Perhaps one of the most beloved fixtures in Japanese culture is the konbini (convenience store). If you ask anyone who’s lived in Japan for a period of time about the first word that comes to mind when you say konbini, you’ll get a few common responses - Seven-Eleven, Lawson, Family Mart, obento (boxed meals), bread, nikuman (steamed meat buns) and many more.
But convenience stores are more complex, and locals visit these stores for way more than just a few food and drink options at cheap prices and accessible locations. This konbini guide introduces you to all you need to know about convenience stores in Japan; get ready to have your mind blown by all the services these 50,000+ stores have to offer.
Konbini Chains and Their Most Popular Food Items
1. Seven-Eleven (7-Eleven)
7-Eleven boasts more than 21,000 stores in Japan, making it the largest convenience store chain in Japan.
7-Eleven is most known for, well, everything really. Like every other chain, it offers fresh sandwiches, including the famous egg sandwich and various fruit sandwiches, but many believe that 7-Eleven sandwiches are of the highest quality and taste. It also offers one of the best selections of baked goods. Some pastries you might want to try are their donuts, for example their matcha-flavored mochi ring donut, or their pancakes.
For drinks, 7-Eleven’s all about delicious, high-quality drinks at affordable prices. Many coffee lovers swear by 7-Eleven’s coffee: aside from their regular section of hot or iced black coffee and lattes, they’ve recently begun promoting a premium coffee made with Colombian beans. What makes it even better is that these coffees are priced anywhere between only ¥140 to ¥290.
If you’re looking for a pick-me-up or a quick breakfast, 7-Eleven is definitely the chain for you.
2. Family Mart
Next on the list is Family Mart, another favorite among locals and tourists alike. With around 16,500 locations in Japan, it’s the second-largest convenience store chain in Japan.
Family Mart’s fried chicken is a mind-blowing experience. You’d expect a convenience store’s fried chicken to be dry, bland, and definitely not fried. But this adorably-named, 2-dollar Famichiki is an explosion of flavor - it’s juicy, tender, and tastes like it originated from a fried chicken specialty shop. Since last year, customers can even choose to turn a simple boneless chicken into a fried chicken sandwich with only an 80-cent top-up.
FamiMa also seems to offer the widest variety of Japanese-style bentos for the cheapest prices amongst all other konbini chains. This is, of course, subject to when and which branch you’re going to, but chances are you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Whether it’s a quick snack or a full meal, FamiMa has a delicious selection of products for you.
The last of the ‘Big Three’ convenience store chains in Japan is Lawson.
Most people identify Lawson’s best-known product as their Karaage-kun, which can be literally translated to fried chicken. These small fried chicken bites come in four different flavors, but special seasonal flavors are introduced from time to time.
Lawson’s premium roll cakes are also immensely popular in Japan - they come packaged as individual slices, or as a full cake with 6 slices, and a variety of flavors are available.
Recently, Natural Lawson, a sister branch of Lawson, has been gaining popularity in Japan. As its name suggests, the products it sells are similar to that of a regular Lawson, except that these products are usually made of more natural or organic ingredients. Following this concept, Natural Lawsons have a bakery section where fresh, high-quality bread is sold everyday.
Bread, fried chicken, you name it - no matter what you want, there’s a Lawson that has what you need.
From here on out, we’ll dive into lesser-known convenience stores in Japan. Just because they’re not mentioned or seen as often doesn’t make them any worse - in fact, you’ll find that they may just be hidden gems.
When we talk about Ministop, it’s all about their soft serve ice cream. It’s the only convenience store that sells freshly made soft serve ice cream. All stores offer a standard vanilla flavor in a cup or cone, but some stores offer seasonal flavors (such as mango or mont-blanc in the past). At some stores, you can even order an extravagant parfait or a sundae!
If you’re craving an ice cream but just can’t seem to find an ice cream specialty shop, you know where to go.
5. Daily Yamazaki
Owned by Japan’s biggest baking company, Yamazaki Baking, Daily Yamazaki is most popular for, you guessed it, fresh bakes.
In most stores, Daily Yamazaki’s fresh bread and pastries are made daily and in-house. Their most popular items include the classic melonpan, or their own freshly-baked egg salad sandwich. You’ll want to take note, though, that only stores with the sign ‘Daily Hot’ sell fresh bakes in-house - for others, bread is sold, but they’re in standard packaging delivered from central bakeries.
If there’s a Daily Yamazaki near where you’re staying, rejoice - you pretty much have a 24-hour bakery and convenience store in your vicinity.
Last on the list is NewDays. Owned by JR East, these convenience stores can only be found in JR East stations, making them an extremely convenient stop for those traveling via Shinkansen.
The most popular product sold at NewDays is their Jumbo onigiri (rice balls), offered in the three flavors of ume shisho (Japanese pickled plum and perilla leaves), takana mentaiko (Japanese pickled vegetables and spicy cod roe) and spicy kaarage (fried chicken) mayo. Priced between ¥160 and ¥180, they’re extremely affordable and will make a perfect snack for your high-speed rail journey.
In line with the travel and transport company image, NewDays also sells a variety of snacks representing different regions - for example, cinnamon-crusted apples from Aomori, apricot mochi from Nagano, and Ibaraki’s sweet potato chips.
Again, if you’re looking for something to chew on during your journey, you’ll be spoilt for choice (and you’ll get to explore different prefecture’s famous snacks!) at NewDays.
