Photo:Yuya Tamai on Flickr

The Conbini: Japan’s Ultimate Life-Saver

It's 2 o’clock in the morning and you've just finished packing at the last minute for your early morning flight tomorrow. You're about to victoriously turn in for some well-deserved shut eye when you realize three glaring and unfortunate truths. One, you forgot to print some documents you’ll be needing tomorrow at the airport. Two, you do not own a printer. And three, you skipped dinner to finish packing and now you’re starving.

Too late to find a friend to help you out and too early to find a shop or restaurant open at this ungodly hour, what are you to do?

Lawson convenience store seen from outside at night

Hello, is it me you’re looking for?

Photo: ╬ಠ益ಠ) on Flickr

Have no fear for the answer to all of your problems may be just around the corner: your local Conbini.

Walk along any street in your neighborhood and you are sure to find some variation of these omnipresent convenience stores: either a FamilyMart or some derivation of Seven Eleven or Lawson.

The exterior of a Japanese Seven Eleven store

From housewives to businessmen, the Conbini has something for anyone and everyone.

Photo: Craig Anderson on Flickr

Some smaller convenience store chains are Ministop, Daily Yamazaki, and Coco store, though Seven Eleven is currently the most massive franchise, with over 10,000 stores nationwide — which is about 20% of the estimated 55,000 — followed by Lawson and FamilyMart (with about 6,000 stores around the country).

Wide-angle shot of two narrow streets with a Seven Eleven on the corner

“There's 5 convenient stores within a 100 meter radius! 1 Lawson, 2 Family Marts, 1 AM/PM and this Seven Eleven”, says Danny Choo.

Photo: Danny Choo on Flickr

These 24/7 stores are the very definition of convenience. Here you can find the solution to any and every problem concentrated under one roof. Need to print a document for an early morning meeting? Conbini. Hungry and want some instant ramen and bento in the middle of the night? Conbini. Your significant other just broke up with you and you need a couple of six packs immediately to dull the pain? Conbini. (They could even sell you some tissue to wipe away your tears, in bulk — because if you're going to be heartbroken you could at least be heartbroken in a financially practical manner).

Rows of chilled alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks in a Conbini

Don’t you worry, don’t you worry child. The Conbini’s got a plan for you.

Photo: ╬ಠ益ಠ) on Flickr

Besides simple conveniences such as food and drinks, the Conbini is also the place to go for more serious matters such as money withdrawal and payment. Almost all Conbinis have an ATM where you may withdraw money, with Seven Eleven’s Seven Bank even accommodating international ATM cards (for a small fee to cover international access).

A Loppi machine

Loppi — short for Lawson Online Shopping — is an example of a dedicated ticketing machine that may be found in several major Conbini chains.

Photo: Corpse Reviver on Wikimedia Commons

At the Conbini you can easily pay your taxes, national health insurance, or your latest Amazon splurge in the click of a button. Lawson, Ministop, and FamilyMart (and even smaller Conbini chains such as Circle K Sunkus and Seicomart) have dedicated ticketing and payment processing machines to automate the purchase and payment process. These make buying tickets for movies, concerts, sports events — and even booking airline flights using online purchases — just as easy as picking up a bento at the corner store.

Exterior of a Family Mart

The Conbini: the ultimate life-saver.

Photo: Aapo Haapanen on Flickr

Whether you're planning to stay in Japan for five years or five days or a lifetime, you will definitely discover that the Conbini has an answer to any and every problem you may face while living in the country, a testament to Japan's steadfast dedication to the assurance of quality and efficiency. The ubiquitous Conbini will definitely prove its status as Japan's universal life-saver.

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