If there was one thing that really surprised me when coming to Tokyo, it was the sheer number of convenience stores. Honestly, in some business districts, you could throw a stone from one convenience store and hit another! I work in a building with two convenience stores, and the train station across the street has at least three more. There are even convenience stores on train platforms too!
In Tokyo, there are a handful of convenience stores. The three biggest names are 7-11, FamilyMart, and Lawson. After that the most frequently seen is NewDays, which is owned by Japanese Railway Company (which is why you only see them in JR train stations). If you find yourself out in the more rural areas you might come across a MiniStop or a Circle K.
Grub, Run, and Groceries
In America, we usually think of convenience stores as having a bad selection of food, things like week-old sushi, a sandwich a few days past its “Best by” date, and no-name brand snacks. But the convenience stores in Japan are completely different. Japanese pride themselves on being clean and serviceable. Fresh foods are restocked almost everyday. These stores use purchasing trends to stock just enough sandwiches, salads, and bento boxes for a couple days of sales. Rest assured and eat with confidence in Tokyo, knowing that your onigiri hasn’t been sitting on the shelf for more than its recommended time.
Companies in Tokyo are known not only for their hard work, but also for their long work. I’ve ridden the train home at all hours. After 6PM and up until 10PM, there is a constant, steady stream of people returning home from a hard day at the office. Unfortunately for those who return later in the day, the supermarkets tend to close around 7PM to 8PM. How can you cook chicken fried rice when you’ve run out of soy sauce and eggs? Thankfully, Japanese convenience stores always have the bare essentials on hand. If you are looking for eggs, milk, bread, and sauces you can always pick them up in a local or rural convenience store. Prices tend to be the same as the supermarket so if both the supermarket and convenience store are open go to the one that is most… convenient!
Taking Care of Business
Convenience stores in Japan are not just about getting a bite to eat. You can also get some personal business done as well. If you need a letter sent, convenience stores have postage stamps available as well as large prepaid envelopes. If you are shipping something with Yamato Transport, one of the biggest delivery companies in Japan, you can also have your package’s delivery fees paid for and leave the package at the store for a Yamato collection.
You can also take care of bills at convenience stores. If you don’t have a credit card in Japan and do not prefer direct deposits, convenience store payments are a good alternative. When I first came to Japan, I didn’t have a Japanese credit card, but still had gas bills, phone bills, electricity bills, and water bills. I explained to these companies that I did not have a credit card or checks. I was told I’d be sent the monthly bill with a barcode for convenience store payments. Sure enough, I could pay all my bills at one time as well as get a bottle of green tea before going to work. Easy to keep track of and honestly… well… convenient.
Only in Japan
Living in Tokyo or any other major cities in Japan has its perks, but also has its drawbacks. The city is only so big, so real estate comes at a premium. An entry-level position in Tokyo can pay rent for a studio apartment or a 1DK (one room, dining room, kitchen). Because of the apartment space constrictions, you normally cut down on luxury/space taking items such as printers and scanners. Thankfully, if you need something scanned or printed, most convenience stores have a machine in the store.
Usually, next to the printer is a touchscreen computer that I always call the “magic machine”. Depending on what convenience store you go to, they have different names, but this computer is connected to a whole bunch of systems and has a variety of functions. If you need tickets to a sporting event or concert you can find it there. Need some Nintendo/PlayStation store credit? You can get it on this machine. Need to pay for something on Melcari or Yahoo Actions? This thing has got you covered. Basically, if there is any time when you would need to buy something that would involve the Internet, this touchscreen computer has you covered. Unless you want to pre-order a game, then you have to talk to someone behind the register.
Convenience stores are more than a place to get sushi in Japan. They are a life force for those whose work schedule doesn’t allow them to get to the supermarket before closing. They are great for getting things scanned and printed when you are in a hurry or are far away from home. Overall, if you are looking for the little to medium items in Japan, chances are that you don’t have to walk very far to find a store with just what you need. Don’t shy away from them; use them for your convenience.
Software Engineer and Blogger at TalentHub
Usually coding, writing, or exploring Japan.
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