Japanese convenience stores, or “conbini”, are found throughout Japan and are well-known for amazing food, a wide range of services, and excellent customer service above and beyond the call of duty. This emphasis on convenience and service stems from Japan’s omotenashi hospitality culture, and I’m betting once you experience a conbini for yourself, you’ll be left wondering why other stores even bother to call themselves convenient at all.
Conbini are No Ordinary Convenience Stores.
Many Japanese people commute and are away from home much of the day, so conbini are a huge resource for them. Because of this, stores try to think of every contingency – and it shows. Conbini have everything from office products, beauty supplies and toiletries, food and drink (including fresh produce, beer and liquor), health-related items and medicine, umbrellas, replacement shirts and socks, groceries (like toilet paper and detergent), phone cards and chargers, magazines and books, recycling services, and the list goes on (and on…some even offer free wifi!). Yet the stores are still small enough that you can get in and out quickly.
While most of us have probably have our own convenience store preference, Japanese convenience stores are the best. Here’s why:
Conbini food is actually pretty delicious. This is because Japanese consumers demand freshness and quality, leading stores to stock a wide variety of fresh food. Conbini get daily deliveries and constantly re-stock shelves so that food remains as fresh as possible. In fact, conbini food is so good, many people order it for delivery to their home or workplace (yes, that’s right, they deliver!).
As the name implies, convenience stores should be convenient. However, in my experience, many convenience stores are lacking things like product selection, good location, good service and convenient hours. But Japanese conbini have all of these things: Conbini are on every main road (often with multiple stores), they’re open 24/7 (yes you read that right), and they have a great selection of products, organized so that customers can easily find what they’re looking for. And all of this is topped off with excellent customer service.
Great Product Selection.
Conbini offer a great selection of products, particularly in the food and beverage departments. Most carry fresh produce, hot and cold meals, and have a wide range of comfort food and healthy choices. The selection is so extensive in fact, that it’s one of my rituals to go to conbini and find new products to try every time I visit Japan.
Conbini offer some of the cheapest meals in Japan, which is great for travelers on a budget (and luckily, the food is still delicious despite its low cost). In fact, several conbini (Lawson is one) have locations specializing in 100 Yen snacks and drinks (that’s about 1 US Dollar), offering things like pastries, hard-boiled eggs, fruit, fried shrimp and salads.
In addition to delicious meals and snacks, conbini have many services people need, such as copy, fax, photo printing, ATMs (that accept overseas cards and have English instructions by the way!) and free public restrooms (and while we kind of take this for granted in the US, this is pretty rare in other countries). Conbini also offer delivery services, sell concert tickets, and will heat your food for you if needed.
This one is huge for me. Unlike many convenience stores here in the US (where it seems like the employees feel they are doing you a big favor by ringing you up), in my experience conbini employees ROCK. They make you feel welcome (and always say hello), are happy to help, and do the best they can to provide quick service. (And if you pay cash, check out your change next time. All the bills will be in order and facing the same way, with coins on top so you can easily slide them off into your wallet. Amazing!)
Conbini Truly Have it All.
Japanese conbini set the standard for convenience. Stores like 7-Eleven, Lawson, Family Mart and Sunkus (a Circle K store), embody the Japanese omotenashi hospitality culture by insuring your experience in their stores is as pleasant and convenient as possible. So next time you’re in Japan, check out the great service and wide selection at conbini. But I warn you, you’ll never look at your hometown convenience stores the same again!