With all the products and services that Japanese convenience stores offer, they really live up to their name — convenient. Called konbini (sometimes spelled conbini) in Japanese, shopping in Japan couldn’t be easier. Convenience stores can be seen on just about every street corner. Did you know you can pay your bills at convenience stores in Japan? How about receiving a package or printing out a document? Yes, you can do all that and more. This article will go into detail about all the products and services Japanese convenience stores offer and what makes them so incredible (especially compared to the West).
Why Are Japanese Convenience Stores So Awesome?
Japanese convenience stores are so awesome because they have so much to offer! They have a great variety of high-quality food, drinks, and services. They have beautiful presentation, cleanliness, and famously great customer service! When compared to convenience stores in the West, most just can’t compete with Japan. Let’s talk about 7-11 in the US.
Most Americans would probably agree that 7-11 is … okay. The food served hot has often been sitting in the display for way too long (oh those spinning hot dogs…). The self-serve drink area (including for slurpees — which are not available in Japan, by the way) is likely an absolute mess of straw wrappers, drink lids, and spills. And the customer service — well, it depends on who is “helping” you. Oh, and you never know, a crime could take place at any moment!
Fortunately, Japanese 7-11 is just about the complete opposite. That hot food might be the best thing you’ve ever tasted, and it’s usually pretty fresh (but not always). There is no self-serve soda area (haven’t ever seen one, anyway), but the entire store is very clean and neat (about 99% of the time). As far as customer service, in Japan you know that’s famously good. It’s very rare that you will get someone rude (or even nearly rude) helping you at the counter.
So yeah, most people would choose a Japanese 7-11 over an American 7-11 any day - and that goes for any convenience store chain. The ones in Japan are just …better — and that’s before even talking about the additional services that Japanese Konbini offer!
Services Offered In Japanese Convenience Stores
There are so many things you can do in Japanese convenience stores - many of which are unheard of in the West. When was the last time you paid your electric bill at the 7-11? Well, in Japan you can. Here’s a list of some services that most konbini offer.
- Pay Your Bills - Almost any bill can be paid at the konbini! You can pay your electric bill, water bill, internet bill — or even your health insurance.
- Use the ATM - If you’re traveling (or even if you’re not), you will probably need an ATM. Almost 100% of Japanese convenience stores have them.
- Print Things Out - Yes! In Japan, you can actually print things (including color copies) using the easy-to-use multi-function printers. You can even upload documents to a website at home, then print them out at the konbini (for around ¥5-10 [3-7 cents USD] per copy). For more details on the whole printing process, check out this article.
- Send or Receive Packages - You can have a package sent to your nearest convenience store and pick it up from the counter (or a locker, if available). If you use Mercari, you can send packages to customers through the konbini.
- Use the Bathroom - Most Japanese convenience stores have toilets — and they're free to use. However — especially in busy areas — they’re not always available. Look for a bathroom sign (the typical white sign with a blue man and red woman — unisex is rare) to find the bathroom area.
- Get Free Wi-Fi - Well, this isn’t available at all konbini (most notably 7-11 apparently doesn’t have it anymore), but you can still get free Wi-Fi at some convenience stores. If you need it, just ask the staff or look for a sign with the Wi-Fi symbol on the wall.
- Buy Tickets - You can buy tickets for various events (like concerts). Depending on the convenience store, the steps may vary. For example, at Lawson you would use Loppi (an ATM-like machine) to get your tickets. Just ask staff for help or google your preferred konbini for instructions.
What Are The Top Convenience Stores in Japan?
According to Japan Travel, 7-11 has more shops than any other convenience store company in Japan (over 21,000) — so it takes the number one spot. However, there are a couple of other big players in the market. Family Mart is quite popular, having almost 17,000 locations. Other well-known konbini chains include Lawson (third biggest), Ministop, and Daily Yamazaki. Also, NewDays (formerly “Kiosk”) is common to see in and around train stations (because they’re owned by JR East [Japan Rail East]).
What Can You Buy At A Japanese Convenience Store?
Like in other countries, you can buy quite a range of products: food, snacks, drinks (including alcohol), personal hygiene items and more.
Of course, different convenience stores carry somewhat different items. Also, available items can change in certain regions of Japan. For example, you might find rafute, (a local — and delicious — Okinawan food) in an Okinawan 7-11, but not in Tokyo.
