It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been in Japan for five minutes or 75 years, the nation’s convenience stores are endlessly fascinating. They’re the lifeblood of the nation, a little community hub of sorts where you can pick up a banana, a beanie, and a beer all in the one visit. Here are some reasons they should be regarded as one of Japan’s national treasures:
They’re everywhere, especially in Hokkaido
Wandering through the streets of most of Japan’s major cities and you’ll soon realize there’s a convenience store on almost every street corner. Statistics say that there are over 55.6 thousand convenience stores in Japan with others opening nearly every single day. Roughly three new stores opened each day between 2015-2016. Using these modest estimations, that means there’s at least one store for every 2,287 people in the country. As of March 2018, Hokkaido had 2,971 stores, meaning there’s 55.5 stores for every 100,000 people or one store for every group of 1,801. Unsurprisingly though, Tokyo has the most stores, with over 7,280 outlets or 53.44 stores for every group of 100,000. Although it’s a popular tourist destination, Nara has the least amount of stores, around 460, or 33.9 for a group of 100,000.
Fresh food all day, every day and groceries too
Day in, day out, the flawlessly stocked shelves of the nation’s neon-lit convenience stores are carefully maintained so they remain just so. FamilyMart’s General Manager of New Business Development, Hiroaki Tamamaki was quoted in saying to the Financial Times that every Family Mart outlet receives a fresh delivery three times a day, one for each meal.
Beyond just delicious, ready-to-eat meals, many convenience stores also stock all the basic groceries including eggs, dairy products, dry noodles and pasta, a small selection of vegetables, and the country’s main condiments.
Snacks, snacks, snacks
If you’ve ever stepped foot into a Japanese convenience store, chances are you were blown away by the huge variety of snacks and treats. Most Japanese convenience stores sell bakery-like sweets including some unique creations like yaki-soba pan and noodles in bread as well as chocolates, ice–cream, savoury treats like potato chips and popcorn, dried squid, and of course, potentially the most diverse and delicious selection of ice-creams available.
If you’re looking for something hot, they often also feature a hot window, filled with fried chicken, hot dogs, and little dumpling buns called ‘man‘. For those who like a tipple, you’ll be happy to know the alcohol selection is also excellent, beers, wines, mixed drinks and straight spirits, as well sake.
Buy tickets and pay bills
Electric and water bills, phone bills, health insurance, all these can be paid for at your local convenience store. Customers just have to bring the bill with its barcode to the register to pay. Another bonus is that many events’ tickets like sports events, entry to the country’s biggest amusement parks and concert tickets can also often be purchased either via a self-service machine or by speaking to the staff.
Are you looking to send something back home? You can buy postage stamps from the convenience store and post large packages like parcels without hassle. Also if you need to print out an important document, scan or fax an item, that can all be done too, using the store’s printing services.
Got a hole in your socks? Lost your underpants? Or just want a little heated pack to keep your hands warm on a cold morning? Don’t worry. The Japanese convenience store has all this and more. From stationery to accessories, the sheer selection is amazing, and if you’re got a little time, take a good look around, because you’ll surely find some unique little surprises.
A trip to Japan isn’t complete without visiting their renowned convenience stores. Complete your experience by retreating into the comfort of your own private chalet.
Header image photo credit: Ys-waiz, licensed under Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0