Everyone has some sort of familiarity with the ever present convenience store, but in Japan it’s a little different. It’s not so much the differences inside the konbini, the Japanese name for convenience stores, but more about how frequently you can find them. Imagine having several on the same block! There’s a particular reason why it’s set up that way, however.
In Japan, there’s not as much space for big one stop shopping grocery stores. Places like Walmart, Target, Tesco, and Sainsbury aren’t as common as you would find in other places. Of course, they do exist; for example, Aeon, Daiei, Ito-Yokado, and Beisia all have large presences in the neighborhoods they inhabit, and there are of course smaller grocery stores to be found, but with the time and space that Japanese people have for shopping, it’s a little inconvenient to go down to the neighborhood grocery store when you’re in a rush and need to pick up a little snack on the way to work, or even a little more. This is where the konbini lives up to being convenient!
There are range of services and products however that are not found in the usual convenience stores in other places — although it should be noted, some store chains in America are slowly catching up to the same kinds of quality that you can receive in Japan. But unlike some convenience stores in America, you don’t get the same kind of range of hot and cold foods that you can find in a Japanese konbini. The quick hot foods are present like fried chicken, but there are many high quality sandwiches, obento, and even pasta dishes that can be bought. There can also be areas where warm canned drinks, like coffee and milk tea, are easily available. There are even open alcohol sections since Japan has a different cultural view on alcohol than some other places, though the age restriction of 20 years old is certainly enforced. On the other hand, konbini in Japan don’t feature gasoline stations or stands in the same way that ones may in other countries, since those kinds of convenience stores are mostly aimed towards drivers who need last minute items or quick things for their driving trips. That leaves much more space for electronic items, make up, hair care products, and even clothing.
One of the bigger convenience store chains that you can find here is the familiar 7-Eleven. Here it’s also known by its corporate name, Seven and I Holdings. 7-Eleven was originally founded in America, which is why they are present in both countries, and you can find many 7-Elevens to this day all over Japan Other convenience stores chains in Japan include Lawson Station, Family Mart, Mini Stop, Daily Yamazaki, and Sunkus, which sometimes can also be found under the familiar name Circle K.
If you need something more than a vending machine but don’t need to do a full shopping trip, the accessibility of konbini is more than enough. The only problem is which one to pick; where I live, there are two Family Marts and two 7-Elevens within short walking distance of each other! That’s pretty convenient.