Heaven on earth exists, and it’s in Japan. It is designated by the Japanese word in katakana, konbini (コンビニ), which is a sort of shorthand for convenience store. Don’t be fooled by their mundane appearance: Japanese convenience stores are very different from those in other countries. The types of goods and services offered at a Japanese konbini may surprise you, and for the average person living in Japan, visiting a konbini is part of the daily routine. Come along, as we take you for a walk around the promised land.

Why are they unique

In many countries, what are known as convenience stores are simply petrol stations with a small shop inside that offers snacks and drinks. In Japan, they are so, so much more.

Instead, Japanese convenience stores are meant to compile all of the common daily necessities and provide a place to take care of all of your small tasks in one location. Forget the bank, ward office, post office or pharmacy: just head over to the konbini!

Konbini, like most places in Japan, are also extremely clean and well kept, compared to convenience stores elsewhere that are infamously known for being dirty and dangerous. Most of them are open 24 hours and they are safe all day long.

Onigiri displayed in a Japanese konbini

Types of goods sold at a konbini

Japanese convenience stores sell all sorts of goods; the list is vast, including things like school materials, cosmetics, body care, newspapers, manga, medicine, books, obento, and vitamin supplements. Perhaps the most common reason for visiting a konbini is to get some food for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or anything in between.

They sell good food for any type of meal, such as onigiri, sushi, sandwiches, obento, burgers, ramen, udon, bread, fried meat, nikuman, and various other foods that can be bought hot or cold. The stores even have microwaves to heat up your food, hot water for things like ramen, and seating to enjoy your meal. But if you are out in the city and realize that you are in need of something important (or you know, a new dress shirt), a quick stop at a Japanese convenience store can assure that you have the supplies that you need. Many will even go so far as to adapt their displays to match the current weather, racks of umbrellas mysteriously appearing after the first few drops start falling. You say convenient, I say witchcraft.

Magazines sold at a konbini

Services provided 

So food is great and all, but what’s so great about the services offered at a Japanese konbini? I’m glad you asked! The services you can find there include things like free Wi-Fi, ATM, copy and fax, ordering tickets, package delivery, paying for bills, making prints, etc. One of the best things about konbini for international students is that most provide ATM’s that allow you to make international transactions, provided you have the right type of card and bank account.

Freshly landed in Japan or about to leave for the airport? You can have your luggage safely stored or transported, so that you don’t have to deal with the hassle of carrying it around everywhere. Konbini are the place to go if you want to purchase tickets for things like museums, concerts, events, theme parks, and the sky is literally the limit (I even once paid for flight tickets there).

The most common konbini chains in Japan are 7-Eleven, Lawson, Family Mart, Circle K Sunkus, and Ministop. All of the chains provide very similar goods and services, but perhaps one of the most important differences is that each one has its own ticket service. If you want to purchase tickets for a specific event, it will help to check beforehand which stores are best for the type of ticket you want to buy. It also means that if one store is sold out of tickets, another one may not necessarily be.

As you can see, there is almost no end to the services offered at a Japanese konbini. They are some of the most useful places when it comes to buying daily necessities or taking care of small tasks. Whenever you are in Japan and you need to find a quick fix, a konbini is usually close by to help you out.

For more information about living in Japan keep following the Go! Go! Nihon blog.