7-Eleven, Family Mart, Lawson… these convenience store names are bound to ring a bell for anyone who travelled to Japan. A daily stop for many Japanese people, “konbini” take your basic convenience store to a whole different level with food, hygiene, electronic and household products, plus newspapers and many services available 24/7.
In fact, the archipelago has more than 55,000 konbini—that’s one convenience store for every 2,000 inhabitants!
Konbini are popular because they stock a huge range of basic products—plus they offer a multitude of services that the average tourist may not even suspect.
Here is a short guide on making the most of this awesome concept that epitomizes convenience!
How did “konbini” start? And how did they get so popular?
The ”konbini” isn’t actually a Japanese invention, but an American one—“konbini” is short for “konbiniensu sutoru,” which sounds a lot like… yeah, “convenience store”!
Convenience stores were supposedly invented in the US after World War II by J.J. Lawson (the name should be or will become familiar once you’re in Japan!). Lawson Inc. immediately noticed the huge potential in Japan, a country with a high population density and presumably a need for convenience. The first “konbini” was a Lawson franchise in the city of Toyonaka in 1975. The parent company went bankrupt in the United States, but the Japanese did market did deliver—Lawson is now one of the leading convenience store franchises in Japan.
So, why did “konbini” become so popular in Japan?
First, when women started joining the workforce, they challenged the traditional family model. Long gone are the days when Japanese women would dedicate their day to making meals, so many Japanese turned to quick and easy breakfast, lunch and dinner options. Enter the nearest “konbini,” with delicious “onigiri” or “agemono” for lunch breaks!
Second, Japanese “salarymen” tend to work long hours with very short breaks, if any. This has led to a growing need for convenience and to-go food.
Third, you will notice that “konbini” employees are generally either very young or older than most people in the workforce. This kind of job offers many Japanese people additional income, and considering the high turnover, there’s always a “konbini” hiring.
Except for buying stuff, what can you do at a “konbini”?
Japan is a modern country but it’s still a cash society, so chances are you will often need to use ATMs for your daily expenses. Typically, “konbini” ATMs offer foreigners two perks—you can switch them to English and you can withdraw yen using your home country bank card (at least, it should work… check beforehand!)
You may be charged a fee (110-220 yen) and it may be higher on weekends—convenience does have a price…
The maximum amount of cash you can withdraw depends on the “konbini” franchise:
- 100,000 yen/day at 7-Eleven ATMs (up to 30,000 yen with an American Express card).
- 100,000 yen/day at Family Mart ATMs
- 50,000 yen/day at Lawson’s ATMs
Pick up packages
Japan Post offices usually close at 3:00 p.m., so you’ll be happy to know that you can buy stamps and pay for letter and parcel postage at “konbini.”
You can also choose to have packages sent to a “konbini” for easy pickup—simply use your preferred “konbini” address when you order. To pick up your package, go to the “loppi” (the red self-service electronic ticket dispensing system) with your “inquiry number” and your “certification number” (your secret code). Enter the information, pick up your printed ticket and bring it to the “konbini” employee, who will give you the package.
Send a piece of luggage
If you want to travel light, you can use the “takkyubin” service to have your suitcase delivered to your next destination or back home. Japan Post is great for parcels up to 6 kg but this service complements it with higher weight limits.
Plan ahead, it can take up to three days to get a piece of luggage delivered. Prices vary according to the size of the item (up to 2,030 yen for 25 kg, the maximum weight accepted).
Interested? Simply fill in a purple form with the sender and delivery addresses, the chosen delivery date and the package contents.
Pay your bills
All types of bills can be paid at a “konbini”—water, gas, electricity, telephone or television.
Bring the bill you received by mail. The employee will scan the barcode on it and take the payment… cash only!
Buy tickets for events, concerts and amusement parks
Many tickets for attractions and activities can only be bought in “konbini.” For example, tickets to the Ghibli Museum are only available for sale once a month in Lawson ”konbini.”
There are two ways to buy event or attraction tickets:
- Using a dedicated self-service machine, like a “famiport” kiosk at Family Mart or a “loppi” kiosk at Lawson. Please note that they are usually in Japanese only.
- Booking online and paying at a “konbini.” This is very useful when you can’t pay online because you don’t have a Japanese bank card. Concert tickets can be purchased on dedicated websites like Eplus or Ticketpia. After booking, you have 48 hours to go to a “konbini,” show the barcode and/or reservation number on the receipt, and pay.
Use a printer
Need to print something? Go to a “konbini,” instructions are in English and it’s only 10 yen a page!
Bring your files (PDF or Jpeg) on a USB key or transfer them through Bluetooth, cable or using the Network Print application.
Printing is available in colour or black and white and you can choose the paper weight.
Scan and fax are also available.
Miscellaneous convenient services
In addition to these various useful services, “konbini” are also the place to go if you need to:
- use the bathroom
- charge your phone
- use WiFi
- do your laundry (in a few Family Mart!)
No wonder Japanese people love “konbini”!