Japan Today

Looking for a job in Japan? Try a convenience store

By Preston Phro

There are many “symbols of Japan” – from Mt Fuji to Akihabara, the country has numerous faces to the outside world. But regardless of what comes to mind when you think of the country, there’s a good chance that you’ll stop by one of its many convenience stores on the way to your destination. In many ways, the army of small shops that squat on half the corners from Hokkaido to Okinawa are the perfect symbol of the country. But it looks like the convenience stores of Japan are now facing a serious problem: They can’t find enough employees.

A recent article by Business Journal, a Japanese website, caught our attention with its alarming headline claiming that Japan’s convenience stores were facing a serious shortage of help. Panic gripped our hearts – without the employees to keep Japan’s convenience stores open, where would we get our oden and bento lunches?

Part of the problem seems to be the insane rate of expansion the top three convenience store chains are chasing. This year, 7-Eleven had a total of 1,600 store openings planned in Japan. Meanwhile, FamilyMart had 1,300 planned, and Lawson had 1,100 expected store openings. That’s 4,000 new convenience store branches in Japan this year alone. We can’t even fathom how much oden that is, but we’re pretty sure it’s enough to fill a few swimming pools for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

Obviously, a new store means you need new employees to work there, but you might be surprised by just how many are necessary. It turns out that the average Japanese convenience store needs about 20 people on its roster. With 4,000 new stores, that means roughly 80,000 new workers are needed.

But remember, Japan is an aging society, so there are fewer and fewer youngsters looking for part-time jobs now! Which is probably why many jobs that used to pay about 800 yen an hour are now commanding wages of about 1,100 yen.

But even with a pay increase, how will Japan’s convenience stores find enough workers?

Well, it looks like the three major chains are trying a number of different approaches. For one thing, some stores are willing to hire people to work only one day a week–or even just one-hour shifts! Another approach is putting the elderly back to work. Just because you’re retired doesn’t mean you can’t stack shelves.

But here’s one tactic that might be more of interest to our readers–some stores are actively accepting for foreign employees, specifically students studying abroad, and are producing non-Japanese training manuals that included topics like proper “manners” and how to speak correctly. The Business Journal article even quoted someone from Lawson saying that people who “cannot use the language freely” (a nice way of saying “can’t speak Japanese”) could be hired to work in food preparation factories.

While working at a convenience store is the exact opposite of a great way to spend you time in Japan, we do have to say that it would provide you with a lot of opportunities to interact with the locals. Sure, you might never want to smell oden again, but you’ll probably have a lot of interesting stories about drunk middle-age Japanese salarymen buying cigarettes.

Naturally, this labor shortage isn’t country-wide, and some areas have no staffing problems at all. And hiring foreign employees isn’t exactly new, especially in major urban areas, like Tokyo, when you can find many non-Japanese folks standing behind the cash registers. But the current situation is opening up a lot more opportunities for foreign part-time workers. Lawson will reportedly even help people fill out resumes.

Of course, you’re probably not going to be able to get a work visa through 7-Eleven, but if you’re looking for a way to make some extra cash while taking classes, teaching English isn’t your only option.

Source: Business Journal

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- This new convenience store isn’t so convenient for the blind. -- The “doya-gao” phenomenon and where you’re most likely to see it -- We can’t get enough of these clever pouches inspired by Japanese amulets

© RocketNews24

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My local 7/11 has the most beautiful Vietnamese ladies. They are really lovely & understand my Japanese, without checking with my wife what I have said. I hope this trend continues.

15 ( +16 / -1 )

One thing that's a bummer about working a cash register in Japan is that there is very little casual talk exchanged between customers and cashiers. "Hey, good to see you again," "Have fun at school," "Surf's up," etc. On the other hand, service is really fast.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Raise that wage far above 1100 Yen per hour and they'll attract native Japanese. Unfortunately. one day per week and one hour shifts reveals the corporate strategy here.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Kicked those Chinese out of these stores..Cheap Idiot.

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

One thing that's a bummer about working a cash register in Japan is that there is very little casual talk exchanged between customers and cashiers. "Hey, good to see you again," "Have fun at school," "Surf's up," etc.

