The Konbini. A mythical place that even earned its own Buzzfeed titled “31 Konbini Foods You Surely Miss If You’ve Ever Lived In Japan.” In 1996, it was recorded that there was one convenience store for every 2,000 people in Japan. When you consider that America had one for every 8000 people during the same period and is a significantly larger country, that’s quite something.
To give it its full title, the konbiniensu sutoa (aka Convenience Store, aka Konbini), is an Aladdin’s cave of delights.
Below are my top 5 favourite things about the Konibini dreamland:
1.) Seasonal Fair
Japan really makes the most of its changing, novelty, seasonal, varying with the weather and holidays. Such is the delight of the ever-changing selection; the Japan Times even has ‘Konbini Watch’, highlighting what new items to look out for. Even Pepsi gets in on the game, releasing new flavours for 1-2 month periods in line with major holidays. Pepsi Pink Cola was released in recently – a strawberry milk taste with a Pepto-Bismol hew. Yum. When the cooler weather blows in, the hot drink fridge comes out too – warm lemon juice, cider and milky tea. The vending machines switch from novelty cold fare to hot chocolate and coffee. Vital from that early morning commute – I sometimes used to spend the 100 yen just to have something warm to hold.
2.) –man （まん）
To be honest, you can find Nikuman outside of the Konbini but they two will forever be linked in my mind. They were only available from later summer through to early Spring and I’d be so excited when they reappeared again. The incarnation of the popular Chinese buns lived in a heated cabinet on the server’s countertop. They come in a variety of flavours – Nikuman (pork buns), ka-re man (curry flavoured pork meat bun), pizza man (tomato sauce, cheese and meat – YUM) to name but a few. There are also regional variations. I can’t count the amount of time I popped into a Konbini on my walk home from work to part with my 110Y for that doughy goodness. Oh how I miss you man.
In the UK and Canada, washrooms are normally reserved for paying customers. Not so in the Konbini! With one on every corner, these clean, free washrooms become a real lifesaver on a road-trip. Even more so on a drunken night out.
For a small fortune, Amazon UK manages to give you same day deliverywhich I thought was pretty good. Amazon.jp is in another league entirely though. Not sure you’ll be in to get your delivery? Send it to the Konbini for no charge! Whilst in Japan, I also paid for flights, paid my cellphone bill, buy music festival tickets, return a broken camera to Amazon, photocopy and send my luggage to the airport (takuhaibin)…all from my local 7-11.
5.) Fresh food
The Konbini gets numerous delivers to store per day. Food is only allowed to sit on the shelves for a certain about of time before being thrown out – you can even check the delivery time on certain products for optimum freshness. Unlike many convenience stores in the west, it’s also cheap and actually tasty!
6.) Late Night socialising.
Going through my photos to try and find some-konbini related images reminded me of something. A night out invariably ended up outside whichever Konbini was closest to the club we were in. Alcohol was so cheap and public drinking was totally fine. We would often get ‘stamped’, leave the club, a few drinks from the Konbini, chatting outside, and then head back in. You could pick up a corndog (aptly called ‘A-me-ri-kanDogu in Japanese) and a bottle of water and head home to sleep off your hangover. It was almost always the best place to practice your Japanese. Drunk people love to meet strangers! And alcohol breeds confidence. I had some of my most interesting conversations outside of a Lawson – it’s just a shame I can’t really remember them…