Ok, some people might be thinking this is an obscure topic, so why write about convenience stores? Well, it’s because I feel like the world should know how amazing convenience stores are in Japan. Locally referred to as conbini, you can find almost anything you need inside. And that’s not an exaggeration! Neighboring countries also have far greater quality convenience stores than the US, but nothing beats Japanese convenience stores. I think the US could learn a thing or two from Japan, with its healthier and wider variety of foods and snacks. That, and it’s abundance of other goods, from magazines and alcohol to clothes and stationary.
When most people think of convenience stores they think of processed foods, cheap beer, soda, candy, chips, magazines and newspapers. While those are options here in Japan, there is so much more. Need a quick snack on the go? Grab one of the many rice balls (onagri) stocked fresh everyday. Options for fillings include anything from pickled veggies, seaweed, to all sorts of fish and meat. Want something with more vegetables? Try one of the salads, including noodle salads and seaweed salads. Need fruit? Grab a banana or pre-cut fruit. Breakfast on the go? No problem, grab a hard-boiled egg, yogurt, doughnut, or pancakes with butter and syrup inside.
I remember reading a little about the convince stores of Japan before coming, but didn’t think that it could be possible for a 7-11 or any other convenience store to have fresh food. Now, after spending a year here, I am a believer, and wonder why this couldn’t be a reality in more countries. Obviously, its better to buy food at a grocery store and cook it at home yourself, but for convenience, it can’t be beat. If you go to a conbini late at night your pickings will be slimmer, but come morning, around 8am or sometimes earlier, the trucks pull up with all kinds of fresh food.
If you are looking for something to drink, the options are plentiful. Need a coffee or some tea? The variety alone is a little overwhelming. You can get a freshly ground cup of coffee or canned, either hot or iced. It’s nothing as nice as getting a nice single origin small batch coffee from Blue Bottle, but for $.80 it’s a pretty decent cup of coffee.
You can also find a large variety of alcohol, from beer, wine and spirits to highballs in a can and Japanese liquors such as sake and shochu. My favorite go-to alcohol at the conbini is a chu-hi. Chu-hi is a sparkling drink made from fruit mixed with shochu. They are usually very alcoholic, clocking in at 9%, so beware, or stick to the less boozy 6% variety.
Convenience stores don’t just have food and drinks. You can also find a phone charger, blank CD’s, t-shirts, towels, gloves, school supplies, and beauty products. I even bought a pair of slippers from my local conbini to use as my inside shoes when I first arrived. Magazines are plentiful, especially risqué ones, and it’s a great place if you need to find a bathroom while out and about.
So if you find yourself in Japan looking for a delicious, healthy treat or if you need a household item like a towel or a phone charger, go and check out a Japanese convenience store, and if you aren’t impressed, then I would love to hear why!
Have you traveled to Japan and experienced the amazing convenience stores? Did you love them as much as I did? What were your thoughts?