One of the most unexpected things you may experience when you go to Japan is how different convenience stores are compared to their western counterparts. There are many similarities as most stores of this type follow the same basic idea, but it has things it does so well that it becomes hard to think of a convenience being any other way. You will find yourself asking why stores in your home country don’t do these things and trying to find ways that they could improve themselves.
Location Location Location
One of the best parts of convenience stores in Japan is that there are so many of them all over the country. Anywhere there is some form of a town or village there will be at least one convenience store. They are in the best places to maximize profits and can be helpful in a bind. In the city, there are stores on almost every corner, and it is normal to have three to five different stores within a five-minute walk from each other. Some hotels have stores attached to them, there are some kiosks or stores in every station, and they are in all of the government buildings too. They truly take the “convenience” part of the word seriously and ensure no one has to go without having a place to shop for food and drinks.
Unload Your Trash
A big thing you will notice when walking around the city is the lack of trash cans or recycle bins. Typically, there are no places to throw your garbage away when walking on the street. They were removed due to litter from the overflowing cans and to prevent any kind of attacks that use trash bins as holders. Since you cannot find one on the street the next best place is to go to a convenience store. They will always have trash receptacles available for the public to unload their unwanted trash. Some stores will have them placed outside for easy access, but most tend to keep them inside of the store. It is perfectly fine to walk into a store to get rid of wrappers and other waste. Try to make sure you are putting it in the right bin, and to help with the influx of visitors, they have labeled the cans in both Japanese and English.
Dine in or Takeout
The average convenience store in Japan will have a standard amount of snacks and drinks. There are aisles full of potato chips and traditional Japanese snacks that will keep your stomach happy as you travel through the country. They also have hot and ready snacks in every store, and it is usually an assortment of traditional Japanese foods, like dumplings, dango, and oden, along with fried foods such as corndogs, fried chicken, and fries. These are cheap options that will fill cravings for a hot treat. They cook it in the store and keep filling the display case throughout the day. There is a bakery section in each store as well, and it has an assortment of small breadstuff. These are a good option as well since they are cheap but filling.
The biggest thing in terms of food that these places do very well is their small grocery sections. They will have some choices of vegetables and fruits, mainly locally grown things, and a meal section. These meals are cheap and taste great. You can get full salads, ramen, pasta, curries, and other dinners for around 500 yen. There is a section of pre-made sandwiches as well that really help if you are in a hurry. There is a section for things to cook at home as well, so you can do some light shopping for the house if you need a few things. The onigiri section is usually the most popular, and each one comes with some different kinds of flavor and filling. These traditional Japanese snacks are always being bought and are a staple in most people’s diets. They all give you an option to have the food heated in their microwaves, and some stores have areas available to sit and eat your food. The rest areas may even have charging spots for phones and offer free wifi for visitors. If you don’t want to stay or you need to hurry, they will bag the heated meal and give you utensils so you can eat it wherever you are planning to go.
Take a Rest
Some stores, especially in the cities, will have a rest area on the first or second floor. You can use these areas to relax a little after a long day of walking or working. They can be very helpful with charging spots and free wifi, but also offer a quiet spot to calm down from the busy day. You will often see people using it as a place to take a short nap, or students using it as a hangout or study area. It also helps that most of them have toilets for use to the public, even if you don’t buy anything. If you are in the city, though, they won’t have one to help keep the stores from getting too crowded with non-shoppers. You will need to go to nearby stations or department stores to take of that.
Your bills in Japan will have a bar code on them that you can take to any convenience store in the country and pay. It is very simple and requires almost no Japanese since the clerks know exactly what you are trying to do by looking at the paper. They will take the sheet, scan it, you will press an “OK” prompt on the touch screen to signify you agree with the transaction, they will stamp parts of the main bill and your receipt, and you pay the balance with cash or card. It is a fast and easy, and extremely helpful to pay for all of your utilities. You can even pay for packages from Amazon at the stores, you just need to show them an email with the barcode. Since it is still a largely cash based society, they continue to offer easy ways to pay in cash for all of your needs. Every store has an ATM that will be able to take foreign cards too, so getting money in an emergency is quick and easy.
Words and Phrases
Since the idea of convenience stores is borrowed from western cultures, they have adopted many words and phrases into Japanese using katakana. Some of these will be easy to understand during your first experience but there are a few interesting changes that have been made. Here a few words to help you out when you get to Japan.
Konbini= convenience store
American Dog= corn dog
Fried Potatos= French fries
Irasshaimase= welcome to our store
Atatamemasuka?= would you like this heated?
Tsuginookyakusamaonegaishimasu= Next customer, please.
Kurejitokaadomoidesuka?= is a credit card ok?
Those were only a few examples, but they can help you navigate using a convenience store easily. It is always good to see a store as they come in handy all of the time. They will definitely improve your experience in Japan, and will change how you view convenience stores in your own country.