Convenience store trivia


Imagine Japan without combini (convenience stores). It would hardly be the same country, so ubiquitous are these garishly lit emporia – to the point where seeing two or three convenience stores on a single street corner hardly even seems strange anymore. What do you need? A meal? A snack? Smokes? Something to read? Something to write with? Socks? Candles? A stapler? You know where to go. You’re in a strange neighborhood? Never mind, just start walking in any direction; if no combini blares its lights at you within three minutes, you’re having a singularly unlucky day.

Shukan Josei (July 31) does some research and treats us to 10 pages packed with combini trivia. Japan’s first combini, a 7-Eleven, opened in 1974 in Toyosu, Tokyo. Its first sale was a pair of sunglasses.

How many combini are there now? 45,307, as of late June. Nearly a third of them – 14,231 – are 7-Elevens. Lawson, with 10,457, is number two, followed by Family Mart (8,858) and Sunkus (6,208). What, by the way, is a combini, technically speaking? To qualify as one, a store must be between 50 and 250 square meters in area and be open at least 14 hours a day.

Combini nationwide receive 40.75 million visits a day, on average. Assuming each visit represents a different person, that’s one-third of the nation’s population. An average store receives 900 visits a day. Not all come to buy – some come merely to browse the magazines; still, daily sales at an average outlet are 530,000 yen.

Speaking of magazines, why do combini staff allow you to just stand there reading? A more upscale store would insist you buy. But combini know what they’re doing. “No problem! Manga weeklies, photo weeklies, they’re tools to bring people into the store,” explains one manager. “If they don’t buy a magazine, they’re likely to buy something else. Sometimes people who’ve been reading a long time feel self-conscious and make a point of buying something before they leave.”

Seen one combini, you’ve seen 'em all, right? Wrong. They differ from region to region and from company to company. No one claims combini fare is gourmet dining, but regional flavors are important in Japan, and are reflected in bentos and food cooked on the premises. And each company has its different emphasis. 7-Eleven pioneered with services such as copying and banking, Lawson with separate appeals to separate demographics. “Natural Lawson,” for instance, is aimed primarily at women. A store near a school will stock up on stationery; one in a neighborhood with lots of foreigners, on sandwiches.

How to tell a well-managed store from one unworthy of your patronage? Check the fast food counter where the "nikuman" meat buns, the fried chicken and oden stew simmer. If that looks appetizing, management knows what it’s doing. If not, you probably won’t have to walk far in search of an alternative.

Convenience stores light up the night; they seem to be making war on night. Is all that brightness a good thing? Yes, if you’re fleeing crime or some other trouble and need an instant shelter; maybe not from a "setsuden" (saving electricity) point of view. An average store’s monthly electricity bill comes to 300,000 yen. The switch to LED lighting proceeds slowly but surely, it is pleasant to report.

© Japan Today

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My appreciation of convenience stores has grown in leaps and bounds in recent years, especially since they introduced the cash machines, and since I started using takkyubin (domestic delivery service for packages). I can take out money, reup my prepaid phone, pay bills, send a box, and treat myself to a Haagen-Dazs creamy mint ice cream. LOVE oden in colder months, too.

If only they would stock a quality version of certain staple items like milk and juice, to go alongside the cheapo ones they sell... but I see why they don't, of course.

All hail the convenience store!

9 ( +10 / -1 )

free banking services (whoever pays any banking machine fees is an idiot). Everything one would need to buy (yesterday I got a handkerchief, they had at least 6 different types and designs), food is not half bad and with a very good variety, etc, etc..

Shortly, every time I travel abroad I do miss them.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Now back to reality. Nice piece of poetry. Sure would like to read about the negative aspects as well. The other side is how many of Japan's youth have failed to learn the lessons from their parents on issues of cooking, savings, shopping, etc. Their is a growing number that depend on their local convenience store to subside from one day to the next. Their interest in learning to cook for a future spouse or child seems to be dependent on store purchased food, and convenience stores has been their source of inspiration.

-6 ( +8 / -13 )

I loved my nearby kombini - when I was living in the mountains and closest one was 45 minutes walk one way. I hardly even go into one in Tokyo. Maybe when I'm in the mood for instant ramen, 711 has the best. Or when travelling, a travel-size portion of anything. And they make nice landmarks, to see where you are in the map (this was during the Age of Paper Maps, circa really-long-time-ago).

Last time I was happy to see lights of a kombini was evening of March 11th, 2011, while walking 30km home.

fleeing crime or some other trouble

What? In "safe Japan"?!? Surely this eventuality is not necessary to even consider! (Yes, it was sarcasm).

2 ( +4 / -2 )

After March 11th in Sendai that all the conbinis closed or all their shelves were empty it was like I was living in another country and the streets with closed combinis were just like a ghost town. I had become so use to them in the one year I was in Japan up until then. Seeing no combinis open was the strangest sight in the world! I remember after two weeks that they slowly began to open again it was like life returned back to Sendai, everyone going to the combinis had a smile in their face (showing how everyone missed them)! They are truly an important part of Japanese way of life and cityscape now.