Other Things You Can Find at Convenience Stores
The ‘convenience’ in convenience stores don’t just refer to quick snacks and ready-made meals, but also how you can find literally everything you need in one store.
1. Daily necessities
Daily necessities in a Japanese convenience store literally means everything you need to live day-to-day. Convenience stores sell toilet paper, soap, detergent, first aid kits, vitamins, dress shirts, socks, stockings, umbrellas, garbage bags, stationery - the list is so long, you won’t be able to believe it till you see it yourself.
Just know that if you need anything at any time of the day, chances are you’ll find what you need at a konbini near you.
2. Magazines, books, manga
One of the first things you usually see when you walk into a convenience store is their magazines and manga shelf. You’ll find monthly manga magazines and regular monthly magazines here - think Monthly Shonen Jump and Nakayoshi, or Tokyo Weekender and GQ Japan. You’ll sometimes also find cute merchandise being advertised or displayed at this same shelf – this is because these products come as a ‘free gift’ with the purchase of a specific magazine.
3. Chargers and electronics
For travelers, one of the most important things sold at convenience stores is chargers and electronics. You’ll be able to find global adaptors, various types of wires that can connect to a variety of electronics, earphones, and a variety of other electronics. If you need a quick replacement, don’t fret – similar to when you encounter any problem on your travels, just visit your nearest convenience store.
Of course, you’ll be able to find a huge variety of cigarettes at any convenience store. You’ll find all the different brands of cigarettes available displayed above the counter, with each brand labeled with a number. All you have to do is point at the cigarette, let them know which brand you want via its corresponding number, and pay.
Other Services Offered at Convenience Stores
At this point, you might be thinking, ‘There’s still more to this guide?’. The answer is yes. Convenience stores in Japan don’t just stop at selling stuff - they offer a variety of other services as well.
Most convenience stores have ATMs located within them. Notably, all 7-Eleven ATMs accept foreign credit and debit cards, so you can withdraw money from them without a hitch.
2. Reserving and purchasing tickets
Some konbini have ticketing machines that allow you to reserve, purchase and print tickets for theme parks, buses, concerts, and more. You can also use these terminals in various languages, so don’t be too worried if you can’t read Japanese.
3. Public-use toilets
You’ll also be able to find public-use toilets in most convenience stores. You won’t have to worry about needing to buy or pay for anything before using them – you can just walk right in and use them. Just remember to be a considerate user!
4. Free Wi-Fi
We all know the feeling of desperately needing Wi-Fi when your data’s running out, or the family member who’s holding on to your portable Wi-Fi is running wild. Most convenience store have you covered on this front, too. With a simple and quick registration online, you’ll have unlimited access to free, high-speed Wi-Fi.
Most convenience stores also have a super printer for public use. For a small fee, you’ll be able to scan, fax, photocopy and print documents in black & white, color, single-sided or double-sided. You can bring your own USB stick or upload documents over the web. You no longer have to go to a ward office to receive official documents, like your residence certificate or your family registry, anymore – you can just have them printed directly from a convenience store’s copy machine.
6. Paying bills
At this point, you’re probably not even surprised to hear that you can pay bills at most convenience stores. Electricity, gas, water – no matter the bill, they’re payable at the convenience store just round the corner.
7. Sending or receiving packages/mail
No need to fret if there aren’t any postal offices or boxes near your house, just post your mail from a convenience store. And if it’s inconvenient to have your mail delivered to your house, have it delivered to a convenience store instead, where you’ll be able to pick it up at your own time and convenience.
Common Phrases You’ll Hear, and How to Respond
You have everything you need and it’s finally time to check out – but you don’t understand and/or aren’t sure how to respond to some of the questions the cashier seems to be asking you. This section will run through the few common questions you’ll be asked, as well as how to politely respond.
1. For regular purchases
a. Do you have a point card? Pointo kaado wa omochi desu ka? ポイントカードはお持ちですか？
b. Do you need a bag? Fukuro wo goriyou desu ka? 袋をご利用ですか？
No: Daijoubu desu.
2. For when you buy bentos
a. Would you like this to be heated up? Obento kochira atatamemasu ka? お弁当こちら温めますか？
No: Daijoubu desu.
b. Do need cutlery? Ohashi wa otsukai ni narimasu ka? お箸はお使いになりますか？
No: Daijoubu desu.
3. For when you buy cigarettes/alcohol
a. (To confirm your age,) please press this button. Botan o oshite kudasai / Gamen no tacchi wo onegai shimasu. ボタンを押してください ／ 画面のタッチをお願いします。
Please note that the legal smoking and drinking age in Japan is 20 years old. You won’t be required to produce an ID most of the time unless you look underage, but you will be required to press the age verification button whenever you buy any alcohol or tobacco products.
There are a few other phrases that convenience store clerks may use, but these five are the most important and common questions you’ll hear when purchasing your items. You can read more about common questions you’ll hear at shops in Japan, suitable answers and other useful phrases you’ll need to get around in our Japanese Survival Phrases Guide here.
Some say that konbini are a cornerstone of living in Japan, and for good reason. As this guide outlines, convenience stores in Japan offer a host of services to all patrons, and tourists will find themselves visiting a konbini at least once. If exploring regular convenience stores isn't enough, you’ll find quite a few unique (and extremely aesthetically pleasing) convenience stores scattered throughout Japan.