What is Convenience Store (Conbini in Japanese)?
Convenience stores (aka 'conbini' in Japanese) is essential in Japanese life. The number of convenience stores in Japan has over 50,000 branches and possibly it has the largest number of branches of all shops in Japan.
In big cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, you will see a convenience store every 300m or even closer. Sometimes, there're two convenience stores next to each other (seriously their competition is very fierce).
When you walk in Japan, you'll be surprised to see that. You see a convenience store, there's another one after 3 minutes and another one again after another 3 minutes!
It's literally convenient thanks to its location and item line-up. You can grab something you want quickly and it's everywhere as mentioned. Furthermore, it's open 24/7 (most of them). Convenience stores can be called infrastructure in the urban life of Japan. At night, it enhances security in the area.
Normally this is how it looks like inside a convenience store.
Tokyo Direct blog navigates you on what to do at convenience stores when you visit Japan.
Top Convenience Stores in Japan
If you remember major convenience stores in Japan, I assure you that your travel in Japan will be much easier. Why? You can basically buy almost everything you want (grab some sandwiches, get some drinks, stationery goods and more!)
Furthermore, it's actually very fun to go there as it's literally a small showcase of the whole Japanese culture. As mentioned, convenience stores in Japan are where people in Japan go to almost every day. So, you can get things what real Japanese people buy there which means everyday life in Japan is just right there.
Drink collection is also overwhelming. Green teas, soft drinks and alcohol drinks... you've got so many choices!
OK, so what are top convenience chain stores in Japan. You only have to remember these three. Actually, the majority of convenience store you see in Japan is one of them.
Seven Eleven - famous for their bento box which is the best of all convenience stores.
Originally, this chain store started in the US and the first shop came to Japan in the '70s. Later in the '90s, Seven Eleven (US) has been merged by Japanese Seven Eleven (so it's Japanese company now). Seven-Eleven has the largest number of branches of all convenience stores in Japan. They have branches all over Japan except Okinawa. Their private brand goods are known for their high quality and particularly they have a good reputation about bento (lunch box).
This is one of the most typical Japanese bento, Nori-ben (seaweed bento). Usually, one of the cheapest kind.
Lawson - famous for sweets
Blue one. Lawson also has so many branches and often can be located near other convenience stores like seven eleven (I suspect it's their strategy).
Lawson operates internationally and the first Japanese convenience store opened the branch in China (in 1996). Today, Japanese convenience stores can be seen in China and southeast Asian countries. It's a must-go place for Japanese tourists as it's always fun to check what they have and how they are different from Japanese ones.
The quality of the convenience store's sweet is very good and especially Lawson has an edge on it. You should definitely try it.
Family Mart - their chicken karaage (Fami Chiki) is extremely popular
Family Mart boasts of its 12,000 branches in Japan and many branches in Asia as well. It's also a national convenience chain brand and can be seen in all the prefectures in Japan (top share in Okinawa where Seven-Eleven has no branches).
Five Things You Must Try at Convenience Stores in Japan
These are the things make Japanese convenience stores fantastic places to visit. When you're peckish at night or when you're looking for some treats after a long day, these are the most typical stuff for the Japanese to buy. They're all wonderful and the best place to get them is a convenience store.
You shouldn't underestimate the quality. 'Conbini Sweets' (convenience store sweets) are famous for its variety and high quality. Fruits Jelly, Cake, Matcha, Red bean paste and so much more. You can try so many kinds of (Western & Japanese) sweets.
Here are some examples.
Collaborated product with Tsujiri - Matcha parfait cake
Yuki Ichigo Musume (Ichigo with soft mochi rice cake dessert)
Strawberry is 'must-item' for Japanese sweets. It's extremely popular!
Oden is a Japanese pot dish and winter's favourite food. Convenience stores offer oden all year and you can have it anytime you want. Eating very hot oden in cold winter is the happiest moment for the Japanese people and this is one of the things you must try at a Japanese convenience store.
Oden has several ingredients (small dish) and then you can choose whatever you want and put them into a plastic container and then go to the cashier and pay. Here're some popular oden dishes.
Chikuwa is a fishcake which is the top oden menu.
Daikon (white Japanese reddish) is a popular ingredient for miso soup. It's one of the most common dishes in oden as well.
Japanese convenience stores are quite an international place. What you can find there is not only Japanese but so international. Niku-man (steamed pork bun) is originally Chinese food and it's a standard item for convenience stores in Japan today. (by the way, Niku means 'meat' and Man means 'bun' in Japanese. Meat Bun it is.)
Nikuman (pork bun) is the most common kind of steamed bun menu, but there're many more. An-man (sweet red bean paste), Pizza-man, Cheese-man, Curry-man and so on. There's always sesonal limited 'man'. You can also try that.
4. Fried Chicken
As well as Niku-man, fried chicken is also located near the cashier, so it's inevitable you always see every time you go to pay. Then, you feel it's hard to resist the temptation to order it. It's their strategy! I don't know why, but convenience store's fried chickens taste much better than other fried chickens. Try it and you'll know what that means.
5. Onigiri (Rice Ball)
Finally, it's onigiri (rice ball). This portable small snack is very handy and a nice one. In Japan, home-made onigiri is more common (it's the most common for Japanese bento meal). Conbini's onigiri is very popular as well.
The benefit of onigiri at a convenience store is its variety. You can choose many different ones with different ingredients (normally about 10, sometimes more). You can definitely find your favourite one. So, keep trying until you find it. For your reference, some most popular (standard) onigiri kinds are these.
Umeboshi (Salted Plum)
Next time you visit Japan, please definitely drop at a convenience store and find your favourite stuff there!
Thanks for reading.
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