Convenience stores, or konbiniensu sutoa in Japanese are ubiquitous in the country as trees are in a forest. Though there are no definitive records as to when the first convenience store popped up, many point to the year 1974, which is when the first 7-Eleven opened in Japan.
As of 2021, there were over 56,000 convenience stores operating in Japan, and they make up an integral part of the country’s retail sector. Statista.com found that revenues generated from convenience stores make up around 8% of Japan’s total retail sales.
Perhaps unsurprising to some, 7-Eleven is currently Japan’s leading convenience store operator with approximately 21,327 locations across the country’s 47 prefectures. Coming in second place is Family Mart with 16,513 stores and Lawson at third place with 14,631 stores.
Popularity of Convenience Stores
Colloquially known as konbinis in Japan, convenience stores are an integral part of Japanese society and life, to the point where visiting one is the highlight of many tourists’ experiences when visiting the country. Why are they so popular? Well, convenience stores provide round-the-clock access to a myriad of goods and services, which help sustain the country’s citizens and residents’ busy and hectic schedules.
Convenience stores in Japan also take the idea of “convenience” to the next level, providing, along with the ability to purchase everyday groceries, toiletries, and goods, a wide variety of services, which will be discussed in this article.
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Many convenience stores in Japan come installed with an all-in-one printer, scanner, and copier so if you’re looking to save some cash (and some space in your apartment!), simply take all your printing, scanning, and copying needs down to your nearest konbini.
One neat feature of these all-in-one machines is the ability to print photos, especially passport photos. https://pic-chan.net is an online photo service that allows you to take a photo on your phone and print it out at your closest convenience store for a mere ¥200.
You can also download and use the PrintSmash app, which then can be used in conjunction with photo printers at Japanese convenience stores. Files are sent via Wi-Fi, which the convenience store also provides for free; and it costs around ¥30 for a standard-size photo.
If you’re in need of a stamp (kitte in Japanese), you can buy them at convenience stores, along with some other postage paraphernalia like envelopes. However, some Japanese convenience stores go above and beyond this simple service by allowing customers to send mail from their stores.
What delivery service you need will depend on what convenience stores are nearby you as not all konbinis offer a package delivery service, and if they do, it may not be the one you want or need.
In general, 7-Eleven and Family Mart offer Yamato Transport’s TA-Q-BIN package delivery service while Lawson and MINISTOP offer Japan Post’s Yu-Pack package delivery service.
Navitime’s Japan Travel states that common package delivery services at Japanese convenience stores include:
- Hatsubarai Takkyubin, which is a service where the package has been paid by the sender
- Chakubarai Takkyubin, which is a service where the package will be paid by the recipient upon delivery
Some convenience stores also offer luggage and sports equipment delivery.
Be sure to check any size and weight restrictions along with what can and cannot be sent before taking your package to the convenience store. Such information can usually be found on the package delivery company’s website.
Got a concert you want to buy tickets to? How about tickets to an event or museum? Well, all of these can be purchased at a Japanese convenience store.
There are generally two ways to buy tickets for gigs, events, museums, attractions, etc.:
- At dedicated self-service machines like Lawson’s Loppi Kiosk or Family Mart’s Famiport (this option is only viable if you have a good grasp of written Japanese as the English interface tends to be lacking)
- Booking tickets online and paying at the convenience store, which can be helpful for those without a Japanese bank card
You can also book, buy, and print bus and plane tickets at these convenience store kiosks.
Free Wifi Spot
If you’ve run out of mobile data, forgot your portable Wi-Fi router, or simply want to save on wasting money for expensive roaming data, then Japanese convenience stores are the place to go for free Wi-Fi.
Depending on which Konbini you go to, you may or may not have to register to use their Wi-Fi. There may also be limitations on how long you can use the Wi-Fi.
Bear in mind that not all convenience stores offer Wi-Fi, especially in the more rural areas of Japan.
Restrooms in Japan are almost a tourist attraction due to many of them being equipped with futuristic-looking washlets with numerous buttons. Restrooms are also plentiful in Japan so if nature is calling, you’re never really far from a bathroom to relieve yourself in.
One place you can find free public restrooms is in Japanese convenience stores, though again, some smaller locations in the more remote areas of the country may not have this service. Restrooms are free in konbinis and you don’t even have to purchase something though if you want to be polite, pay for a candy bar or onigiri on your way out.
In sum, convenience stores in Japan add a layer of efficiency and convenience to the busy lives of those who call the island home. If living in Japan appeals to you or you’re on the hunt for an apartment near a convenience store, Village House is a real estate organization with over 1,000 rental units across all 47 prefectures in Japan.