Best Things To Buy At Each Convenience Store
There are many interesting and delicious foods available at pretty much every convenience store in Japan. However, there are some items that are more popular than others. Here are some recommended foods (and some drinks) that you might want to try at each convenience store.
- 7-11 – Many people say that 7-11 has the best fresh coffee. So, if you’re a coffee lover, give it a go. The pastries, sandwiches and hot foods are great, too. One hot food item that’s especially yummy is the karepan — a deep-fried curry-filled bread. Delicious!
- Family Mart – With lots of delicious food and drink to choose from, one stand-out at Family Mart is the boneless fried chicken known as famichiki (short for family chicken). If you love fried chicken in your own country, you’re going to love famichiki!
- Lawson – While you can find plenty of great things at Lawson, the most famous thing to eat there is probably karaage-kun (Karaage-kun comes from the name a manga character used when the product was launched). This popular dish is small boneless pieces of fried chicken (somewhat similar to chicken nuggets) that come in various flavors. This writer once made a birthday cake out of karaage-kun, but that’s a story for another time.
- Ministop – One of the smaller chains of konbini in Japan, you can pick up the basic items here like at any other convenience store. However, there’s one difference — Ministop specializes in soft serve ice cream dishes and drinks. And they are delicious!
- Daily Yamazaki – Another small konbini chain in comparison to the “big three” (7-11, Family Mart & Lawson). If you run into this one, try the pastries and breads. After all, Daily Yamazaki was founded by the largest bread making corporation in the world, Yamazaki Baking.
- NewDays – This one is rather unique compared to the other konbini. It’s a convenience store chain only found in or near JR East train stations (JR East is the company that runs many trains in the eastern part of the main Japanese island — this includes Tokyo). Since people are often in a hurry at the train station, they have a great onigiri selection (rice balls).
Popular Packaged Snacks in Konbini
A comprehensive list of every snack in konbini would be near impossible to make, but here is a handful of popular items.
- Seaweed Rice Cracker Mix - A popular snack in Japan, this one is rice crackers wrapped in nori seaweed mixed with roasted peanuts. The rice crackers are flavored with soy sauce and dashi.
- Potato Chip French Fries - Maybe you’d call them “potato sticks?” Whatever you call them, they’re delicious — crispy, crunchy, slightly salty potato sticks shaped like french fries.
- Cheeza - If you like cheese, you’ll love this cheese cracker! It’s crispy and tastes like real cheese. The cheddar flavor is amazing (in this writer’s opinion).
- Cratz - This delicious (almost pretzel-like) snack is one that goes great with a drink. The crunchy, bready thingies are mixed with almonds and topped with various seasonings (pepper bacon is so good!).
Speaking Japanese In A Convenience Store
When you go to a Japanese convenience store, it’s nice if you can speak a bit of Japanese. But, even if you can’t, it’s actually fine — you’ll get through it! Most Japanese people don’t expect visitors to know their language, although it is appreciated if you do.
Because there are pages all over the internet that can go into detail on language used in convenience stores, this article will focus on just one thing: dealing with plastic bags (fukuro).
If the cashier asks you if you want a bag...
The cashier may say: “Fukuro wa irimasuka?” (Do you need a plastic bag?)
You can answer: “Hai, onegaishimasu.” (Yes, please.)
If the cashier doesn’t offer you a plastic bag…
You can say: “Fukuro hitotsu kudasai.” (One plastic bag, please.)
And that’s it! Very simple, right? Of course, you can finish any transaction with arigatou gozaimasu (thank you very much). Note: There are many ways things can be said in Japanese — people use different words based on personal preference, social status, situation and the area of Japan you’re in.
Additional Konbini Tips
Here are a few tips that might make your Japanese convenience store experience easier.
- At ATMs, your bank card will usually work. To make sure you don’t have a problem, change the language on the ATM to English (or your preferred language) before you start. If you have any trouble, go to 7-11 — they definitely have foreign language options on their ATMs and they are most likely to be compatible with your card. For more details on using foreign cards at ATMs, check out this article.
- When throwing your garbage in trash cans, make sure to look for the different bins for different types of trash. For example, there will be a specific container for plastic drink bottles.
- If you buy food that you want heated up, the staff can warm it up for you. Just ask them, and they’ll pop it in the microwave and hand it to you when it’s ready.
- Different konbini will have different ways of accepting payment. Some have a digital interface and a place to insert your payment method (card or cash). Others you will actually hand your cash (or card) to the cashier (or put your cash in the little plate on the counter).