At your convenience
It's one o'clock in the morning and you're lost in the side streets of a big city. Maybe you're thirsty, need an umbrella, or just have a craving for something sweet... don't panic! Konbini are here to save you. The word is an abbreviation for convenience store, and these small stores, open 24/7, quickly become indispensable!
It is not an exaggeration to say that it would be possible to live off a konbini. Here's a short guide to buying and doing everything in less than 10 minutes from your location.
It is said that in Japan there is a konbini for every 2000 inhabitants. They are literally on every street corner in major cities, and a little more scattered in villages and rural areas. The four largest distributors are Family Mart, 7 Eleven, Sunkus and Lawson, but there are other smaller ones such as Ministop, Daily Yamazaki, Coco store, Everyone, and more. Now there is even a more luxurious "Natural Lawson" which stocks a selection of gourmet imported products and organic food.
The primary purpose of a konbini is selling the power of rapid consumption. While the staple products of the konbini are the bento (lunch box), instant ramen and onigiri (rice balls), they also have sandwiches, salads, and vegetables. The seasons also influence the shelves, with soft serve ice cream in the summer and oden in the winter being just the tip of the iceberg! Japanese people are very fond of seasonal themed products, and the selection changes constantly from month to month, always offering new surprises like cherry blossom flavor snacks in the spring, chestnut cakes in the autumn, strawberry Kit-Kats for Christmas, etc... konbinis go beyond normal confectionery, with snacks of all kinds. You can also often find fresh produce, such as eggs or fruit, but the supply is limited and expensive. It's usually better to stock up at the supermarket.
Besides food, all kinds of everyday products can be purchased: bandages, pens, toilet paper, batteries, umbrellas, some medicines, and so on. It is also possible to buy alcohol and cigarettes, but only in stores with signs saying "タバコ" (tabako - cigarettes) and "酒" (sake - alcohol). Mini toiletry kits are also available in the cosmetic section. Handy when you've forgotten to bring your shampoo...
Konbini offer many bank, post office and shipping services too. You can even pay your water and electricity bills there, if you have any.
The list of services is long. You can:
- withdraw cash from ATMs
- make copies, send faxes, scan documents or print photos
- use the in-store vending machines for buying tickets to concerts, highway buses, sporting events, amusement parks and more.
- While it's not always easy finding ATMs that accept foreign cards, ATMs at 7 Eleven will let you withdraw money.
- With space to sit and eat in the store, the konbini "Ministop" allows you to snack and rest quickly and cheaply.
- You can buy stamps and send packages through delivery services such as "Takkyubin" or "Yu-Pack" (Post Office). This is convenient when you want to send your luggage from one place to another at a reasonable price.
- "Muji" products are available at Family Mart.
- A konbini is a perfect place to go if you're lost. The staff are always helpful and will usually have an extremely detailed map of the local area.