After vending machines the thing you‘ll find the second most often in Japan are probably convenience stores. There are actually over 42‘000 of them and you will be certainly surprised by their sheer amount. In big cities like Tokyo or Osaka you will see a sign saying 7-Eleven, Lawson or FamilyMart at literally every street corner. In the first few weeks I too was shocked by how many convenience stores there where. But as I continued living here I got used to them more and more. But some questions still remained. Why are there so many convenience stores in Japan? How can they be profitable? In this post I’ll answer all of these questions.
Why Are There so Many Convenience Stores in Japan?
There are so many convenience stores in Japan. In a city like Tokyo or Osaka you can’t walk for more than four minutes without seeing one. And there are two main reasons for why there are so many convenience stores in Japan:
First, Japan is densely populated and cities like Tokyo have a huge population. That means that there are many potential customers in a very small area. So it might seem that there are many convenience stores, but if compare that number to the amount of citizens it isn’t that big.
The second reason lies in their name. The convenience store should be convenient, oubviously. And the more there are the better. Also, for Japanese people convenience stores are an essential part of the neighbourhood. They don’t go there to buy groceries, they go there when they need something. Let’s say it’s 3 a.m. and you need a pair of scissors. You’re life could depend on it. Well the convenience store is there for you.
It’s the same reason why there are so many vending machines in Japan: Japan is all about the convenience.
There’s also the aspect of impulsive buying but in my opinion that’s more a side effect.
Convenience Stores in Japan
First let‘s look at what a convenience store is.
A konbini is basically a very small shop that you‘ll find everywhere in Japan.
They are called コンビニ (konbini) in Japanese and in reality the concept came from the United States but I find the Japanese have made it better.
There are three major brands in Japan, 7-Eleven, Lawson and Family Mart. They are all more or less the same and most people just go to the closest one. That said there are also people only going to their favourite convenience store and competition between the three chains is quite tense. Because of that you’ll often find two different convenience stores right across each other.
What do Japanese Convenience Stores Sell?
Japanese convenience stores sell almost everything. From food to one-day pants to cup-ramen. Japanese convenience stores wouldn’t be as convenient if they didn’t sell all these goods and services. As I said earlier, convenience stores are an essential part of the neighbourhood. People often go there when they need a specific thing. People might go there after work and buy a bento when they don’t have time to cook. I went to various convenience stores and asked what the most popular items were.
Food and Daily Necessities
The most popular item are obviously cigarettes, but right after those comes food. Popular food items are the onigiri (a rice ball) and the Bento (read more about bento). I for example, also often grab lunch at the nearest konbini, in case I didn‘t make a bento myself. Among my friends there are also many buying their lunch at convenience stores.
Besides food you can also find many daily necessities, like pens, paper or charging cables. So you don‘t have to worry in case you forgot to bring your pens to school.
Convenience Store Services
Convenience stores offer many services. Among them are obviously the toilet, but there are also ATMs and copy machines. Convenience stores also function as a post office since you can send letters from there and you can even pay your bills there. But the service I use the most is obviously the toilet, even though it‘s not (always) a toilet straight from the future (read more).
Convenience stores are also the online public place in Japan with trash cans. They also often have an ATM, a copy machine and a machine where you can buy tickets for the Universal Studios Japan for example. Some convenience stores also have an “Eat-in” with chairs and tables for customers to eat their onigiri or bento.
Funny but Useful Items
Besides daily necessities and food convenience stores also have really convenient things available. For example on rainy days you‘ll find umbrellas or in winter you can buy warm scarfs and socks. But there‘s even more.
Let‘s suppose you were on the way to a very important meeting and you spilled your coffee you grabbed at a Konbini before onto your trousers. What would you do? Familymart has the answer with its „1DAY PANTS“! Isn‘t that convenient?