Convenience stores – known as konbini in Japanese – can be found all over Japan. There are more than 50,000 konbini across the country! You can’t walk for longer than a minute in Tokyo without passing at least one of these Japanese stores.
There are numerous convenience stores to choose from, but three major operators stand at the top of their game: 7-Eleven, Family Mart, and Lawson.
Between these three chains, competition is so high that new and innovative products are constantly being developed, they have high-quality customer service, and most stores are open 24 hours a day and seven days a week!
Convenience stores are aptly named for the vast number of services they offer. They can be a traveler’s best friend as they can offer so much more than a cheap lunch alternative and a midnight snack.
Find Onigiri, Bento Box and Beer in Japanese Konbini
One of the primary features of Japanese convenience stores is the extensive selection of meals, snacks, and sweets they offer for reasonable prices.
They can range from onigiri (rice balls), sandwiches, bento boxes (the well-known Japanese lunch boxes containing rice, meat or fish, and vegetables), chips, chocolate such as odd flavored Kit Kats, desserts, cup noodles, microwave meals, and hot foods like fried chicken, steamed pork buns and yakitori (grilled chicken skewers).
These stores also offer an overwhelming variety of hot and cold beverages, including tea, coffee, fizzy drinks, water, juice, sports drinks, milk, smoothies, and vitamin drinks. They also offer alcoholic beverages, including beer, sake, whisky, and wine.
On top of this, each store will offer seasonal and limited-edition products. During the springtime, you’ll find an array of cherry blossom-themed drinks like the Sakura and Matcha Latte from Starbucks or small bottles of sake with cherry blossom petals floating inside the bottle. In October, adorable Halloween-themed cakes and desserts line the shelves.
Most recently, in celebration of the film Toy Story 4, 7-Eleven has been offering limited edition Little Green Men manjuu (a steamed bun filled with red bean paste)!
Convenience Stores are also to Stock Up on Daily Essentials
Of course, everyday items are also available in Japanese konbini, including detergent, health and beauty products, batteries, umbrellas, newspapers, magazines, and manga. They even have ties, socks, shirts, and underwear for tight spots or to cover the previous night’s out with friends.
Some bathrooms are open to public use. You don’t need to purchase anything to be able to use their toilet.
ATM & International Banking
One of the most surprising things about Japan is that it’s still a cash-based society for a tech-obsessed country. Even with banks, only a selected few will accept foreign credit and debit cards for cash withdrawals. There are still some smaller establishments that won’t take credit cards (Japanese bank cards included).
Fortunately, many convenience stores with ATMs now accept foreign cards. These ATMs often have an English language option so withdrawing cash is quick and painless. Seven-Eleven is a common go-to for travelers to withdraw cash for cheap transaction fees.
Paying Bills and Making Payments at a Konbini Store
Mainly locals and foreign residents benefit from this service, but it’s still worth mentioning. Convenience stores accept bill payments for most Japanese utility companies.
When receiving a bill, take it to your nearest Japanese convenience store, hand it to the clerk and pay the requested amount. The store then notifies the utility company that the bill has been paid. Generally, electricity, water, gas, internet, and mobile phone bills can be paid in these different stores: 7-Eleven, Family Mart, or Lawson.
Note that you usually have to pay these utility bills in cash, so don’t forget to withdraw money from the ATM beforehand.
Amazon Japan has the option to pre-pay through a convenience store. This is a valuable feature for travelers that are constantly on the move.
You can pay for your desired item in Tokyo and arrange to have it delivered by the time you’re in Osaka! Another handy feature is that Amazon bills can also be paid in-store.
Extensive Booking Services
While walking into your nearest Lawson or 7-Eleven store, you may have noticed a poster for an upcoming sumo tournament or a Studio Ghibli art exhibition. One of the best services available at convenience stores is their extensive booking services.
You can buy tickets for theme parks, concerts, museums, sports matches, and art exhibitions. You can even book plane tickets (mainly domestic flights) and a seat on a highway bus for longer journeys.
You can book your tickets on these machines, usually located near the ATM. Scroll through the menu, select your booking, and the device will print out a receipt. Take it to the cashier to pay for it, and you’ll then receive your tickets! They’ll often have an English language option.
These machines are packed with options and events, so if you ever need help finding what you’re looking for, you can always have the staff on hand. They may not be able to speak English, but they’re always happy to help you out!
Konbini’s Photocopy and Printing Service
This might be due to the more compact-sized houses, but it’s not common for households in Japan to have a computer with a printer and scanner as they take up so much space.
Instead, convenience stores have come up with a more economical solution by providing reasonably priced photocopying, scanning, and printing services.
You can print documents directly from a memory card, USB stick, or even from your email account by sending your documents to a specific email address displayed by the machine; then, you just need to enter the given code (received in response to your email in your inbox).
You can print photos either on glossy paper or as a postcard to send off to loved ones back home!
Luggage Delivery Services and More
At many stores, it’s possible to drop off or pick up deliveries, such as parcels or luggage, at a Konbini. This is a fantastic service many travelers and even expats aren’t fully utilizing.
If you’re staying at a hotel or a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), this service is already provided to you as the front desk staff at most establishments can arrange for your luggage to be sent ahead of time.
However, this luggage forwarding service can make getting around the country a breeze for those staying at an Airbnb or at a friend’s apartment.
All you need to do is drop off your suitcase at a convenience store with the Kuroneko Yamato symbol and continue with your travels, knowing that your luggage will be waiting for you at your next destination. The Japanese often use this service to send heavy luggage a few days before travel, knowing it’ll be an easy pick up right at the departure terminal.
For those that don’t speak Japanese, you can check out this guide from Kuroneko Yamato, a well-known and trusted luggage forwarding company in Japan, on how to fill out the forms.
You can also find free wifi at any konbini shop, which is life-saving while traveling in Japan.
Final Thoughts about Konbini Stores in Japan
It’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s possible to live off a konbini in Japan. With an array of services available at one-stop open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, what’s not to love about Japanese convenience stores?
They cover every basic need one could need to live or travel in Japan. They play a massive part in the everyday lives of locals, expats, and travelers.
Common Questions about Convenience Stores in Japan:
Konbini (コンビニ ) means convenience store.
There are more than 50,000 across Japan. The greatest concentration of konbini is, of course, in Tokyo.
The most popular convenience store in Japan is 7-Eleven.