Konbini Are Very Convenient - Tokyo Intro: Experience #22 of 55

Konbini Are Very Convenient - Tokyo Intro: Experience #22 of 55

Konbini is the Japanese name for convenience store, adopted from the word convenience.  They are convenient by being ubiquitous in the big cities near train stations.  There could be one on every block or corner depending where you are.  Konbini are marvels that stock a wide range of quality merchandise, food, snacks, and drink in a small space.  An average konbini stocks over three thousand items.

Open at all hours, if you need a drink, food, or some other household item, you can go into a konbini to quickly purchase it.  Food offerings at konbini target busy workers and commuters who might want a quick breakfast to eat at work, a fast lunch, or an easy dinner after work.  Onigiri or rice balls were a big hit in konbini when they were first introduced with easy to peel off wrappers that kept the nori crisp and separate from the rice.

Inside a konbini
Another aisle in a konbini
Originally an American invention, 7-11s were brought to Japan in the 1970s by a Japanese company.  The Japanese then improved on the concept.  Decades later, the Japanese 7-11 company (Seven and I Holdings), bought out the American parent company, and competes in a fierce Japanese market with many other konbini companies like Lawson and Family Mart.  This competition creates limited edition products to bring customers into the stores, and they even have anime tie-ins.

All kinds of chocolate.
Different kinds of rice balls.
Sandwiches and reheatable meals.
Riceballs and reheatable meals.
Konbini breakfast of an egg salad sandwich, a riceball, and a hot can of coffee.
Lawson Red Chicken nuggets - comes with a toothpick to eat them with.

In the early 2000s they were amazing logistics wonders with their advanced point of sale systems and inventory management.  These things aren’t so amazing anymore, but the Japanese still do konbini the best – as when was the last time you thought your local convenience store was amazing?  Konbini excel at the following:
  • Open 24 hours a day in most cases.
  • They are clean and well organized, and even the bathrooms are tidy.
  • The staff are polite and well trained.
  • They stock good, fresh food that is replenished daily in the morning or more, depending how busy the store is. Sandwiches and onigiri for example are never more than a day old.
  • The prices are competitive for ready to eat food like bento, fresh salads, or rice balls.  The bentos can be bought and heated up in the store, and range from Japanese food to Italian food.
  • There are dozens of varieties of onigiri (rice balls) available to suit different tastes too.  Onigiri are a great snack, two or three make for a light meal, and you can pick different fillings.
  • Very good sandwiches are available.  They are well packaged, taste great, and are guaranteed fresh.  Try the egg salad sandwiches!  They even have duo or trio packs of 1/2 sandwiches so you don't have to choose!
  • Fried chicken or karaage is another very competitive area for konbini.  Their fried chicken products are usually really tasty.  All konbini have a hot case by the cash with steamed buns, the fried chicken (karaage), tasty potato and meat croquettes, and even corn dogs. 
  • There is always a great variety of instant noodles or cup noodles available.  Chains even have specialty brands associated with real ramen shops.  They will supply the hot water if you need it.
  • They have a wonderful variety of drinks, from juices, soda, energy drinks, coffee, and bottled teas.  Canned coffee is popular (they have hot cans in store), and stores now sell fresh brewed hot coffee due to the competitive nature of the business.
  • Stores also sell alcohol like beer, saki, and whisky.
  • There is a  wonderful variety of snacks from biscuits, gummies, gum, all kinds of chocolates, Pocky and Pretz biscuit sticks, to hard candy.  There is no shortage of different kinds of potato chips or puffed corn snacks either.  Rice crackers and other kinds of crunchy goodness are also available.
  • They also have a nice variety of freshly baked goods like sponge cakes, doughnuts, and pastries.
  • Services are available for photocopying, buying event tickets, paying bills, acting as pick-up points for packages.  ATMS for 7-11 will take foreign bank cards.

Tour inside a convenience store.

Eating a three course meal from a convenience store.

SIDE NOTE: The biggest konbini chains are 7-11, Lawson, and FamilyMart, but there are many others such as Mini Stop, Daily Yamazaki, and New Days.  Most people will have a favourite, and some chains are famous for particular products.  Family Mart is famous for their “famichiken” hot fried chicken along with MUJI brand snacks and products.  7-11 has some pretty good instant noodle bowls from Michelin starred ramen shops.

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