Oh, the same things above can be said for the vending machines.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Feel sorry for the staff who work there - they are all generally polite and helpful, yet all they seem to get from the customers are a grunt and their money or credit card. Not even the local equivalents of please and thank you. Guess they'd prefer to text or email their comments!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I recall standing at a major intersection in the city of Wakayama a few years ago, and just for the sake of it, turning in all four directions and counting the "konbinis". Nine of them with sight! Incredible!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Convenience stores here are definitely huge in number, but nothing makes me appreciate them more than when I go back home (or most other countries) and step into a convenience store -- all they sell are junkfood, smokes, and drinks (no alcohol, of course). Japanese convenience stores really DO redefine convenience.

The only problem I've had of late with combinies in general is that fact that most have switched to selling their own products. What I mean is, I used to be able to buy several brands of milk or green tea in the 1 and 2 litre bottles (cartons), but not I can only buy Lawson's Milk, or Family Mart Brand tea. It's taken away some of the 'variety'. Still, love the combinis in general!

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I loved the Far Side cartoon where there was a kid in a store, looking up at the shelves, WAY beyond anyone's reach.

And the caption?

"Inconvenience Store."

3 ( +4 / -1 )

"a store near a school will stock up on stationery; one in a neighborhood with lots of foreigners, on sandwiches."

Har! So, we foreigners like sandwiches, do we? Ha ha ha ha ha

By the way, conbinis do not know how to make ham & cheese sandwiches, they don't put mustard on them.

A ham & cheese sandwich w/o mustard is like breakfast w/o orange juice.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Japan wouldn't be the same country without combini? A little insulting to the culture, who I guarantee you can survive the trend they created if it tanked.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

I learned to love the closest combini after I discovered that I could buy online tickets for shows, raves and parties with the blink of an eye. Do they have foreigners in the neighboorhood? They could have some international magazines too.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

When I first came to Japan, I did go to the conbinis a lot, but now that I've been here, I rarely ever go to them since you can get everything (much cheaper) at supermarkets, etc.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The other side is how many of Japan's youth have failed to learn the lessons from their parents on issues of cooking, savings, shopping, etc. Their is a growing number that depend on their local convenience store to subside from one day to the next.

There seems to be a direct impact on children and their eating habits due to "conbini" and the food that they sell. Much of it is high in fat and sugar and is in a manner of speaking is one of the Japanese versions of "fast-food". Kids have gotten accustomed to having them around and thanks to their "convenience" parents more and more rely on them for their kids meals.

Once in a while sure they are great for a pick up, but on a regular basis? I dont think so. Educating kids about diets and fast food needs to be stressed more in school.

Their interest in learning to cook for a future spouse or child seems to be dependent on store purchased food, and convenience stores has been their source of inspiration.

Maybe it's just me but somehow, even though it isn't written here, and knowing about how Japanese typically view marriage and home lifestyles......this statement is sexist to say the least.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Very appreciative of the many services and 7-11's my 24 x 7 bank. Wish the smut mags were not there, right next to the ATM, though. Put those depressing rags waaaay in the back, out of my sight. (That's my only complaint). Yes, winter oden has been a treat, and the habanero (sp?) pizzaman. Yum!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Only other place I've seen more convenience stores is the ABC stores in Waikiki, Honolulu. One on each corner and in the middle of the block. And the same across the street. More interesting trivia: 7-Eleven and Lawson both have their origins in the US, but are now majority Japanese owned. And most Americans don't have a clue that the local 7-Eleven has any relationship to Japan.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Not even the local equivalents of please and thank you.

That's a question of upbringing... people who don't say thank you in a conbini, probably wouldn't say thank you anywhere else either...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I always say thank you and look the worker in the eye. It's nice to see them smile...I admire them for being competent in their job, too. Unlike the American conbini worker, who clearly thinks this whole thing is below them. As it is. All they do there is sell drugs in various forms...Not part of the community. I think American conbini stores could learn a LOT from the Japanese concept!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The only thing that annoys me is the attitude towards foreigners I see at my local combini .Everyone in front of me is asked "Do you have a point-card?" I have a point-card, but it seems nobody wants to know. I'm never asked.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Tokyo combini staff obsession with putting everything in a plastic bag annoys me. Buy a packet of chewing gum or an ice cream and most times they still go to put it in a bag, even if ive asked them not to! I noticed that 7 eleven in Taipei asks if you want a bag and will charge you nominally for a good, strong plastic bag that you can re use if necessary. So basically the robotic service in Tokyo combinis annoys me, otherwise theyre pretty cool for emergency toothbrushes, razors, curry udon, beers etc!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )


Never encountered the problem. "Sono mama ii desu." works every-time. My local combini staff knows I don't want the receipts and keep them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yeah, Spanki, a quick "fukuro iranai desu" works fine for me all the time. Or try "shiiru de ii desu" (you know, a little piece of tape (seal) on every product.

The service provided by konbini is great. Sometimes you just have to have something and for those times, I'm glad they exist. Also, as far as drunk/hungover food go, you can't beat a trip to the konbini and their bentos.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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