Convenience stores are a part of the world these days. I remember growing up in Australia though, and convenience stores as we know them today basically just didn’t exist. What we had were ‘Milk Bars’, which barely exist today, small shops run by couples usually which sold a bunch of items, including milk obviously, but lollies and bread and magazines and chips and the like. They were much smaller and had less lights and didn’t stand out the way modern day convenience stores do. Meanwhile, I can only imagine that in Japan they were already huge in the early 1980s.
An Australian Rarity Once…
Such a contrast when you think about it. I remember in the 1980s when we started to see more and more 7/Elevens open up around Melbourne, and they became more common. We would stop there on a hot day after school on the way home to grab a Slurpee (which I believe is a Trademark ;)) and to me, for many many years, that’s all 7/Eleven sold lol. It was the ‘Slurpee Store’.
Compare it to Japan though, and although we have mucho 7/Eleven outlets today in Australia, we still don’t have quite the coverage of convenience stores that Japan has. And 7/Eleven is really the only chain of Convenience stores that we see here. In Japan, society seems to rely on convenience stores, they are plastered all over the place in fact.
Influence from US?
In Japan convenience stores are a necessary part of life. And just off the top of my head I can think of three names – 7/Eleven, Lawson’s and Family Mart. Interestingly, their signs are all in English, which suggests that they all started in America. The American influence in Japan is very obvious when you visit, because after WWII I guess they had a lot of people in Japan for a long time. And certainly even today there are a plethora of American Military bases in Japan, from the north all the way down to Okinawa.
Convenience stores in Japan are almost a one-stop shop for everyone’s needs. People go there to pay bills, stock up on groceries, use the ATM – almost every convenience store in Japan has an ATM, and also for food. You get sandwiches there – some with katsu in them which is a sort of fried pork or sometimes chicken in batter and works really well in a sandwich – noodles with usually facilities to add water to make them into a meal, fruit and then hot food such as hot dogs and fried chicken – that’s the Japanese karaage which is just sublime (insiders tip – Lawson’s is the absolutely BEST of the lot, it comes in a white paper bag and is like a rectangle of battered fried chicken, it is beyond awesome!). And more.
Part of Japanese Life…
And whilst this isn’t much different to convenience stores here or around the world, the fact is in Japan it is such a part of everyone’s life. And as a traveller to destination Japan, you too will want find yourself drawn to these well lit stores. And you never know just what you might need from them – you buy your tickets for example to Tokyo Disneyland from 7/Eleven for example. And 7/Eleven have the best ATMs for foreign cards (in my experience).
Now, you may feel in Japan using convenience stores for meals and so forth is not a healthy choice, and it doesn’t immerse you in Japanese culture. And sure, you’re certainly right on the first choice there, but I would argue that they are as much a part of current/modern Japanese culture in 2020 as anything! Also, they are cheaper alternatives for a quick lunch too. Whereas in Australia convenience stores (and in Europe for sure) ramp up the prices as compared to supermarkets, in Japan I feel like the mark up is not nearly as much. And also supermarkets don’t seem to be as common, especially in traveller frequent locales in Japan.
All in all, convenience stores are a huge part of Japan, they are handy, plentiful and have a lot of food options and also allow you to do a lot of things there that you might not have thought could be done in a convenience store. They make life easier for locals and for visitors, and they’re always around when you need them. They also stay open late, which you can’t say for a lot of places. Thanks for stopping by this fine day. Wherever you are, stay safe – and May the Journey Never End!