Guest Author - Ching Kin Min
There is a variety of convenience store chains in Japan, the bigger ones being Lawson, 7-11 and Family Mart. In a big city like Tokyo, convenience stores, same company or otherwise, are situated pretty close to each other. In fact, it is not uncommon to find convenience stores within walking distance from each other. Even in the smaller cities, there is still a fair amount of convenience stores spread around.
Like in other countries, convenience stores in Japan are open 24/7, and sell snacks and drinks as well as basic amenities. These are actually worth mentioning, but that is not the focus of this article. What makes Japanese convenience stores stand out is the host of other stuff customers can buy and do.
Japanese convenience stores stock a variety of comic books, which can be browsed freely. Visitors from conservative societies may find it disturbing that adult magazines, while bound and therefore cannot be browsed, are located within easy sight and reach, which means that they can be easily discovered by children.
Some chains have tie-ups with anime companies, and occasionally sell limited edition products featuring the anime being promoted, such as K-on! cup noodles and Neon Genesis Evangelion potato chips. However, once the promotion period ends, those exact same products will never be sold again. Sometimes, a lottery, or “ichiban kuji”, is held where customers can get a shot at winning an anime prize for a few hundred yen. Examples of such prizes include Gintama plush dolls and One Piece figurines, depending on the anime series being promoted at the time. The good news is, participants in the lottery will always win something.
Most useful for people on a food budget are boxed lunches, or “bento”, that every convenience store stocks. There is a sizable selection of bento ranging from pasta to curry and rice to sushi, sold at reasonable prices (typically around 500 yen). Each chain sells different types of bento, so there is no lack of variety to choose from. Customers can ask for the food to be heated up so that they can be consumed immediately afterwards. Food and drinks cannot be consumed inside convenience stores except for Mini Stop stores, which have a rest area where customers can sit down and enjoy their meals.
Many stores are further equipped with toilets, ATMs and photocopier machines. Most 7-11 and Lawson stores even have a machine where customers can do online shopping such as purchase tickets for concerts and museums, and even pay for air tickets.
Of interest to anyone thinking of staying long term in Japan is that people can also pay their health insurance premiums, taxes, electricity bills, Internet bills etc. at a convenience store, which is very handy.
It is beyond the scope of this article to go into more detail, but as illustrated above, there are tons of things that people, regardless of whether they're Japanese residents or foreign visitors, can do and buy at convenience stores in Japan.