Why I can no longer live without Japanese convenience stores

It’s 3am on a Sunday, and you have an urgent need for concert tickets, a few beers, to send a fax, buy a change of underwear, scan a document, grab an onigiri and pay your gas bill?  No problems.

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If you throw a rock in Kobe, it’ll probably hit a convenience store [コンビニ]. They are absolutely everywhere….even as I write, I can look out the window and see two rival stores plying their wares.

Not many people know that the largest retail group in Japan is 7-11, but it’s no surprise when you think about it – there’s one on almost every corner.  Add to that the ubiquitous Lawson, Family Mart, Daily Mart, Co-op Minis and all the rest, and you realise that without the humble convenience store, Japan would quickly grind to a halt.

An archaic law limiting the construction of supermarkets, coupled with traditionally high real estate prices and scarce building space led to the origins of the convenience store boom, but today it’s more that they are just really, really good at what they do, to the point that most Japanese people visit a convenience store literally every day.

Prices are conbinis are very reasonable, and the range of products is staggering.   It seems that just about anything you need you can find, even though the average convenience store is only a fraction the size of a western supermarket.  Even better, y0u can grab delicious take away lunches, whether you fancy a steaming bowl of instant ramen, a cheap ‘n cheerful sushi tray or freshly baked french bread.

The wholesale network behind the humble convenience store is a miracle of organisation, ensuring that although the number of each item on the shelves is tiny (often just two or three of everything), stock is constantly replenished.  Even more remarkable is the fresh food, which is typically sold and replaced in a maximum of an hour or two.

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More than just shops, however, conbinis cover just about every imaginable service.  You can print out photos, pay your bills, order presents, pick up deliveries, make an emergency bathroom stop, book a bus ticket, buy a music festival pass…and still grab a steaming hot nikuman for the walk home.

In the area around Lexis Japan you’ll find just about every brand of conbini, and watch just how quickly you find that you can’t live without them!

 

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