When you visit Japan and walk around, you soon will come across the many konbini that are located everywhere. Konbini is the abbreviated word for a convenience store in Japanese and there are some 58,000 konbini across Japan. The largest operators of konbini are Seven Eleven, Family Mart and Lawson, but there are many more chains. In major cities, konbini can be found on almost every corner of the streets, often more than one, so you are likely to find konbini within a 5-minute walk from your hotel. Most konbini are open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. In addition to its locations and opening hours, konbini offer a wide variety of services and products, which make konbini truly convenient.
The concept of the Japanese konbini
The number of konbini in Japan has been increasing over the last years. Between 1983 and 2018, the number of konbini grew from approximately 6,300 to 58,000 across Japan. In 2015-2016, on average 3 new stores opened up every day! 7-eleven has the largest number of stores (about 20,900 stores), followed by Family Mart (about 16,600 stores) and Lawson (about 14,500 stores). These are the three major konbini in Japan, other chain stores of konbini include Ministop, Daily Yamazaki, NewDays, and Seicomart.
Why are convenience stores so popular in Japan? One of the reasons can be that there is a strong competition among them, and each operator develops original products and services constantly. Especially, each konbini operator puts a lot of effort into creating a variety of original meals and sweets that can attract people.
Another reason may be that many people in metropolitan areas live alone and live busy lives. Therefore, buying ready-to-eat food at konbini is just so much easier and faster than cooking at home. Although it is usually healthier to cook your own meal at home, there are some items at konbini that are health-conscious; meals that include a variety of vegetables, fiber-rich grains, and are low in calories.
Locations and opening hours are another reason for the popularity of konbini. In the big cities, konbini can be found in every block, sometimes more than one. As mentioned earlier, most konbini are open 24/7, seven days a week. Therefore, it may be easier to go to konbini than a supermarket or a drugstore. In addition, they have a wide variety of goods from snack to underwear and stationary so that you are very likely to find anything you need in daily life.
What you can buy at konbini
Food and drinks
Most of the things that you can buy at a konbini are food. There is a large selection of ready-to-eat food such as onigiri (rice balls), sandwiches, noodles, and bento (lunch boxes). Side dishes with a portion size for one or two persons are also available. At the register, you can get your food heated up or you can do so yourself. In many konbini, there are displays with warm snacks such as fried chicken, fried potatoes, and steamed buns. Fresh products including fruits, vegetables and eggs are also being sold at the konbini. Some konbini have an eating space with tables and chairs inside, so during lunch you can often spot a Japanese salaryman eating lunch.
The food at konbini is seasonal: in winter, warm noodles, soups and steam buns are popular and in spring a variety of sweets with cherry blossom flavor is sold. In summer, a larger range of frozen sweets, salads and cold noodles is available, and in autumn people love the chestnut and sweet potato snacks available at the konbini.
Desserts and bakery goods are also popular in konbini. Especially the three major konbini, 7-eleven, Lawson and Family Mart, constantly produce their original desserts such as puddings, cakes, and mochi (sticky rice cake).
A wide variety of drinks are also available in konbini including alcoholic beverages like beer, wine and spirits. Most drinks are cold and packaged, but konbini also have coffee machines so you can get a cup of freshly brewed hot coffee 24/7. Getting a cup of coffee from the konbini is very popular especially in the morning and during lunch break for office workers because they can get a cup of freshly brewed coffee quickly and quite cheap; ~¥100 – ¥200. In wintertime, you can also find bottled teas and coffee available hot. Look for the fridge-looking display that is red and has written ‘hot’ on it.
When you are feeling tired and needing some boost, you can get some energy drinks at konbini. There is usually a shelf with a variety of energy drinks that help you to get through the day.
There are also basic cooking ingredients such as flour, salt and pepper, sauces, cooking oil and canned food.
Daily necessities are also widely available at the convenience store. Think of toilet paper, detergents, shampoos, soaps, batteries, first aid kit including drugs, sanitary goods, postal stamps, garbage bags, toothbrushes and umbrellas, you name it, all are available at the konbini. Some konbini even have underwear and towels.
Although konbini usually do not have a variety of brands for each item because of the limited space, they have practically everything you need in daily life. Many konbini open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, so if you need shampoo at midnight, you can just go to konbini to get one!
Magazines, books, and manga
Konbini usually have a relatively large section for magazines, books and manga. The majority items at the bookshelf in konbini are monthly magazines for fashion and manga.
It used to be common to see people standing in front of a bookshelf to read the magazines at konbini, but nowadays, the magazines are sealed so that people cannot read inside before they buy it and break the seal.
Others goods available the Japanese konbini
Chargers and cables for your devices including PC and mobile phones, recharge cards for prepaid phones, iTunes cards and Google play cards, and cigarettes can be purchased. What is sold at each konbini, depends on the konbini and the size of the store, so you may not be able to find everything at every konbini.
Services offered at a konbini
The konbini is not just a place to buy things. You can also pay bills, use ATMs, send packages, and reserve and purchase tickets for films, sports events, concerts, exhibitions, highway buses and more. You can even have your packages to be delivered to konbini, so that you can pick them up when it suits you. All ATMs at 7-eleven accept foreign credit and debit cards for cash withdrawal. Also, good to know: most konbini have a Wi-Fi network and public toilets that can be used for free!
Printing at a konbini
Printing services are also available at most konbini. In many konbini, there is a super printer which can photocopy, scan, fax, and print. You can print documents in black & white, color, single-sided or double-sided, print PDF files straight from a USB memory stick, scan documents to PDF or JPG, print photos on photo papers, and send domestic and international fax.
You can also use network print service with the printer in some of the konbini. In order to use a network printer, upload a file on Network Print, preview your document, receive a code, go to the printer inside the konbini, enter your code and print the documents you need.
The cost of these services with the printer vary depending on konbini, but usually you don’t have to pay a lot. For example, at 7-eleven, printing from the media and copying documents in black & white is ¥10 for one sheet, copying documents in color is ¥50-80 per sheet, scanning is ¥30, and sending a domestic fax is ¥50 per sheet. Other konbini offer the same services at similar prices.
What did you think about our guide to the Japanese konbini? Konbini makes your life much easier in Japan. Come by and see for yourself!