Things I Love about Japan: Conbini (コンビニ / Convenience Stores)

Japan is the land of convenience. You can schedule exactly what day and time you want your packages and heavy furniture to arrive (if you order online), train schedules are accurate to the minute, and prices are always listed including tax, so you know exactly how much it will cost.

Basically, Japan is a society devoted to making the group comfortable. This has good sides and bad sides (of course), but today, I just want to talk about one of the good sides of this convenient society: ample conbinis.

What is a Conbini?

A conbini (written in Japanese as コンビニ) is a convenience store. If you are familiar with how Japanese is written, you can tell that the word “conbini” itself is derived from the English word “convenience.”

Lawsons Lawson conbini Convenience Store to buy concert tickets

 

Some of the most famous/popular conbinis are Lawsons, 7-11, Sunkist, and Family Mart.

Why do I love conbinis?

A conbini is a convenience store, but it is also so much more. It is a place to pay your utility bills. It is a place where you can grab an anti-hangover drink before going out drinking with friends, pick up your latest favorite magazine, pay for and pick up your concert tickets, withdraw money from your foreign bank account without a problem (if you are ok paying a $5 service fee), get a salad or full freshly-cooked meal, and find all sorts of little knick-knacks.

(if you’re interested, check out what I consider to be the 6 Best “Conbini” Foods in Japan)

conbini japan japanese food american dog corn dog

Conbinis is Japan are the essence of convenience. And I love it.

Why I really love conbinis:

They are on every street corner. Or like at least every other street corner.

A conbini (Family Mart) in the lower, right-hand corner.

A conbini (Family Mart) in the lower, right-hand corner.

Seriously, you have to try really hard to end up more than 5-10 minutes from the closest conbini – even out in the countryside of Tokyo. 

If you’re out biking, you can stop at a conbini for a healthy snack and grab a bottle of Aquarius to drink. If you run out of cash after a night out with friends, no worries, there is a 7-11 somewhere close, so you can pick up more money.

If you’re sick and can’t manage to get out of bed to cook, you can just walk down to the local Family Mart and grab a handful of Onigiri rice balls to snack on all day.

Unlike American convenience stores, conbinis in Japan are safe, healthy, clean, and easy to find. They stay open well into the evening (when everything else closes) and offer the greatest arrangements of delicious food, like Pizza-Nikuman (dumplings), fried chicken, and corn dogs. I actually like eating conbini food.

They also have restrooms (which is a huge plus in Japan), sell cheap alcohol, and have all sorts of guilty-pleasure snacks.

Lawsons convenience store in Japan

I have a deep love and respect for conbinis in Japan. Occasionally, they take the “honor” thing too far (because, hey, it’s Japan). When I was studying abroad in Tokyo – before I moved here – there was this instance when a franchise was dissolved, owner fired, employee fired, and freezer full of food thrown out because an employee took a picture inside the freezer and put it on Twitter. I thought they went too far; a lot of my Japanese friends (and family members) thought it was justified.

In any case, conbinis in Japan are cheap without being “cheap” – if you know what I mean. 

Conbinis in Japan are the epitome of convenience. And I love it.

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

24 Comments on Things I Love about Japan: Conbini (コンビニ / Convenience Stores)

  1. When my friends and I traveled to Niseko, we ended up a 10-minute car ride from the closest conbini (and we didn’t have a car.) I don’t know about them, but I felt as if someone had taken my cellphone from me.

    • The furthest I’ve ever been from a Conbini was like a 10 min bike ride when I lived in Mushashino. It was so annoying… but my friend just moved to rural Kobe and lives a 30 min bike ride from he closest conbini. I can’t even imagine. Ugh.
      I have become SO dependent on them… (there is one RIGHT across the street from my building. I love it)

  2. cubiclethrowdown // 28 July, 2014 at 2:39 am //

    I loooooooooooooooove combiniya!! They even have one in Vancouver, BC where I’m from (complete with a crepe shop inside). I’ll never forget the first combini I went into in Tokyo and saw how fresh the food was inside – a big change from Canadian 7-11 hotdogs :) This was the first place I saw ‘weird’ Japanese food… the soba noodles in hotdog buns!

  3. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but I’m a homemade is best kind of gal, and I think convini food is gross. I can’t help but think about all of the chemicals and preservatives in the food! I never buy that stuff for my family unless we are really in a pinch and just have to have a quick meal on the run. I guess one’s perspective changes after kids! I do appreciate the convenience of the ATMs, the relatively clean bathrooms when someone has to go, and a cheap coffee when on the road!

    • That totally makes sense. I usually eat conbini onigiri/fried food when I’m out and only have a little bit of time between appointments. I prefer to cook at home… because cooking is healthy and fun.
      But I can appreciate being able to grab soy milk/ham/bits of food if I realize I’m out and don’t want to go all the way to the supermarket!

