Going to a Japanese convenience store is like upgrading to Premium gasoline. Japanese “konbinis,” meaning convenience stores, truly outshine anything back home.
Konbini food isn’t healthier than elsewhere, but it certainly is better. It’s a course in things fried. You’re quickly educated in various species of Japanese fried chicken, then move on to studies in noodles both Asian and Italian. Already on your way to earning a Ph.D in konbini sciences, you’ll eventually branched into studies of onigiri and oden–two foods much overlooked by those not in the know.
Onigiri riceballs have their own section in konbinis. Onigiri is comfort food, making appearances in lunch boxes across Japan. They are simple, good food that moms rely on daily to keep their hungry kids happy and their demanding husbands satisfied.
The mentaiko (marinated fish roe) onigiri may be too much for Japanese culinary beginners, but even the non-initiated can enjoy salmon or “sea chicken,” Japanese for tuna and mayonnaise.
Oden is not well-known outside Japan–expect a more detailed write up in the future–but it’s an unmissable part of the konbini adventure. Available traditionally in winter, oden is a factory of tidbits left to steep in a delicious warm dashi stock. The stock gives oden bites a full flavor that makes a surprisingly hearty meal.
And For Dessert…
Though sadly missing umpa lumpas, konbinis grow a garden of addicting sweets. But be careful with those inviting temptations. Aside from adding extra centimeters to your waistline, they can be filled with a gluttonous amount of cream. “Shu cream,” as it’s called, is included by the spoonful. You can buy a delicious-looking crepe just to find it’s nothing but a big squirt of shu cream wrapped in a waffle.
If that’s your cup of green tea, then by all means, indulge. But I’ll stick to the lighter options.
You can pay your bills at Japanese convenience stores. Most gas and electric companies offer you the option, and it’s much quicker than waiting in line at the bank. Since many konbinis have several different payment options, that means you can pay bills via cell phone or railways cards like SUICA or ICOCA.
Purchase tickets–flights, concerts, attractions near and far, you name it. The kiosks are full of goodies.
Need to fax something in a hurry? Konbinis do that. Scans and prints? Sure thing. And of course every konbini comes equipped with an ATM.
Perhaps the most surprising part of konbini’s convenience though, is also that you can send a store your Amazon.com orders for pick up. You have to know quite a bit of Japanese for this one, but if you won’t be home on the delivery day, it saves calling the post office for redelivery.
Japanese Convenience Store Perks
Konbinis are a marketing force in Japan. All convenience stores will offer a point card that you can use not just there, but at a range of other collaborating businesses. The popular konbini Lawson’s has the “Ponta card,” which uses a point-based award system shared by video rentals, gas stations, and even KFC. That means if you rent a video, you can use the points you earn to buy the snacks.
Japanese convenience stores are awesome.