Updated: May 16, 2020
Japan has more than 50,000 convenience stores. So while you are in Tokyo, you're likely to find one on almost every street corner. This seems like an exaggeration, but a lot of streets really look like this:
They are EVERYWHERE. But in contrast to the doom and gloom that is the American convenience store, these are pretty much all sunshine and rainbows.
Here are 10 things that might surprise you about Japanese convenience stores:
1) The food options are wayyyyy healthier!
Not only do they have healthier food options, but they have a HUGE selection! The picture below is only a small portion of the choices that you have available to you. There is also usually a good selection of salads, pre-cut fruits, vegetables, sushi rolls, and more sandwiches. There are many cold noodle dishes that you can either eat cold or have heated up for you at the counter.
The triangle things in this photo are hands down my favorite! These are called Onigiri and consist of sushi rice stuffed most often with fish, and are wrapped in Nori (seaweed). As you can see, they're a very popular snack!
2) They also have a larger selection of healthier drinks
Many of the Japanese drinks have significantly lower amounts of sugar than you would find at most places in the US. They usually have several purely fruit or vegetable juices, drinks that are just huge boosts of vitamin C, and unsweetened coffees/teas. Yes, they still have soda and yes they still have some really sweet drinks for those of you that this doesn't appeal to. But, for me, it was impressive to see them offer something other than a bucket of sugar to drink :D (If you have a kiddo, the Kagome juices are great!)
3) Their hot snacks are actually really good...
Many of these places have hot snack bars. In cases, there are often meat-filled steamed buns (the bbq pork one is delicious), fried chicken, pork franks, etc.
The labels are typically in English and Japanese, so that you know what type of meat you're eating, as well as any possible allergens the food contains :D
A lot of these stores also have oden bars. Essentially, you can combine the various components (Konjac sweet potatoes, daikon radish, boiled eggs, fish cakes, tofu) available into a broth to create Oden, a type of soup.
4) There is a plethora of products!
There are often around 3,000 different products inside the popular Japanese convenience stores! It is almost unbelievable how many products fit into such small spaces. They have most things that you could need in a pinch on a daily basis...batteries, dress socks, plain white tees, etc. They have got all the staples and then some!
5) Some (like Lawson) even carry natural body/beauty products
Lawson stores specifically tend to focus on health and beauty more than any other Japanese convenience store chain. Some really target women and contain great natural creams, lotions, and cosmetics.
6) They offer a wide variety of OTHER services...
Possibly even more unbelievable is the fact that you can use Japanese convenience stores to send/receive packages; pay bills; print photos; order tv’s, refrigerators, and other large appliances; and even purchase tickets for events 😮😮😮 You can obtain your drivers' license at some of these, and others even offer travel agency type services. Some also print official copies of documents you would have to go to city hall for otherwise!
7) They’re great places to use your foreign credit card to get money
The ATM’s in Family Mart and 7-11 both accept many foreign credit cards. So if you’re traveling in Japan, these stores are a great resource for this reason as well. you can pull Japanese yen out in increments of ¥10,000 or approximately $100. While in Japan, you will need that cash money! See my other post on more ways to obtain Japanese yen here.
8) They Accept IC cards as payment
While the stores themselves usually accept visa and MasterCard, if you want, you can use your prepaid train card, or IC card, to pay as well.
9) They're open 24/7
Japanese convenience stores are generally open round the clock. It’s really very *convenient* 😏
10) More and more of these stores DELIVER...
In an effort to please the growing elderly population, many convenience stores in the Tokyo area will make deliveries. So when some older people are not able to make it out to get fresh produce as easily, it really isn't a problem.
11) Some even have playplaces
Yup, you read that right. Some stores try to accommodate mothers with small children more than others. One of the most notable of these is the Happy Lawson store at Yamashita Park in Yokohama. It has a big indoor play area for kids. It would be a great place to have a play date on a rainy day 🌧 ☔️ There is also outdoor seating overlooking the bay, and it is within walking distance of Chinatown and the Motomachi shopping street.
12) They're actually safe
In America, the convenience stores are kind of considered scuzzy and unsafe. But in Japan, they are well-lit, busy places that are considered a safe place to go. Women are encouraged to walk into one of these stores and loiter for a while if they think they are being followed.
13) Speaking of loitering, they don't mind if you do
Ever. You'll find Japanese people hanging out and loitering inside convenience stores reading magazines, or using wifi. Also...
14) They have free wifi that anyone can use
This is a great place for visitors to Japan to get free wifi if for some reason you didn't purchase pocket wifi (see my post on that here) or a new SIM card upon arrival, and is a great place for locals to use it as well.
15) They have their own private brands
All of the larger convenience stores in Japan have developed their own high quality brands of foods and products.
16) Most importantly, in my opinion, their coffee bars are actually pretty good...
While your options for coffee are pretty basic in many Japanese places (think black coffee or lattes), it tastes worlds better than the stuff that comes out of the American machines. I love my country, but American convenience stores just cannot hold a candle to those in Japan!