The Japanese convenience store is the pinnacle of Japan’s approach to simplifying life through services and technology. They aspire to make things as ‘convenient’ and simple as possible through these outlets. Open 24/7, they are the backbone of Japanese infrastructure, always open for a quick snack, coffee, ATM visit and much more. In Japan, the word ‘コンビニ’ (Konbini) is a Japanese-English abbreviation from the Convenience. The full word ‘コンビニエンスストア’ (Konbiniensu Sutoa) is quite long, and so the abbreviation is a lot more practical and easier to say.
Typical features of a Convenience store 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 of 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 with a limited range. Handy items like washing detergent, fabric softener or other household items are also available.
- 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. Some ATMs may charge additional fees, so we recommend you confirm this prior to using any of their machines.
- Free WiFi – most convenience stores also offer limited but free WiFi. Some even provide a seating area, so you can access data over a quick snack and drink.
- Multi-function Printers – usually available in English too, you can use these machines to print, copy, scan and more. Particularly handy is the feature to print from your smartphone.
- Loyalty Cards – usually each chain as their own specific loyalty point card system. Through this system, customers can accumulate points, receive discounts and use points for future purchases.
In most stores, you should also be able to find microwaves for pre-cooked meals. There should also be access to boiling water for instant/cup ramen or noodles. Some outlets also come with 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 major 3 chains are Family Mart, Lawson and 7/11. Furthermore, there all offer very similar product offerings, services and layouts. Where they try to compete is on niche categories, seasonal specials and campaigns.
7/11 – Seven Eleven
Affectionately known by the locals as just セブン (Sebun – Seven), 7/11 is the most populous convenience store chain in Japan. It can sometimes seem like a shop located on every block across central Tokyo. They are particularly useful for their ATMs, which are foreign friendly to many country’s cash cards.
They Nanaco card is the key to the stores’ loyalty program. This system allows you to accumulate points and access various campaigns, specials and discounts. Other 7/11 retail outlets also accept this card, including Ito Yokado shopping mall’s, Denny’s family restaurants, etc.
Across the 7/11 network, you can purchase a selection of western food from egg and bacon muffins to burritos, curries and more. Depending on the outlet, some also have a greater range of sweets and pastries including doughnuts, cakes. Many 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. The word ‘ファミマ’ (Famima) is short for Family Mart and is the common term used for the brand.
They use the T-Point card for their loyalty program. This can also be used in other stores like 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 what you need to print media and documents from your phone. Of course, you can also use the printer for copies, scans and other functions too.
You can find out more about Family Mart on their English website here.
Originally an American company, Lawson exists today as a Japanese corporation. And of course, it also has a large number of stores in Tokyo and greater Japan. The word ‘ローソン’ is the common term used for the store.
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. Similar to other stores, you can use this to accumulate points and be eligible for campaigns across many of their network of branches. Stores like Lawson 100, Natural Lawson, HMV and more form part of their range.
In addition, the ‘Karaage Kun’ friend chicken range is quite a popular seller. These are packs of bite-size fried chicken pieces, available in a variety of different flavours. You may sometimes find some new flavours being tried from time to time.
For more information about Lawson and their network of branches, you can visit their main English website here.
Other Honourable Store Mentions
In actual fact, there are many kinds of convenience stores brands in Japan. This includes outlets like the 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 product ranges, services and brands.