped allowing customers to self serve and put the vats behind the register. They sacrificed efficiency for hygiene. Anyone ordering oden holds up the lines asking for each individual piece to be put in the broth. Add to that the cheap cost of oden and it doesn’t justify the five customers they could have served in the meantime on ones customer essentially ordering soup.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

While it's always a shame when a uniquely Japanese thing cannot survive in modern day sensibilities, I must say that I'm not particularly sad about this one. I'm not too fussed about the hygiene or the inconvenience of serving it in a konbini. But I still remember a friend of mine saying, "konbini in winter smell like feet" ... and darnit, once you smell it you can't un-smell it.

That's not to say that I dislike oden in general, quite the contrary, on an especially cold day in winter it really hits a spot for me. But I then prefer to have good quality oden in a good izakaya.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Never been a fan, tasteless, boring, the absolute last food I would order other than there is absolutely nothing else around. Japan has tons of great food, Oden is not one of those.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

That's a shame! Luv oden especially boiled egg and daikon with a dollop of karashi... yummy!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I can't say I've ever wanted to load up on the 7/11 option. Now some good quality oden consumed with tasty sake inside a cozy izakaya on a winter's night is another story altogether.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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