No matter where you live in Japan, in the city or in the countryside, you cannot avoid the ubiquitous presence of konbinis or convenience stores. Here are the top five ways konbinis redefine the meaning of convenience and make life easier:
1. Konbinis have almost everything you might possibly need. You are in the middle of preparing pork chops for tonkatsu when you run out of bread crumbs. Where do you get more? It is bedtime and you spy a cockroach running across your kitchen floor and you know you won't be able to sleep without setting up a cockroach trap. What do you do? Feeling like a cup of freshly brewed coffee but you're out of beans? Just pop into your nearest convenience store. Aside from a well-stocked food, drink and grocery section (and maybe a sophisticated coffee machine), konbinis carry various household, health and hygiene, and leisure goods. Some konbinis sell seasonal items such as fireworks, fishing gear, and camping goods in the summer, fresh flowers during Obon, and steaming hot oden stew in the cooler months.
2. You can pay for almost anything. Electric, gas and water bills can be paid at the convenience store. If your utilities have been disconnected, services resume soon after you make the payment. You can also pay for your mobile phone subscription, airline tickets, concert and game tickets, test fees, and Amazon Japan online purchases. Convenience stores carry an assortment of prepaid cards, and they even have prepaid debit/credit cards you can use for internet shopping.
3. Konbinis can fulfill your office needs. The muliti-purpose machine at most convenience stores can send a fax, photocopy, scan, and print documents and photos. They can handle different paper sizes and do colored printing. These machines are prepared to read many types of data storage. Need to ship off a package and the post office is too far or already closed? No problem. Most convenience stores have partnered with a courier service to handle shipping (ex. 7-11 is partnered with Kuroneko, Family Mart with Hakoboon).
4. Banking is not limited to the short bank hours. Thanks to the ATM at convenience stores, you can withdraw cash anytime. And now, good news to foreigners visiting Japan, you can withdraw Japanese yen with your international cash, credit or debit cards at Seven Eleven ATMs, day or night.
5. Healthy breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner options are available all the time. In other countries, convenience store food options are often limited to junk food and not much more. Not so in Japan. Konbinis carry many healthy meal alternatives from the ready to eat variety, to food that can be easily heated in a microwave or stovetop. The options are not short of vegetables and fruits either.
It is amazing how much can be packed into a small store. Need something? Check out your nearest convenience store and you can probably find it.