  4. Wow, could really use them here in Finland. Sure, I have a supermarket 5min walking distance away, however this one has double prices than other markets and its closing at 11pm. THe next nearest normal prices market is already 30min away…
    Dont want to think about Germany even, nothing is open on sundays etc :(

    P.S. The honor thing is crazy!!

  5. Caroline // 26 July, 2014 at 11:24 pm //

    Prices are not always included tax, mostly it says plus tax if you eat at a restaurant. And you also have the 10% service fee (because they are not allowed to take tips) But yes, コンビニ♡

  6. Lawson was my lifesaver. When I went for to Tokyo for work early this year, there was no time for shopping, half of my souvenirs came from Lawson

  7. conbini is like shopping mall in Hong Kong – on every corner haha :) but seriously, to the nearest 7/11 I have to walk 25 minutes, not so convenient. and to make things worse I always feel like someone will rob that place any minute, I don’t mind big malls but every 7/11 (besides one in the middle of SF) gives me the creeps!

    • That’s pretty much how 7-11s in Texas are. Ryosuke LOVES the Japanese 7-11s, and he was horrified/crushed when we went to one in Texas. Poor baby.
      I’m surprised they have 7-11s in HK too!

  8. You know, when I first came to Japan I was really fascinated. We don’t have conbinis in Germany at all. In fact, there’s nothing open 24/7 (doubt things have changed in the past 7 years). Everything is closed on Sundays. You cannot go shopping.

    When travelling conbinis are awesome, but even for daily life they are in fact convenient.
    Sometimes I come back from work (always after 10 p.m.) and notice that something is missing in the fridge. I just can drive to the nearest conbini at 1 a.m. and grab it. THIS is really nice. :)

    • Really? Stuff doesn’t stay open in Germany 27/7? That’s… unexpected? I also wouldn’t expect everything to be closed on Sunday, either.

      I remember i had awful culture shock when I went back to Texas and realized they don’t sell alcohol after like midnight on Saturday (I had never lived in Texas legally old enough to drink, so that never really came up in conversation).

      I love how we have a conbini right across the street from our building. Best thing ever!

      • I think there are gasoline stations who’re open 24/7 where you can buy a few things, but it can’t be compared to a conbini at all. Everything else is usually closed on Sundays. ^^;;

        Oh, they don’t? That’s weird. Why not?
        Germany isn’t very strict on alcohol … although I wish they were (at least now that I’m an adult). You’re allowed to drink at the age of 16 (low percentage stuff only like beer) and you have access to everything once you’re 18.

        • I was surprised when I went to Germany (back when I was like 13). Our family friend gave my brother and I beer (I thought it was sooooooo nasty)… and I was kind of terrified someone would realize we were underage and, like, kick us out of the country.
          But, of course, that didn’t happen. Hah.

          Does Germany have any problems with public drinking?

          • Hm. Define problems. I don’t think so. I mean … I didn’t even know there were countries where public drinking isn’t allowed. I remember sitting at the beach in Italy with friends drinking “Spumante” when I was like 16. ^^;

            But what I really like about Japan is that I never see any teenagers drinking or smoking. It’s great! In Germany, I do … all the time. I’ve once seen a little boy (I thought he must be around 10) who was smoking. My jaw dropped. I mean … WTF, right?? -___-;;;

            Oh, and although I’m German I hate beer!!! ^^;; I know, it’s like a sin, but I simply don’t like it.

  9. Eric Janson // 26 July, 2014 at 6:53 pm //

    I’ve done two distance cycling tours so far in Japan, one from Fukuoka to Tokyo and the second around Shikoku / on in to Tokyo. The conbinis are amazing. One time I had to grab my camera and take a photo of something you would never see in America: A bathroom in a heavily- used conbini, in the middle of the day, and the toilet tissue had been pointed like in a nice hotel. To a distance bicyclist, they are a gift from heaven!

    • I think that’s actually where I got the idea for this post. I was like “Hmmmm, what to write about…” and for whatever reason, I remembered one of your earlier comments about how convenient convenience stores in Japan are. Hah. Hence this post.

      I also love how clean their bathrooms usually are (we go on a lot of road trips).

  10. Have you seen this song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziX1oQRiA3w ? It’s so funny! While I was in Japan everything was new and exiting for me that I just enjoyed being inside konbini ^ ^ Even if I wasn’t buying anything. I could read manga, look on all colorful products… Oh how I miss Japan!

  11. Conbinis are simply amazing!! I always pick up my breakfast for the next day after work, and maybe a little something-something to snack on when I get home :D

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