Japanese Do Convenience Stores Better

Going to a Japanese convenience store is like upgrading to Premium gasoline. Japanese “konbinis,” meaning convenience stores, truly outshine anything back home.

The Food

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.

711 Bento

Conveni bento

Convini noodle bento

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.

Onigiri

Handmade salmon onigiri made by a professional Japanese mother

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

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.

Convini dessert

If that’s your cup of green tea, then by all means, indulge. But I’ll stick to the lighter options.

Convenience

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.

Final Thoughts

Japanese convenience stores are awesome.

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12 Comments on “Japanese Do Convenience Stores Better”

  1. Artemis
    October 25, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

    God bless the Japanese konbini institution. I’ve paid bills, picked up Amazon deliveries, booked overseas flights, bought tickets to the Studio Ghibli museum, and no doubt plenty of other things. Also: onigiri for life. ❤

  2. lmjapan
    October 26, 2013 at 2:44 am #

    Great post, very informative and interesting. I love how ubiquitous the combinis are in Japan. Anytime I would get hungry, I would quickly pop in to one for a snack of some kind (usually an onigiri) and get back to sightseeing in no time.

  3. annamibananas
    October 26, 2013 at 11:54 pm #

    Your posts make me want to go to Japan even more!

  4. Kainoa
    October 28, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    I seriously miss Japan. There wasn’t a lot of time to check out konbinis, but in the short time spent running in for snacks, it was obvious American convenience stores are lacking in comparison. Your post confirms it. *sigh* 🙂

  5. Don だん
    November 18, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    Konbini’s in the US are not quite as versatile as Lawson. My son and I were “saved” by a Lawson in Kamakura. Enjoy a Coffee Boss for me! When you are back in the U.S. and need a good convenience store, try Wawa in the North East (PA,NJ,and MD). They have free ATMs and a variety of items.

  6. Kevin's  Papa
    November 22, 2013 at 8:23 am #

    I use Konbini dairy for purchasing bottles of drink, snacks for alcohol, new papers ,magazines including for adult.
    The ultimate differences from other countries is to be able to use the toilets of almost Konbini in Japan. The toilets are clean much more than your house.
    Finally the Japanese Konbini is a refuge from the criminals at the midnight.  

    • introvertnathan
      November 22, 2013 at 8:27 am #

      The toilets at konbinis certainly are very clean, now that you mention it. I’ve never seen one that wasn’t. They’ve saved me a few times when I decided to walk home from work and needed a toilet in a hurry : )

  7. rose2852
    December 25, 2013 at 5:41 am #

    The oden looks absolutely great!

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  1. Go Nuts for Donuts! | A Life in Japan - November 24, 2015

    […] stores in Japan actually have a history of trying to one-up each other by consistently offering new products or services in the hopes of enticing more customers to choose them over their competitors. You can pay bills, […]

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