The Konbini or 7/11

The Konbini or 7/11

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Japan and Convince Stores are awesome!

The 7/11’s, Larson’s, and  Family Marts are everywhere and unlike in the US where they are not pleasant places to eat from, in Japan they are really pretty good places to eat and stock up on stuff. These stores are competing with vending machines in Japan so they have to be reasonable and they have to have value.

There are some really good things about these places when you are moving around town and don’t have time to stop for a sit down lunch, you can pause into a small store and pick up something really tasty. The cost for everything is really good and you should at least stop and wander in them for a bit. They have a lot to offer and it’s nothing like a 7/11 in the states I assure you, plus it’s a good value for what you are getting. 2 liters of water for 100 YEN, that in the US would cost you $3 – 5. Little lunches for 300 – 700 YEN too….so don’t over look these little gold mines of hospitality and goodness!

There are the big three in Japan. You will find them every few blocks in Tokyo. They are in fact everywhere. Here are some of the things you can do:

Pay Bills
Every Japanese bill has a bar code. Take it to the konbini and you can pay your car, Internet, heat and/or gas bills. They stamp it and you keep the peel-off section as a receipt.

This is great because Japanese banks hate every business transaction. To cut their workload, they close their ATMs at 5 p.m., bank branches at 3 p.m. daily and have an habitual need for more forms, IDs and stamps than you will ever remember to bring.

The only things banks like less than customers are their own employees, who spend 3 p.m. to midnight manually counting all the money in the vault. This is exceptionally cruel given how little money goes in and out of a bank.

Aside from the Post Office, the konbini is the only place you will be able to use an international ATM. The machines are open, often 24 hours, with a small fee (typical to American ATMs) for use during non-standard hours (roughly 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.).

Buy Baseball Tickets
You can buy baseball tickets – and airline tickets, and anything else with tickets – at a konbini kiosk with a touch-screen, provided you can navigate the dense maze of kanji, hiragana and useless icons. These machines save you and the konbini clerks time until some idiot like me comes in and can’t figure out what to do.

 

Get edible food
The konbini has a range of American-style junk food: Hot dogs, chicken nuggets, french fries and deep-fried octopus balls. The aisles are lined with potato chips, candy and squid jerky. The fried stuff is served hot and somehow the clerks make it go away if it starts to look disgusting. If you like dried-up, shriveled fries or chicken coated in coagulated grease, stick to America.

But what’s shocking is the array of fresh salads, sushi and sandwiches lining the outside walls. I get onigiri, a salad and a sandwich, sushi or noodles and always feel pretty good about what I’m eating. They rotate the choices out by season and a couple of things change every week.

It’s almost as if the store wants you to be healthy and enjoy your food. It’s sad that something so basic inspires culture shock.

Pick up your mail
A lot of shopping in Japan is through sites such as amazon.co.jp or rakuten.co.jp. But since the post office only delivers three or four times a day, maybe you need more options.

The konbini will serve as a temporary address for your packages so you can get your stuff while paying your bills, reading magazines and buying tickets to Disney Land.

Get Choudo’d
This is a game invented by a friend of mine. It involves handing exact change to the convenience store clerk. Your goal is to get the clerk to acknowledge that you have exact change – “choudo.”

It’s not hard. When you pay in exact change, anywhere, the clerks get really excited about it. “Choudo, desu ne?” (“It’s just right, isn’t it!”). Every so often we decide to strive for the rank of Choudo King, paying in exact change whenever possible.

Sometimes you don’t get choudo’d, sometimes you do. Whoever gets the most “Choudo” acknowledgement in a week is the Choudo King.

What you can’t do
A kind of absurd list via Wikipedia:

  • Lottery Tickets (These are sold by street vendors or outside of department stores)
  • Slurpees (These are gross and no one wants them)
  • Gasoline (Sold in dedicated gas stations, probably because Japanese people are sensitive to food tasting like exhaust fumes).

Why are konbinis so awesome?
I’ve already mentioned one of the amazing things about Japan: The post office delivers three to four times a day. This is the Japanese principle of “maximum participation” at work.

Maximum participation means full employment. If it takes two-to-three shifts for truck drivers to deliver food from distribution centers to the stores then that’s great for everyone. (Many konbinis even have a dedicated shift in which the person, when not stocking/cleaning, simply stands behind the cashier to heat meals in the microwave, or fetch cigarettes).

This explains why you’ll often see one brand of store clustered together in a small area. One truck can drive to all those stores and restock the shelves with fresh food throughout the day at a reduced cost, taking notes on what’s selling so they can expect sales for the next day. They make exactly as many salads as necessary.

This is weird because I’ve noticed, in a bout of consumer paranoia, that my purchases have a direct impact on what’s stocked. In my first few days in Japan I’d buy an egg salad sandwich when I saw one, but it was usually sold out. Within a week, there were two on the shelves every day.

The glory of the konbini is a nod to Japan’s exceptional customer service and, more to the point, Japan’s expectations of exceptional customer service. Japanese customers don’t have a high tolerance for shit. If a brown salad was covered in exhaust fumes and shriveled tomatoes, they just wouldn’t eat it.

With all due respect to my beloved homeland, I wonder why so many Americans tolerate, and pay for, lousy salads, service and systems.

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