[From May Issue 2010]
“Konbini” or “convini” is the Japanese short form for convenience stores, the system of which was imported from the USA. They open from early morning to late at night, some remaining open for 24 hours. Japanese convenience stores do more than just sell daily items – they also provide a variety of other services.
One of them is an Automatic Teller Machine (ATM). Besides making deposits, withdrawals or bank transfers, you can also use them to pay your monthly gas, water and electricity bills. A photocopy machine is usually available, and you can also purchase movie and special event tickets there.
The peculiarity of Japanese convenience stores is the high volume of lunch box (bento) purchases, which can account for 40% of a store’s total sales. The lunch boxes range from sushi to noodles to sandwiches, but among all edible items, onigiri is number one. However, you can not see an onigiri’s ingredients, and there is no written English description.
If you want your lunch box or onigiri warmed up, at the counter just say, “Atatamete kudasai,” and the staff will heat your food into their microwave. There is also a large, hot and cold beverage selection, offering colas, teas, coffees, Japanese tea, alcohol and drinks made with nutritional supplements.
In Japan there are some convenience stores that do not sell alcohol or cigarettes, outside of which there is usually a sign reading “酒、たばこ.” And, while the Japanese are fond of beer, the newest trend is for both low-malt and dai-san beers (beers made without highly-taxed barley). Furthermore, with more restaurants turning non-smoking, convenience stores have set up ashtrays for smokers next to their outdoor trash containers.
Other store amenities include a magazine corner, personal hygiene items such as tooth brushes and health masks, and umbrellas for sudden downpours. Thus, convenience stores provide all kinds of goods and services necessary for daily life.