Japan Today



Convenience stores becoming more and more a part of our lives


Nothing proliferates in Japan like convenience stores. Nothing evolves like them either, though their unvarying external appearance and internal layouts may give the superficial observer the impression that not much has changed in the 39 years since the first 7-Eleven opened in Tokyo. The evolution, explains Josei 7 (Dec 19), is in the merchandise, services and quality, the former two steadily expanding, the latter steadily rising.

Japan boasts some 49,000 “conbini.” Often there are two, sometimes three, at one intersection. Competition is fierce, hence the perpetual spawning of new temptations – fresh coffee, hot snacks, health food, packaged meals for one, packaged meals for two – the list goes on and on, and is an addition to, not a replacement of, the basics that formed the original core inventory: bread, "onigiri," cigarettes, soft drinks, magazines and so on.

The copy machine – every conbini has one, usually next to the ATM, which is also standard equipment – does more than just make copies. You can use it to print your smartphone texts and photos, or, if you’ve pre-registered, to access official documents in case of need, saving you a trip to the ward office. Chiba Prefecture conbini have pioneered the “crime prevention box,” staffed by retired police officers. Convenience thus extends to the harassed, the troubled and the threatened.

What else is new? A good deal, Josei 7 finds. Coffee is old, but quality coffee for 100 yen or thereabouts? Coffee specially for women? Espresso coffee? At convenience stores? Once unheard of, these are now commonplace.

7-Eleven offers “golden bread” flavored with honey – 20,000 loaves sold in five months. FamilyMart trumpets “premium chicken,” seasoned with 11 spices and herbs – not bad for 180 yen. Somebody tweeted something about it on Twitter, and suddenly it was a nationwide phenomenon. Lawson’s thick pancakes doused in maple syrup have earned more than 900 million yen since their first appearance in March. Mini-Stop’s “Hokkaido premium soft ice cream” (the English word “premium” occurs and recurs in conbini-land), priced at 258 yen, have sold 125% relative to original expectations.

If only the rest of Japan’s economy were sizzling as furiously. And the hits just keep on coming. Josei 7 cites a few: FamilyMart’s 280-yen “premium sandwiches,” selling since their July debut at three times the expected pace; Lawson’s eggs benedict (320 yen); Circle K’s clam chowder (270 yen).

Japan is a disaster-prone country. This seems an odd note to strike in a story about convenience stores, but their ability to keep traumatized earthquake and tsunami victims supplied with basic necessities has been proven again and again, most recently in the March 2011 Tohoku catastrophes, and makes them, Josei 7 notes, “an essential part of the infrastructure.”

And, increasingly, they deliver – to your house, that is. That too is a vital social service to a rapidly aging nation.

© Japan Today

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I found the comment about Japan being disaster-prone and the comfort that combini provides very spot-on. I think that despite how flawed Japan is (in many aspects, not just geographically, as any society and country in the world) there are a lot of affordable everyday comforts that make life a bit easier. Maybe we don't appreciate them daily, but in times of hardship we really are thankful for them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The mom and pop type stores are the best

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I love Japanese convience stories they are the best in the world

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The FamilyMart conbini at Sunshine City Prince hotel is my fave stop for it's fantastic onigiri, premium sandwiches, premium fried chicken & mixed fruit yoghurt. It even has a machine for me to buy J league match tickets. The meat buns are terrific as well.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Nights are getting colder and sometimes a quick stop at my local 7-11 for a very hot oden selection to take home is just one of the reasons I love living here! Now I make my own, thanks to the introduction at the conbini. Oh, and my bank account is available to me 24 x 7 at the ATM. Naysayers, lighten up. These places serve many people and are terrific.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Nothing proliferates in Japan like convenience stores.

How about: Vending machines. They make conbini seem chaste in comparison. They are the "rabbits" of the mechanical world, proliferating out of control.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

combini is my religion and I consider the corn-mayo bread and rainbow coffee cans to be blessed sacraments.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

"I would complain if they didn't have oden"

You've been here too long, Maria, ha ha

Carcharodon - Thanks for the YouTube link, funny video!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziX1oQRiA3w this classic song sums it all up!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

They make a nice bathroom stop when you are on the run. So, not to be a bathroom freeloader, at least I buy a drink. They have excellent food too.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I find them quite handy and I'm glad they've sprouted all over the place, although I do my main food shopping in grocery stores.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I have, in fact, never had a bento from a convenience store. Assuming I have options I prefer the social interaction of having my food prepared for me when I order, or, at least, having been made on premise.

Food brought in from outside, no matter how nice it might taste, nor how "convenient" it might be, simply devalues the experience of eating.

(Haven't been to a fast food restaurant since the teenage years long ago)

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

"I never understood it, i see people go to the conbini's while next to it is a grocery store that has all, and cheaper." THIS.

The longer I live in Japan the less and less and less I go to a combini. I still use them for Kuro Neko mailing. When I am on the road traveling and need a snack. They are indeed convenient and would miss them if they all disapereed tomorrow. But yeah, their novelty wore off long ago, and I really don't understand why I need 7 of them within 10 minutes of my apt. and I don't understand people who shop there everyday, or MORE.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I never understood it, i see people go to the conbini's while next to it is a grocery store that has all, and cheaper.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

There are at least half a dozen kombini within an easy walk of my place. I tend to patronize two in particular that have friendly and cute cashiers who make eye contact. They both seem to be married, and I have no designs, I just enjoy the personal touch, however brief.

One thing that struck me about food merchandise stocked by kombini and I guess this would apply to supermarkets as well is how mushy everything is. You would think from their soft texture and consistency that the entire nation of Japan is wearing dentures because they aren't able to bite through anything as al dente as a New York bagel.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I would complain if they didn't have oden - love that stuff! I think Circle K does the best dessert, but yes indeed Family Mart juicy chicken is bloody lovely!

Convenience stores provide great service.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

My only complaint is the smell of oden that permeates many of the conbinis once the cool weather hits...just not appetizing at all to me. Otherwise, they are awesome.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

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