Convenience Stores in Japan
Most towns and cities in Japan have convenience stores (or Konbini in Japanese) on almost every street. Like most things in Japan, even Konbinis have some major differences to convenience stores in western countries such as the UK and the USA. Here are some things you will find in a Japanese Konbini, and what to expect.
Some of the major convenience stores in Japan include 7/11, Family Mart, Sunkus and Lawson. They can be found on many streets, near restaurants and even inside universities.
Like western stores, Konbinis sell food and ready-meals (TV dinners), sometimes named Bento, with a Japanese twist. TV dinners can include katsu curry, various types of noodles, sushi, and sausages with rice.
Nearly all convenience stores also offer a wide variety of Onigiri - balls of rice stuffed with some kind of filling and packaged, usually sold at around 100 yen ($1 US dollar). Some varieties include prawn, tuna, chicken and salmon.
Nikuman means "pork bun". They can usually be found next to the counter in a store. Pork buns are small, soft dough-like buns stuffed with meat, served hot. Various types of man are sometimes sold in stores (depending on the time of day - they're usually freshly made and available in mid-morning), including Anman (a bun stuffed with sweet red bean). Learn more about Onigiri and Nikuman, as well as other Japanese foods, here.
Not only food, but drinks too, are different in Japan. Most convenient stores sell basic soft drinks you would also find in the west, such as Coca Cola, lemonade, fruit juices, water and milkshakes. However, Japan also offers cold drinks such as varieties of tea (green tea being a popular choice) black tea (served cold with added sugar and milk), and unique cold drinks such as Mitsuya cider (non-alcoholic) and "Pocari Sweat".
Alcohol is sold near the soft drinks, and are often sold in individual bottles or cans. You can easily buy one can of several types of beer if you like, or a fruity alcoholic drink such as Chu-Hi, Bacardi, or some kind of whisky with a mixer. Packs of many cans of beer are available too, especially in supermarkets, and you can also buy large bottles of Japanese beer such as Kirin and Asahi.
Comics and Newspapers
Not too different from western convenience stores is the aisle dedicated to newspapers and manga, Japanese cartoon comics. You might find entire series of manga on offer, which might be a good idea to buy if you're studying Japanese. There is also an adult section of these comics and magazines, although they're not very well hidden. Cartoon adult manga is very popular in Japan, so don't be surprised if you see a comic book or magazine with a questionably dressed cartoon woman on it.
The cashier behaves slightly differently to how a cashier might behave in the west. Here are some examples.
- They have a routine of what to say, but you don't have to answer them. "Welcome (irasshaimase!)" which is also said when a customer enters a restaurant. "Thank you (arigatou gozaimasu)" is also one you'll often hear. The cashier will say aloud the amount of money you owe, and will also say the amount you have given him for clarity. He will also state the amount of change he's giving you, and thank you when you leave.
- Put the money on the small tray provided. Don't hand it to the cashier. He will also put your change on the small tray for you to collect.
- If you're buying alcohol, the cashier won't usually ask you for ID. Instead, when he scans the alcohol at the till, a question will pop up on the screen asking if you're above the drinking age (which is 20 in Japan). Click "yes" to continue. This will be in Japanese, however, so if you don't understand it, the cashier will generally just press it for you (unless you look extremely young, in which case you might be ased to provide some ID. It depends on the cashier.)
These are the main things you can find and to expect in a Japanese convenience store. Usually, you can buy some groceries, feed yourself, buy a drink and dessert at one of these stores (although it can be more expensive than going to a supermarket). They're not called "convenient" for nothing.