lifestyle

5 reasons Japanese convenience stores rock

40 Comments
By Scott R Dixon

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.

Food quality

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.

Services galore

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”

Hospitality

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.

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- 10 things Japan gets awesomely right -- Try these new ready-made meals from convenience stores -- The funniest tweets from convenience stores

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40 Comments
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I'll add a sixth - they're everywhere. Oops - a seventh - they're brightly lit, too. My only wish is that more of them carried an English Japanese newspaper. My Japanese isn't good enough to allow me to read all the native publications, but I hope that will change over time. I especially like the fresh salads. And I get a real charge out of that touch-screen thing, at my age, although most of the staff take a look at me and touch it themselves - hard to mistake a white-haired gaijin who almost looks his age for anyone under 20. But I've been asked, and we've had a good laugh over it, every time, because my first response is to ask, in Japanese, if they think I'm too young to buy that wine or sake. Gotta love 'em!

18 ( +18 / -0 )

I love and miss Kombini every day I left japan. I have to say though, you can get burned-out on the onigiri / sandwiches pretty quickly. You dread them after a while especially if you are in a rush. Also the traditional "Irashaii mase" has changed from a warm welcome to a pre-programmed war cry sounding shriek. Sometimes coming in at 3am or before work it's a bit jarring to say the least.

I will say its the first place I go to on every trip back to Japan. I wish they had that kind of place in Canada...

8 ( +8 / -0 )

The one by my house also has a Tsutaya DVD dropbox - really convenient. You can also buy 粗大ゴミ stickers (big garbage), send faxes and can now get brewed coffee.

Beats the wet soggy sandwiches at American convenience stores. That's for sure.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

There a tab bit too many combinis around. like MAJOR over kill.... but they do rock. The only thing I don't get is why they don't sell gas..... If they sold gas like they did in the USA, oh my god!!! Get some gas, pick up a pack of smokes or a coke. In the USA something like 90% of all the profits a gas station makes is from their convenience store. In Japan and the USA gas station only make 1 or 2 yen (or cents) per liter (gallon) of gas sold.

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

5 + 1 reasons they suck:

Monoculture: they are everywhere Climate change villain: operating 24hrs a day with open refrigeration units and a huge transportation burden. Waste: daily they toss masses of edible food (most imported using other people's labour, land and water). Cost: despite their scale economies, they are not cheap, hence the profits. Inconvenient: They are mainly convenient for companies, that don't give their workers enough time to properly shop during normal hours and prepare food at home themselves. Smell: nuff said.
-19 ( +11 / -30 )

Shop somewhere else then, they are convenient for precisely the reason that they all carry a similar range of goods. Are you saying you never have to pick up something that had slipped your mind? Refrigeration ok, but transportation? If stock is moving, they gotta bring more in - same goes for any store, how is this a "burden"? 3.Unfortunately, convenience stores are not the only ones guilty of this, don't lay all the blame on them. 4.You pay for convenience, sheesh. 5.You are kind of stretching it here. Plus, gross gross gross gerneralizations. +6 I don't know what stank hole place opens around you, but if it stank that bad no one would go.

Whine a bit less perhaps?

11 ( +16 / -5 )

They provide a great service how can anyone bleat and moan like warispeace and inakarob wanting them to sell gas. If they sold gas they would be a gas station not a simple convenience store, and it would be highly inpracticle to have a gas station on every second street corner.

7 ( +10 / -3 )

I love them, and miss them whenever i am abroad. BUT, for one reason they suck (ok its not the combini that suck, but the laws here), is the fact they DONT sell aspirin/pain killers or anything medicine-like! For all their convenience, they cant sell me something to help my splitting headache?!

11 ( +11 / -0 )

They are very convenient and clean. When I head back to New York, the wife always complains about the lack of public toilets. No such problems here in Japan. Now, if they could only stock some great New York deli food. I really miss Katz DelI and the great neighborhood bodegas! Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you all !!

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Need a snack at 3am? Dang right, the convenience store will fit the bill.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Yeah the combinis are incredible here. I get incredibly annoyed at the convenience stores back in Sydney by comparison; outrageously expensive and terrible quality food.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Not sure if all of them have toilets available for customers. Staff at one store in the Roppongi area got a surprise when a slightly inebriated customer tried to go in to the rear staff entrance, thinking it was a restroom.

Only bad thing about these stores are the people lined up reading the manga and magazines free of charge, blocking the aisles, and the staff are too polite to ask them to buy one or leave...

5 ( +7 / -2 )

@Tokiyo

Shop somewhere else then,

I do

Refrigeration ok, but transportation? If stock is moving, they gotta bring more in - same goes for any store, how is this a "burden"?

