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Alex Frank / Spoon

Why I Fell in Love With the Konbini

When landed in Tokyo for the first time in 2017, the very first thought that came into my mind was that this country had convenience stores everywhere. Literally, everywhere. There was at least one in almost every corner, and I could even spot three in a single block. My home country, South Korea, is a nation of convenience stores as well (we call it ‘pyeonijeom’), with over 40,000 stores currently in business. However, the number of convenience stores (konbini, コンビニ) in Japan exceeds this figure, with over 56,000 stores open today and 7,399 stores just in Tokyo. Not just in numbers, Japan’s convenience stores surpasses that of Korea’s in every aspects. They are so overwhelmingly convenient that I utilize them every day, when it is rare for me to visit Korean convenience stores even twice a month. In this article, I would like to elaborate upon the four eye-opening services of konbinis that made me fall in love with them.

1. Printers and Scanners

Right after moving to Japan, I remember being concerned about where I could scan my residence card and papers as I did not have a printer. However, my problem was immediately solved when I learned that I could print and even scan papers at the konbini. Printers are installed in most Japanese convenience stores, where you can print/scan documents and photos in color, and even send faxes. I was astonished at the convenience of this service, as I never imagined I would not have to afford a color printer as a college student with a great deal of assignments. This service would come handy to travelers who urgently need to print their airplane tickets or vouchers during the trip.

2. Public restrooms

You’re out on the streets and need to head the restroom ASAP? No worries! Almost all konbinis have clean public restrooms that are available for use 24/7. Thanks to this service, you won’t have to desperately roam around in search of a toilet you can use. While some countries require you to pay a fee to use the public toilets, these konbini restrooms are free of charge and are open to all customers. If you can’t find it in the store, ask a staff member and they will kindly show you the way.

3. Ticket machines

In konbinis, you are able to pay for your concert tickets and immediately receive the paper tickets that can be used for entrance. Therefore, as you would not need to have them delivered to your house, you won’t have to pay for the extra delivery fee. After selecting the event and seats separately on your own, all you need to do is let the staff know of your receipt or payment code, and they will do the rest. Or you can utilize the ticket machine at the store to search up the event yourself and make a reservation.

4. Coffee machines

Most konbinis have coffee machines installed, allowing customers to purchase freshly-brewed coffee for only around 150 yen. This feature has been especially convenient to me as I did not need to go all the way to a café to quickly grab some coffee before heading to a morning class, and I was able to drink coffee whenever I wanted to 24/7. Besides coffee, some branches provide beverages such as hot chocolate and matcha latte, while some even offer seasonal beverages such as fruit smoothies and tea lattes.

5. Bento boxes

Japan is a country with a very developed bento (packed lunch) culture. As such, you would be able to notice various colorful types of bento boxes tailored to consumer needs, from Western food to Japanese food, in konbinis. These bento boxes are highly popular among busy office workers and students as they can instantly afford a delicious meal ranging from 300 yen to 500 yen, while it costs typically costs around 800 yen to 1000 yen for an average meal at a restaurant. To recommend a couple, my all-time favorites are Green Onion Salk Pork Bento(ネギ塩豚カルビ弁当) from Seven-Eleven and Three Color Rice and Chicken Bento (3色そぼろ&チキン南蛮弁当) from Family Mart.

Observing and comparing convenience stores in both countries, it seems that Korean branches are getting several inspirations from Japan’s, especially with their renovated items like packed bento boxes and coffee machines. Although Korean convenience stores have notably been improved in terms of quality and convenience from the past, I believe they still have a long way to go and a lot more to learn from those of Japan. If I end up having to leave Japan sometime after graduation, its konbini will definitely be one of the many things I will miss about this country.

Ashley Lee

Waseda '22

An Economics major at Waseda University. Cannot stay indoors for more than three days. A boba maniac -- will never say no to spontaneous boba runs:)
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