Go to Japan, and you will undoubtedly notice the glow of a dozen convenience stores, or “konbinis” in every neighborhood. The first konbini to open in Japan was a 7-Eleven in 1976, and now there are 45,307 in the country (as of June). They are open 14 hours a day and receive millions of visits. But while at first glance they don’t seem all that different from an American convenience store, go inside and you begin to spot key differences.
For one thing, the store owners let you read and browse magazines freely, banking on the fact that a reader will eventually buy something else, if not the magazine. Also, unlike American convenience stores, which tend to sell mostly soda, alcohol, and junk food, the konbini provides ready-made “obento” or boxed meals and prepackaged onigiri, as well as some other basic staples like socks or candles.
Of course, konbinis sell plenty of junk food too, but they also tend to specialize, depending on where the konbini is located. For example, a konbini near a school would stock up on stationery, and one near a neighborhood with plenty of foreigners might stock up on more typically Western food, such as sandwiches. Konbinis also often provide a truly unique service: copying and banking. They also can be safe havens for someone escaping trouble on the streets.
Have you ever been in a Japanese konbini? What differences did you notice between it and an American convenience store? Was there anything you particularly enjoyed?
Photos courtesy of Google.