If you have ever lived in or visited Japan, odds are you have come to love these convenience stores which are amazing places. But what exactly makes Japanese convenience stores so different and special compared to those overseas? Here are five reasons why we think these “conbini” totally live up to the hype.
Although many convenience stores around the world stock food, Japan stands out for the high-quality food available at almost all hours of the day. It is not surprising that a country whose cuisine had been added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list would even value the quick, ready-made food in convenience stores.
Rice balls with all kinds of yummy fillings can be bought for around 100 yen each while affordable ready-made meals often use locally sourced and seasonal ingredients. During the winter, you can warm yourself up quickly with a bowl of oden or a steamed pork bun. And in summer, all kinds of different ice cream treats fill the freezer section.
Free public restrooms
There are convenience stores practically every few blocks in larger cities in Japan and most of them have clean restrooms anyone can use. Many of them are a pretty good size as well, just in case you need to change your clothes mid-day. So stop hunting for that public bathroom and just look for the glowing sign of a convenience store. Even if you’re not actually buying anything at the store, a quick “sumimasen toire o tsukaimasu” (“Excuse me, I’m using/would like to use the toilet”) will be greeted with a smile and a nod.
Japanese convenience take the word “convenience” very seriously and are more than just a store full of products. In fact, a lot of people come in and don’t even buy anything. Many use the in-store copy machines, ATMs, movie/concert/overnight bus ticket kiosks and instant picture printers. Many stores also have some sort of partnership with delivery services, making them a great alternative to long lines at the post office, and you can even arrange for your luggage to be kept safe and shipped to the airport, saving you the hassle of lugging it with you on the trains to catch your flight.
All the vices you need
Besides toothpaste and milk, Japanese convenience stores also sell just about any vice you need. The bookshelves normally stock porn magazines and saucy manga, and you can buy cigarettes or booze 24 hours a day. Of course if you are an alcoholic, chain-smoking porn-addict, you might want to stay away, but, hey, the cashier won’t judge you – they merely ask that you hit the button on the register touch screen saying “I confirm that I’m over 20 years of age”
One of the first things you will notice in a Japanese convenience store is the attentiveness of the staff. Besides making sure to greet everyone who enters, the stores are usually kept immaculately clean and everything is lined up neatly on the shelves. And if you buy a ready-made meal that needs heated up, the cashier will be more than happy to microwave it for you and provide everything from disposable chopsticks to tiny plastic sporks and drinking straws. There is even a hot water pot to use for your recently purchased cup ramen, and staff will bag your purchases separately if you have both hot and cold items–well, that or do some exceptionally clever packing.
This is the Japanese convenience store: a friendly place open 24 hours a day where you can get almost anything you want.
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