The Japanese Convenience Store
Convenience stores are the pinnacle of Japan’s approach to simplifying life through services and technology, as they aspire to make things as ‘convenient’ and simple as possible. Open 24/7, they are the backbone of Japanese infrastructure, always open for a quick snack, coffee, ATM visit and more.
Typical features of a Convenience store, commonly referred to as コンビニ (Konbini – which is obviously short for Convenience), include the following:
- Food – and this includes a range of おにぎり (Onigiri – rice balls), Sandwiches, お弁当 (Obento – small set meals), Salads, Sweets, grocery items and more.
- Drinks – including the usual range of bottled and canned beverages, including beer, wine, coffee, alcoholic beverages, etc.
- Stationary – everything from pens, pencils, rulers, notepads and a whole range other items.
- Bathroom Essentials – like a mini chemist or drug store you should be able to find all your basic necessities here.
- Cleaning Products – again whilst their range is limited this can come in especially handy when you run out of washing detergent, fabric softener or other household item.
- Publications – including a range of newspapers (including the English friendly Japan Times), Magazines, books and comics among others.
- ATMs – ATMs these days are generally foreign card friendly, due to the recent influx of tourism, there is an ever-increasing demand for these services.
- Free WiFi – most convenience stores also offer limited but free WiFi, especially if they have a seating area provided, this can be especially handy if you need access to data.
- Multi-function Printers – usually available in English too, you can use these machines to print, copy, scan and more.
- Loyalty Cards – usually each chain as their own specific point system, and via a loyalty card you can usually accumulate points to use for future purchases or to receive discounts on any purchases made in store.
In most stores you should also be able to find microwaves for meals, access to boiling water for instant/cup ramen or noodles and in some stores a dedicated seating area, smoking room, restroom, basic electronics section, several garbage bins and more.
Out of all the convenience stores you can find, the main 3 that are in abundance throughout the country are Family Mart, Lawson and 7/11. However, there are all very similar in their product offering, facilities and available services, as they compete for domestic market dominance.
7/11 – Seven Eleven
Affectionately known by the locals as just セベン (Seben – Seven), 7/11 is the most populous convenience store chain in Japan, in what almost seems like a shop located on every block in Tokyo. They are particularly useful for their ATMs, which are foreign friendly to many country’s cash cards.
They use the Nanaco card for the loyalty program, where you can accumulate points and they hold various campaigns to lure customers back to their store. This card can be used in other 7/11 stores including Ito Yokado shopping mall’s, Denny’s family restaurants, etc.
In 7/11’s network of retail outlets, it also hosts a selection of western foods from egg and bacon muffin’s, to burritos, curries and more. Depending on the outlet, they also have a greater range of sweets and pastries including doughnuts, cakes and other assorted items you would expect to find at a bakery.
The multi-function printer allows you to print from a number of media sources including a smartphone. You can also print, scan, fax and more. They have both an iOS and Android version of the app required for syncing with their printing, and their service is available in English.
Find out about their store locations and more from their English friendly website here.
Family Mart has the second largest network of convenience stores located throughout Japan and is usually referred to as ファミマ (Famima – short for Family Mart).
They use the T-Point card for their loyalty program, which is also used in a range of other stores including Tsutaya.
They usually have E-net or Japan Post ATMs inside their stores, and these are generally foreign friendly supporting many international bank’s cash cards.
Their selection of food, drinks and other items tend to be more traditionally Japanese focused when compared to 7/11. However, they are quite renowned for their selection of Family Mart Fried Chicken or ‘Famichiki’, which is indeed tasty and fresh.
The Family Mart multi-function printer is a personal favourite of mine, and one I often use for work or play. A simple download of the PrintSmash app, for iOS or Android, is all you need to print documents and other media from your phone. Of course, you can also use the printer for copies, scans and other functions.
You can find out more about Family Mart on their English website here.
Originally an American company, exists today as a Japanese corporation, also with a large number of stores in Tokyo and greater Japan.
Lawson offers free WiFi and ATMs which enable you to access cash from foreign banks via your cash card. There are also a few central Tokyo stores where you can exchange foreign currency for Japanese Yen.
Lawson uses the Ponta card system for their loyalty program, and you can use this to accumulate points and be eligible for campaigns across many other stores like Lawson 100, Natural Lawson, HMV and more.
In addition, they are quite well known for their ‘Karage Kun’, which is basically a pack of bit size fried chicken pieces, available in a few different flavours.
For more information about Lawson and their network of branches, you can visit their main English website here.
Of course, there are a handful of other chains and outlets that can be found scattered across Japan including Daily Yamazaki, Newdays (JR Station convenience store outlets), Circle K and Mini-Stop. Expect these to all have the same basic range of items and services as the main 3 chains mentioned above, albeit with subtle differences in specific products and brands.