Experiencing Japan’s Konbini (Convenience Store) Culture In Tokyo

Japan has a thing for convenience stores (konbini). There are over 50,000 of them throughout the country, and they’re everywhere in Tokyo. There’s a Family Mart at every street corner, a Lawson at every shopping centre, and all of them are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Unlike many convenience stores in other parts of the world, Japanese ones offer not just food and beverages, but also services like ATMs, storage, postal, and even laundry.

I had a small taste of ‘konbini culture’ during my short stay in Tokyo, as my hotel was just across the road from a Family Mart. Staying up late nights to finish writing and having to get up early the next day for assignments, I found myself popping into the store several times a day, to grab a coffee, a bun, a hot meal or just to check out the stuff they had, which I wouldn’t be able to find back home.

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While F&B products take up most of the floor space, the store sells a variety of other goods as well, ranging from clothes and electronics to travel essentials (lotions, creams, sunscreen, etc.), and books and magazines. Heated coffee in a display rack was something that I only discovered a couple of years ago, and it still fascinates me how you can have a cold and warm section for your beverages. Ready-packed bento boxes are just a matter of popping into the microwave and voila! Hot meal.

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Jerky and other snacks

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Ice cream.

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Items like yakisoba (carbs on carbs!) are prepared daily. I was also obsessed with the sweet custard they had on sale. The offerings are all fresh, rather than looking like they’ve sat on the shelf for years like in many hypermarkets in Malaysia. The store I went to also had an ATM machine, a payment terminal, free Wifi, and an area where you could sit down and enjoy your bento.

There is, however, a price to pay for this convenience that people enjoy. Most prominent are issues such as low pay, exhausting working hours and poor work conditions. If you’ve read the brilliant Convenience Store Woman book by Sayaka Murata, it offers an interesting and quirky insight into what goes on behind the almost clinical facade of a convenience store operation.

BONUS: Because I couldn’t find another blog post to plug this in (lol) and it doesn’t seem like it warranted a full one, I stayed at the HOTEL UNIZO GINZA (Nana-Chome), which is conveniently located just a street away from the busy Ginza thoroughfare.

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Space is a premium in Japan; but the room was cosy enough (I like small rooms when travelling alone; it feels ‘safe’, somehow. Like I’m filling up the space). The bed was also very comfortable. There was a work desk, a TV that was strategically placed so I could see it from the bathroom (which had a half bath-tub like most places in Tokyo), a mini fridge and an ironing board for clothes. It was a good thing my luggage bag was small, but even then I had to put it on my bed to open it up fully.

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Actually reminds me of my dorm room back when I was in the UK albeit that was quite a bit larger. Small, neat, cosy.

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