Whether you’re new to Japan or a seasoned resident, have you ever really taken a proper look around the ubiquitous konbini?
At first glance you might think the humble Japanese konbini is just a place to grab a quick snack or drink. Oh no. Next time you’re in 7 Eleven, Family Mart, Lawson or any other konbini, stop and take a good look around. There’s so much to discover!
First, quench your thirst with a chilled beverage. Or, if you’re not awake yet, a hot coffee machine near the counter can provide your morning caffeine injection. At some larger konbini there are even areas with tables and chairs where you can sit down and drink it.
At mealtimes check out the refrigerated shelves for salads, sushi, onigiri (filled rice triangles), sandwiches and other tasty, affordable options. As well as entire microwaveable meals, there’s a selection of ready-made Japanese staples designed to speed up meal preparation, such as egg rolls, seafood sticks, bags of shredded cabbage and even hard-boiled eggs.
At the counter you can pick up something hot to eat, such as a Chinese-style nikuman (steamed bun stuffed with meat or curry), and each konbini has its own microwave that heats food in a flash. If you buy a ready meal you’ll be asked, 「温めますか。」 (‘Atatamemasu ka?’/‘Would you like it heated up?’).
In the bread section you can grab a soba sandwich, ready-made hot dog, or some (very) thick-cut white sliced bread. (Beware pastries filled with what looks like custard but turns out to be mayonnaise!) Nearby you’ll find a wide variety of okashi (snacks), including chips – both salty and sugar-coated varieties.
Once you’ve satisfied your hunger, how about some light reading? There’s usually a whole aisle dedicated to newspapers and magazines, and browsing without buying, even for some time, doesn’t seem to be frowned upon so feel free to read at your leisure.
You’ll never cease to be amazed by how many items can be sold in such a small space. The konbini‘s product range caters just as well for the harried company employee who has no time to call home for a change of undershirt as it does for the tourist who has forgotten to pack a toothbrush. Stationery, household cleaning products, pet food, portable stain remover, basic items of clothing and, of course, the quintessentially Japanese clear-plastic umbrella, are all on offer for a very reasonable price. On top of this, Family Mart stores stock items from the popular Muji (無印良品) brand of life essentials.
The konbini offers various services designed to make your life easier. In a corner you’ll find an ATM (7 Eleven cash machines tend to be reliable for international withdrawals, depending on your card). Nearby there’s usually a combined photocopier, scanner, printer and ticket machine, which accepts a range of devices including USB sticks and memory cards. English options are not always available, but konbini staff are usually happy to help.
If you’re a resident, you can pay bills, such as electricity and water, in konbini just by taking them to the counter. A staff member will prompt you to press the confirmation button on the cash register screen before you pay. You can also send parcels via the Yamato courier service, and some konbini will even take delivery of your online shopping packages.
All this and more awaits you when you enter a konbini, which there are endless opportunities to do given their round-the-clock opening hours and impressive distribution – you never have to search for long in any built-up area to find one. There’s no doubt about it: Japanese konbini leave their international competitors standing, taking ‘convenient’ to a whole new level.
By Life in Kansai