The interesting thing is that I've found that with the proliferation of Chinese people working at combinis in my area, they are a lot more willing to chat than Japanese people. I often chat with the Chinese staff.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

There was/is a western looking girl working at the convini just at the bottom of spain-zaka in shibuya I was at a few weeks ago. Was a bit surreal doing everything in Japanese with her but she might not even have spoken English, or might have been Japanese for all I know.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

To work in a convenience store one would need extra pay to cover the health dangers of all those strip lights they use.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

@oikawa There was a Eurasian model years ago who had a Caucasian dad and a Japanese mother. The father was out of the picture so he grew up in a typical single mother household in Japan. He didn't do well in his English studies. Anyway, I recall him saying (he was on a show) when he was younger, he used to go out and get so drunk that he would sleep in the park. One time, some military guys saw him and shook him awake. He guessed they thought he was one of them and were worried about him not being able to make it back on base but because he didn't speak English, he could only sort of grunt and nod or shake his head. Sooo, just a long way of saying, the western looking girl might have been monolingual.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I've found the Chinese shop staff (or at least, the ones with Chinese-sounding names) are a lot less polite and attentive than typical Japanese staff. Maybe 85% of the times I've gotten bad service/surly staff in conbinis, the person has had a Chinese-sounding name.

So whilst I'm not against conbinis continuing to hire whoever they want, I do hope they will instill an appropriate level of 'o-mo-te-na-shi' into all of them.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Haha DiscoJ ever been to China? I remember entering a conbini in Shanghai and the staff casually chatted with each other for quite a while before attending to me waiting at the counter. Totally different world and mentality from Japanese staff.

6 ( +7 / -1 )


Yeah that's what I was saying too when I said she might have been Japanese. I had a student once in exactly the same situation as the guy you describe. 17yrs old, blue eyes, blond hair, and spoke just like your typical Taro. "I, err, ettto, going, errr, supaa." Smart kid but hardly a lick of English, so I'm always aware of that possibility. Having said which, she was probably an exchange student, but I didn't want to damage the wa :)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

CGB Spender:

The same can happen in the UK. I was once at Heathrow airport and went to buy something at Boots, a drugstore. The woman at the register was so engrossed in the gossip with her colleague that she didn't even look at me or say anything. I felt stupid for saying thank you when she gave me my change. Horrible service. Horrible. Quite common in some places in the UK.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@oikawa hee, hee... good for you; speaking of wa... I really can't remember but maybe the guy was on Tamori's noontime show. He wished he did better in school and even though he was drunk, he was touched by the guys looking out for him; a stranger, a drunk western looking man passed out on a park bench. I came across a story a few years back about a Dutch guy who spoke an Okinawan dialect (he was raised in a remote part of Okinawa) but no standard Japanese and Dutch. I've forgotten what the story was about but that stuck with me. What the heck were his parents thinking?!? Hogen and Dutch? Someone was pulling the reporter's leg.

@DiscoJ Could be the Chinese clerks at the conbinis you encounter may not feel comfortable enough with their Japanese ability to chitchat. I can imagine a Japanese clerk (perhaps a student working part-time or a spouse who accompanied her husband overseas) doing the same, say in America, just smiling and handing over your change.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

A high number of the conbini staff in Shizuoka City are foreign students lately, from several different countries. I think it is easy here because the city area isn't too big, but there are a few Japanese schools with at least a few hundred students who can work part time.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It's usually the rudeness of customers which annoys me. Is a quick 'thank you' too much to ask?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

So this is Abenomics with the wages going up?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Obviously, a new store means you need new employees to work there, but you might be surprised by just how many are necessary. It turns out that the average Japanese convenience store needs about 20 people on its roster. With 4,000 new stores, that means roughly 80,000 new workers are needed.

I have no doubt that convenience stores are more convenient, and efficient, but are they really creating a new market? Convenience stores sell fruit and vegetables, toys, books, postage stamps, meat, fish, alcoholic drinks, and can, do, have put grocers, toys shops, book shops, post offices, butchers, fishmongers, off licences (liquor stores) out of business. The proprietors of these former specialist shops may not have earned any more per hour, but may have had the job stability to have a family. I like my local convenience store but the I feel sorry for my local grocer - whose shop looks more and more dilapidated - and try to purchase from him when I can. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKEa99MRi-I

I worked as a cameraman's assistant, carrying the tripod and batteries, in a local (山陽放送) TV company. It was hard work but a great way to learn Japanese.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@cracaphat, You'd be amazed at what people would choose for work to get a little extra money when they are strapped for cash, Native English speaking or not.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

My first job in Japan was at a Yamazaki Daily Store. Worked 6 till 10 am and then went to my language school. It was a great way to use my newly acquired Japanese skills and as it was 1990 I was a relative rarity in Koshigaya so got loads of conversation opportunities.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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