They are part of the global trend to drive out the locally produced, as they externalize the real cost of transportation, in terms of greenhouse gases, which is put onto future generations and the environment as the burden of climate change.

3.Unfortunately, convenience stores are not the only ones guilty of this, don't lay all the blame on them.

Where did I say I place all the blame on convenience stores. They are just part of the inferno.

4.You pay for convenience, sheesh.

For some people, who have no other options (such as late-shift workers at convenience stores), it is not convenience but necessity to go to these stores and they are paying a high price.

5.You are kind of stretching it here. Plus, gross gross gross gerneralizations.

If you can't see how the neoliberal economy works, and you accept the inferno of the living, I can't help you.

+6 I don't know what stank hole place opens around you, but if it stank that bad no one would go.

People go to Mac. Popularity is not an indication of aromatic quality.

Whine a bit less perhaps?

Critically think a bit more!

-13 ( +6 / -19 )

@Trevorpeace1 ... I especially like the fresh salads. ...

I found the 7-11 nice looking salads sometimes hurt my teeth. I am sure they are safe bacteria-ly speaking, but I worry about what they spray on the salad to make it that way.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

warispeace: 5+1 reasons you don't rock (JT cut off my first response because they didn't like my language, so I'll reiterate:

Women, children, t-shirts are everywhere. Do you hate them, too? It's pathetic to blame convenience stores for global climate change. Global climate change is a natural phenomenon. Read the real research (I'm a researcher in that field, so feel free to pick on me). Most of the edible food doesn't go into a dump, it's either donated to organizations that can use it immediately (best-before-dates are for government regulation and ordinary consumer information (but you know that already, don't you?) The scale of their economy makes them cheap - prove otherwise to this business major and (retired at 45) successful entrepreneur. You don't know squat. Inconvenience and hours worked by staff is a specious, communist comment. Now I know where you're coming from. Nuff said (I think you said that first, so I won't claim rights to it. As if I wanted to)
1 ( +8 / -7 )

warispeaceDec. 25, 2013 - 11:38AM JST

If you deal in foods, you have to operate the refrigerator 24 / 365, regardless how many hours a day you open the store. Convenience stores should not be singled out for the use of refrigerators.

7 ( +11 / -4 )

I don't know about the 'food quality' thing, though by comparison with other nations' foods sold in convenience stores I'm guessing it's the best. I can honestly say I believe Japanese convenience stores have truly defined the word 'convenience'. You can honestly almost go shopping there these days. They have practically EVERYTHING. These days they even sell vegetables along with the fresh fruits they've been selling for a few years. Last time I went home I was pretty shocked at the contrast -- nothing but soda, snacks, cigarettes, and magazines, more or less.

My only complaint about Japanese convenience stores (not sure if it's limited to them or not) is the shift to using ONLY the brands of many products by that company. I used to enjoy the wide range of certain products, but now you can only find 7-Holdings brand, or Lawson's. I understand the reasoning, but now I have to go to the supermarket to get certain things I want, which seems against the intention of a 'convenience' store. Just a minor thing -- I still think J-combinis are the best.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

@warispeace "monoculture"...

I would actually almost agree with you there but the important difference is that there wasn't anything that convenience stores have replaced. There were no 24h open grocery store before that.

But there are many other bad examples of monoculture: Starbucks is certainly one of them.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

More good points;

24 hour ATMs which my bank doesn't charge me for, electrical tape, blocks of tofu, wet tissues, household stuff, t-shirts/pants/socks, umbrellas, payment for dodgy online stuff no questions asked, etc.

They are good.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Good but still prefer freshly-cooked 24-hr deli.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Number 6: Japanese convenience stores are safe.

Round my neck of the woods, 7-11's are usually not the most comfortable of places to be at during late night or wee hours of the early morning.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I am not sure why we have to live in a binary world where everything is either great or terrible. We can start with the obvious. Convenience stores are a wonderful institution for the consumer who chooses to use them. I buy concert tickets, food, pay bills, brew coffee, photocopy, draw out money and post mail. Having a 7-11 at the end of the road enhances my quality of life greatly. But that does not mean I have to eulogize the entire institution.

As other posters have pointed out above, they make a huge contribution to greenhouse gases, particularly by having refrigerators without doors. This is plain fact. Why deny it because the service the store provides is great? Modern life is complicated. It makes hypocrites out of all of us. I do not plan to boycott 7-11 since they don't have doors on their fridges. By I don't think denying reality is sensible. Accept the cognitive dissonance people.

Of course, the real buzzkill though is the wages they pay their employees. 700 yen an hour is a poverty wage in this country. Imagine a single mother depending on that income who can't afford take the time off to retrain for another line of work. And even if she could, we know the structural barriers to reemployment here. 700 yen an hour. That's minimum wage misery right there.

