During your trip to Japan, you’re going to use Konbini, convenience stores, more than you expect. They are literally everywhere and they’re part of Japanese modern culture.
For those coming to Japan for the first time, it may come as a surprise to hear that it’s quite common to get dinner from a convenience store. For many countries, convenience stores are usually attached to a gas station and are quick stops for those needing coffee, snacks or a (usually unhealthy) light meal. However, in Japan, Konbini are a different world altogether.
Konbini are everywhere
There are over 50,000 konbini across Japan. Major ones (Lawson, 7-11 and Family Mart) can easily be recognized from afar, while minor chains might look more like a mini-mart. Most of them are open 24 hours a day in large cities, while those in small towns tend to close during certain hours.
One shop for everything
Hungry? Thirsty? Caught in the rain? Want something sweet? Stain your shirt before a meeting? Need a drink before going to the club? Find a konbini!
Konbini offer a range of foods – onigiri rice balls, freshly fried chicken, bento (set meal) boxes, bread, frozen meals, basic groceries and snacks of all kinds can be found. Often, the labels will also show what the product is in English which is especially helpful to know exactly what you’re purchasing!
Typical drinks that can be bought include coffee, tea, juice, water and different kinds of alcohol. In winter, you’ll find also warmed can and bottles. Often, ‘limited edition’ seasonal drinks and desserts are available depending on what time of the year it is; you may see sakura (cherry blossom), chestnut or ume (plum) products. Be sure to give one of these a try if you see them as they might not be there the next time!
Automatic machine coffee and beverage are also available in different sizes. You just need to ask the cashier for the cup and pay.
Depending on the size and location of the konbini, you can also find a range of other useful items such as umbrellas, cosmetics, stationery, underwear, toiletries, and magazines.
ATMs, bills, tickets, and printing
The ATMs located inside will nearly always accept foreign cards to withdraw money. This a useful tip in Japan, seeing as the majority of places still only accept cash.
You can also purchase tickets to some major attractions using a special machine inside. For example, tickets to the Ghibli Museum can be purchased at Lawson and Disneyland tickets can be purchased at Family Mart. Tickets can be reserved at the machine and paid for at the register straight after. Please note that some attractions sell out in advance, however, it never hurts to see if you can still get tickets if you forget to book online before you arrive! Most of the machines will have an English option to help make it easier to use.
Locals often use the services at the desk to pay bills. There is usually a printing and photocopying machine available too. It’s very handy if you need to quickly print a ticket or document. You will need to download a special app (search for the store’s name) to connect to the store’s printing service to send your file, or just simply insert a USB into the machine.
Who doesn’t love free WiFi? The major konbini stores offer free WiFi that can be registered for in few clicks. Sometimes if there is a seating area inside, there are also power plugs to charge your device for free.
It’s easy to connect wherever you go. Check apps, send messages, check your email, scroll through Facebook, update Instagram, communicate with friends and family, etc. It’s convenient if you don’t have a Japanese sim card.
Takuhaibin is a luggage service in Japan that is handy for travellers who want to spend the day sightseeing without their luggage before heading to their next destination. It’s quite affordable and delivery is usually the next day. Costs will depend on the size and amount of luggage. Look for a little yellow sign of a black cat carrying a kitten. Make sure that you have everything you need in your day pack and know which hotel you want to forward your luggage to!
Garbage bins are a rarity in Japan. Japanese people usually carry their trash in their bag until they get home, however, there are almost always bins available at a convenience store. Just be sure you put your rubbish in the right bin as Japan has a huge recycling culture.
Remember to not eat while walking. Instead, sit inside if there are seats available or stand and eat your newly purchased food just outside the konbini. Then, you can put your rubbish in the bin straight after.