At almost any given time or place in major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, you will be able to see the bright glow of a sign indicating the presence of a convenience store. Even in more rural and suburban areas, the distinct glow of the konbini can be seen more frequently than one would imagine.
These localized shops cater to an incredible amount of people on a daily basis, and become local spots for many to relax after work or pick up some groceries before they return home. Even if you are simply traveling to Japan for a short time, convenience stores can save you if you find yourself in a bit of trouble.
Convenience Stores in Japan
There are over 55,000 convenience stores scattered throughout Japan, which is an incredible amount when you consider that Japan is approximately the size of California, yet has about 1/3 as many convenience stores as the entire United States.
The secret behind the success of the Japanese konbini is a focus on the point of sale, staying aware of the locale, as well as clustering stores in close proximity to each other.
Convenience stores often stock seasonal items, regional foods as well as temporary testing foods, and items that cater to the next days forecast. Visiting a konbini in one season will most likely have a different product offering than in another. Also, as a result of the limited shelf space and fast-changing trends of Japan, new or temporary food and drink items will be available often in an attempt to cater to changing consumer needs.
another outcome of the limited shelf space, in addition to the close proximity of store locations, is that the cost to deliver and restock individual stores is lowered, and the efficiency to deliver to these stores is greatly increased. This enables stores to be stocked regularly; sometimes up to five times a day. Why is this so great? Convenience stores have extremely fresh (and tasty!) food, the latest news and magazines, as well as anything to cater to a changing weather forecast. This is great when you want a snack, or get caught in the rain without an umbrella!
There are many convenience store brands, including Circle K Sunkus, Ministop, and Daily Yamazaki, however there are three brands that are seemingly everywhere in Japan. These brands have placed themselves at the top of the convenience store industry in Japan, and would be difficult not to find.
The most popular convenience stores in Japan by total locations:
Convenience stores in Japan, much like the rest of the world, carry a copious amount of food, drink, tobacco, and household items. The difference with Japanese konbini is that they not only have a variety of food and drink, but that the quality and freshness can often outshine even some restaurants.
Snacks and meals that cater to the season are available at any hour of the day, and of course the cashier will gladly heat it up for you.
Drinks line the walls of the store, often offering a surprising amount of healthy options such as unsweetened tea, as well as coffee, soft drinks, and alcohol.
Magazines are in every konbini, and reading them while standing in front of the magazine rack is a common past time.
Household products and personal care products are available for those emergencies and last minute purchases.
Not only is the amount of things available to buy in a konbini impressive, but so is the amount of things you can do. It is nearly as common for people to go to the convenience store to copy, fax, or send some mail as it is for someone to go buy a snack.
Often times the post offices in Japan have long lines, and is a hassle to use at peak times. Luckily, local konbini have a courier system and postal services.
In most convenience stores across Japan there is a photocopying and fax machine that can be used for any late night or last minute office tasks.
There are also ticket machines and services available for many events, music concerts, amusement parks, buses, planes, and many more.
ATM are present in most convenience stores, most notably 7-11, and can be used when post offices are closed. This is so helpful to foreign travelers because these ATMs allow most foreign cards.
The public garbage and recycle bins outside of almost every convenience store is very helpful if you’re walking around and looking for a public waste bin. Which in most cases, will happen often, because the amount of public trash cans is staggeringly low.
One of the best features about the konbini is the availability of … public restrooms! It can be incredibly difficult to find public restrooms while walking around in Japan, and a quick stop in a convenience store is most likely the best option.
Finally, one of the most important uses for a konbini for foreign travelers is the free public Wi-Fi. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are one of the most rare things in Japan, and if you don’t have service on your trip or simply need to use a lot of data, these hotspots are great.
Caught in a Pinch?
Whether you’re looking for a drink to cool you down, a quick snack to satisfy your hunger, a Wi-Fi hotspot, or any number of other things, a quick stop in a konbini will most likely solve any issue.
Not only are these convenient stores easy to find or well-stocked, but the experience of going to them is always great. From the extremely friendly staff to the cleanliness and simple layout, most people have a difficult time finding something to complain about! The konbini has earned such a great reputation, that the famous Japanese convenience store is one thing that many people who have lived in Japan miss the most.
When in Japan, make sure to keep your eye out for that distinct glow of the convenience store, and check it out!