I also find it sad that a convenience store recently stripped a franchise holder of his investment and destroyed his livelihood simply because his son took a stupid picture lying down in the fridge. Just another sign of how little the millionaire business owners care for their people.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

@jpn guy

Well said. Every word.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

7-11 ATMs (the rest are shite (and expensive - looking at you SMBC), especially the E-Net ones that takes 20mins to load each page). 7-11 ODEN (that is all.) 7-11 coffee

7-11 is miles ahead of the rest of them!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My refrigerator is too small!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Can't dispute that conbini do some things really well, particularly Japanese foods, but the best? I'm not so sure. Back home the convenience store is a relatively new phenomenon, but I think done really well. I went to a Tesco Metro in London in the summer and the sandwiches were really good. Some were cheap, some not so but a really great choice and healthy options too. Incomparible to the sandwiches on offer in Japan. But then the noodles and sushi weren't so good. They didn't offer a luggage delivery service to be honest but I guess that's because there's no demand. Other services were offered though and I thought the range of fresh foods and fruit and veg was far superior to any conbini I've seen in Japan.

I guess comparing stores is like comparing cultures. I learned you're on to a hiding to nothing with that one years ago. Businesses offer what customers demand and it's logical that demands will vary from country to country.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I love the fact that I can withdraw cash for free @7-11. For everything else, there's the internet, the better supermarkets, and independent greengrocers etc.

I dislike the influence of convenience stores in popularizing pre-prepared foodstuffs high in carbohydrates, chemical flavor enhancers, fat, sugar and salt. What will they normalize next?

When Japan's imminent diabetes epidemic is examined in the future, how will convenience stores' ubiquity and unquestioned influence in advancing Big Food's profit-before-nutrition agenda (thanks, J Media!) be seen?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

conv stores sure make life easy and hence loved by the masses. however, as pointed out, the brunt is borne by the environment and un the long term, us.

@warispeace thanks for putting down some sound environmental facts, which do make sense, against simply sounding "cool", cos i really wish they used less power to have them lit like hotels 24x7. having said that, there's no arguing the convenience, but at what cost..........

2 ( +3 / -1 )

After 6 years in Japan almost all combini food starts to taste the same. Almost like a fast food restaurant. Other than that. I love them. They are convenient.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

Thank you, CraigHicks, I should have been more explicit. I don't do 7-11, at all. Can't stand them here in Canada, wouldn't set foot in one in Japan. I was referring to Lawson. Sorry about that.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

And Family Mart.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

The food sucks! 25-50% overpriced and now extremely limited because most stores now have introduced their own brands.

The only thing that rocks about a combini is that, they are everywhere, they are open 24/7 and you can pay most of your bills there.

-4 ( +2 / -5 )

gogogo.

Does that include fried chicken, etc last time I checked KFC was pricier and other stuff sold there.

I love my local combini.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I travelled so many countries but Japanese convenience stores are awesome. Food, Utility Bill Payment, Wine, Sake, Water, ATM, Manga, Copier, FAX, Photo Print, Umbrella, Cigarette, Cold Drinks, Coffee, Tea and so on.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

If only they sold decent sandwiches, or decent bread to make sandwiches with...

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Nessie - Japan isn't a sandwich culture (yet). Some day even Starbucks will catch on and realize that soggy white bread or that abomination they call a wrap could be waaay better at no additional cost. The combini chains seem to change their snack food varieties now and then but not the hot foods.

I expect to pay more for convenience and freshness - the logistics systems for restocking are awesome, but don't come cheap. Maybe drone delivery is really a practical solution. And yes, there are too many of them - overconvenient? Competition is not what is needed in many neighbourhoods - I have a FM, a Lawsons, and a Coco within a few hundred metres (all near 3 schools coincidentally).

I agree with the rap on energy use. My nearest FM was closed for a month for renovation last year. I really expected to see some LED lighting and energy-conscious fridges when it reopened, but all we got different was a coffee-maker.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@ ibaraki ken where my daughter working part time , I was looking for the trash cans outside and told its inside the store , but it's the most clean conv store I saw , so far.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Try being a gaijin in Shinjuku and asking for a toilet!! Most turn down even decent folk like me!! My guess too many drug addicts in and around SHINJUKU!! 7/11, Lawson etc.!!

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I wish the world were filled with convenience stores as actually convenient and high quality as they are in Japan. One of the things I miss the most about this wonderful country.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

is the fact they DONT sell aspirin/pain killers

Really? I didn't notice that, but i do agree that they are great and safe...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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