Nearly every country in the world has some form of convenience store, from tiny service stations to massive truck stops and everything in between. But most other countries don’t do convenience stores quite the way that Japan does them. Japan has perfected the idea of the convenience store into something uniquely Japanese, creating a space that is so simple and easy and yet holds so many cool secrets. Convenience stores, known in Japan simply as “konbini” after the Japanese abbreviation of the word, are everywhere and have something for everyone. Today we are going to take a quick look inside the world of Japanese konbini, and look not at just what is available for everyone, but how they can be an otaku wonderland if you know where to look!
They Really are Convenient!
Nearly everything in Japan has opening and closing hours. Almost all restaurants, including bars, close when it gets late enough at night. Many cafes and smaller shops close by 6pm and larger department stores by 8pm. Even most ATMs in Japan have hours, and in the middle of the night, it can be hard to get money for that taxi ride home if you don’t know where to look. That’s the first point about kobini and what makes them truly convenient in Japan—they are almost all open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They have no holidays. You can always count on being able to pop over to the konbini when you really need something and it’s going to be open. If you’ve ever spent time in Japan literally anywhere, you will also know that konbini are everywhere! From the huge cities to the countryside, you’re never too far away from a Family Mart, Lawson, 7-11, or one of other smaller chains. Big train stations and busy areas will even have multiple konbini within sight of each other, so you’re never low on choices.
The other convenient thing about konbini in Japan is that they carry a little bit of just about anything you may need. Of course, the most common thing to buy in konbini is food, and the selection is incredible. There’s everything from a huge case of ready-made meals that you can get warmed up right when you buy them and sushi to an entire wall of tea, soda, and alcohol. There are snacks, too, with pre-packaged bread, Japanese sweets, candy, crisps, ice cream, and more. Most konbini also have cooking essentials at a moderately marked up price from supermarkets like basic spices, curry mix, milk, some fruits and vegetables, and an impressive selection of instant noodles.
But wait, there’s more! Food isn’t everything we need, and konbini are here to provide. There are also cleaning products, common medicines, laundry detergent, basic make-up, and other toiletries. They even carry clothes like underwear, socks, white button-up shirts, ties, tights and more for people that miss the last train home but need fresh clothes for the next day, or have a more illicit affair and need a quick change (use your imagination while you browse!). Finally, you can also get cigarettes, concert and event tickets, and even pay you bills—all at konbini!
But What About Otaku?!
If we haven’t already convinced you that visiting konbini is a cool experience, did you know that there’s also plenty of stuff at them for otaku? Konbini almost always have something called a “kuji,” or lottery, running often based on popular anime, video games, or idol groups. These kuji let you buy a ticket for a set price and draw a random number that corresponds to the level of prize you can win. You can score everything from small prizes like key chains to large prizes like figures. Konbini also run a lot of special limited offers like a free clear file from a promoted anime when you buy a certain amount of products or spend a certain amount of money.
Konbini are also a great place to find cool otaku collaborations, usually involving food. One of the most popular recent ones were the Final Fantasy XIV chicken nuggets at Lawson. Not only did they come in special packaging, but the register played the Final Fantasy victory theme when the chicken was rung up! It’s not uncommon to find snacks and drinks with anime and game characters on them, especially in exclusive flavours you may not find outside of konbini.
Finally, we mentioned being able to buy concert and event tickets above, and that’s true for otaku things, too. Konbini is the easiest place to buy tickets for the Ghibli Musem and, of course, for big events like Tokyo Game Show, Anime Japan, and more. You can even buy cinema tickets for big anime film releases, tickets for collaboration events around Japan, anime art exhibit entries, and more. Just check the advertisements in the window to see what kind of things are available. Konbini are a surprisingly convenient place for otaku, too!
Are you feeling jealous that your local 7-11 doesn’t stand up to a Japanese konbini? Konbini are not only convenient for both travellers and locals, they also have some cool otaku stuff that you won’t want to miss if you get the chance to visit one. So if you ever find yourself in Japan and in need of anything from a snack to a new shirt to a chance to win some awesome anime goods, stop by a konbini! You won’t have to look far, because they’re all around you.
Have you ever been to a Japanese konbini before? What did you think of it? What kind of things did you buy while you were there? Are there any other parts of every day Japanese life that you would like to see explored in a similar kind of article? Drop us a comment before you leave!