Convenience Stores in Japan (konbini)
The convenience store. It's what makes modern life so, well, convenient right? Almost every inudstrialized country in the world has their own version of the convenience store, but few can match the convenience of the Japanese convenience store, or "konbini" as it's called.
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Konbini are every where here in Japan. It almost seems like a rule, that every city block must have at least one convenience store. It's not uncommon to have 4 or more of the same convenience store in a 1 km radius. This may seem excessive, but in Japan the amount of people crammed into one city block is high enough to support this saturation of convenience stores.
A typical trip to the konbini:
Despite the fact that it has just about everything you need in everyday life, the quality of the goods offered is high. A simple observation I made imeddiatly upon entering my first konbini was that compared to american 711's and AM PM's, the Japanese counterparts had much more delicious looking food for sale. Instead of old taquittos and hotdogs that had been sitting out for the last 24 hours, the food in a konbini is constantly kept fresh or disposed of. They manage to halt waste by having a highly tuned supply train to help keep things stocked and optimally fresh. The fried chicken sandwhiches and the hotdogs are never kept to long.
Konbinis also have great "bento" or boxed lunches, which are also kept constantly stocked. Sushi can also be had, so for I have not be disappointed with convenience store sushi.
A new role that konbinis have begun filling is that of bakery. Convenience stores in Japan are now starting to offer expensive high end cakes and deserts complete with fresh fruit toppings. The few times that I've splurged and gotten some desert, I've found that it can easily compete with top bakeries and patisseries.
Convenience stores in Japan also act as a place to pay your bills. It won't cost you anything extra. I pay my gas and phone bill through konbinis on a monthly basis. It's really convenient, fast, and especially useful for foreigners who can't speak Japanese. All one has to do is take his or her bills to their local store, give them to the cashier, and then pay in cash the amount that's wrung up. The cashier then stamps the bill and gives it back to the customer as a record of their payment. Most importantly, it doesn't cost anything extra.
If you plan in advance, you can buy tickets for almost anything and pay less. Simply go into your local convenience store and head to the ticket machine. Often enough they work in English, but if not you can usually ask the staff for help. The ticket machine allows you to buy tickets up front for many events, movies, concerts, and theme parks at a reduced price. Some convenience stores close to the theme parks feature extra discounts on tickets or in store discounts on other goods if you show that you just bought a ticket through their store. I've gotten tickets to Universal Studios Japan and the Osaka aquarium at 10% off. It doesn't sound like much, but consider that the higher end tickets for USJ can cost nearly $100, that's quite a lot of savings.
If you visit Japan, convenience stores will become your main source of cash. For whatever reason, there are few ATMs in Japan that dispense cash for foreigners. This can be a problem until you learn that convenience stores, which are open 24/7, have ATMs that can handle international interactions. Not all konbinis are created equal though. The ones that I've had success with are 711 and AMPM both of which exist in America as well. Beware, you will be charged a fee for each transaction so I recommend withdrawing a large sum all at one time rather than withdrawing a small amount several times. Don't worry, pickpocketing and petty crime rates in Japan are very low. Transactions in Japan are still very much based on cash, and so most Japanese people carry a lot of money on them at all times. Don't be afraid to follow their lead!
Spill some soy sauce on your dress shirt and you have a huge meeting coming up? Well head to the konbini and pick up a new dress shirt. You can find a nicely packaged dress shirt for about 10 bucks that will get you through the day. You can also get all your make up and hairstyling products there.
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