Translated by Takuya Erik Watanabe
The 3 Major Convenience Store Chains In Japan
Written by Inubushi Yoshiyuki
Find out more about Japan's major convenience store chains - Seven-Eleven, Lawson, and FamilyMart! Not only are they a great source of souvenirs and Japanese products but they are also useful if you need to use an ATM or reserve tickets.
Japan's Convenience Stores - A Brief Introduction
Japan's convenience stores (called konbini in Japanese) offer not only grocery items, but also daily necessities and even magazines. In addition, customers can perform payments, use a copy machine, reserve tickets for the stage or museums, send letters and packages, use an ATM, and much more! These stores are truly convenient, and you can find almost anything you could want, all in one place.
Currently, there are over 50,000 convenience stores in Japan. They are literally everywhere, so they are perfect for shopping during your trip. But some travelers seem to wonder which convenience store to go to, just because there are so many to choose from.
We'll introduce the features that convenience stores have in common, and then we'll focus on the distinctive characteristics of Japan's three most popular convenience store chains: Seven-Eleven, Lawson, and FamilyMart.
Shopping, ATMs, Postal Services, and More! Common Features of Convenience Stores
In addition to selling food products and daily necessities, convenience stores offer a wide range of services that make them irreplaceable in the daily lives of the locals.
All convenience stores are provided with copy machines that can also be used for printing or scanning documents. You can even print out photographs if you bring the digital photo data on a memory stick, CD or another type of device.
A device that can be used for all types of ticket reservations is usually located near the copy machine. If you're looking for tickets to a certain event, exhibition, museum or performance, look it up using the ticketing device and reserve your ticket. What's more, you can perform the payment on the spot and even get your ticket right away.
If you need to send a letter, a parcel, or even luggage to the airport, you can do that at any convenience store. Just ask the staff for assistance and they will swiftly answer your needs.
Convenience stores are usually provided with ATMs. Most credit card brands can be used at these ATMs for cash withdrawals.
Some of the wider stores even have an eat-in area with chairs and tables where customers can rest for a while and have a drink or a light meal. Microwave ovens and electric kettles are available for those who wish to warm up their food or add some boiling water on their instant ramen.
Now, let us introduce to you the distinctive features of the most popular convenience store chains in Japan.
1. Seven-Eleven - High-Quality Private Labels
First up is Seven-Eleven. Seven-Eleven is known to be Japan's first convenience store, and as of March 2016, it boasts the highest number of stores in Japan. Its private label, Seven Premium, is known for its rich variety of products and high quality that is even comparable to specialty stores.
This White Fromage (153 yen without tax) is especially popular. It's a baked cheesecake with a characteristic smooth texture and rich cream cheese flavor. To name a few more of their specialty products, the Hand-Rolled Tuna Mayonnaise roll (102 yen without tax) and Salad Chicken (195 yen without tax) are also quite popular.
You can distinguish Seven Premium products from others by the bright Seven-Eleven logo on them.
If you're into hot foods, Seven-Eleven is famous for its Fried Chicken (175 yen without tax). Its meaty but crispy taste will leave you craving for more, and the fact that it's boneless is also a plus.
In addition, you can withdraw money from bank accounts in and outside of Japan at the Seven Bank ATM. Their ATMs are very convenient when you're in need of some cash in a hurry.
2. Lawson - The Pioneer of High-Quality Konbini Sweets
Lawson is known to handle products that have a fashionable design and are good quality. It is especially popular for its health foods and desserts.
Famous for their outstanding desserts, Lawson even has their own brand called UchiCafé SWEETS.
One of Lawson's signature desserts is the Premium Roll Cake (143 yen without tax). The quality of this cream-filled sponge cake is so high that it's hard to believe it's sold at a convenience store.
The Karaage-kun (200 yen without tax) is fried minced chicken meat. It's bite-sized and easy to eat, not to mention that it's delicious. Other than the standard types, they are always offering new, different and unusual flavors that customers never get tired of.
Other than the stores with the regular blue sign, Lawson has other stores with different focuses. Natural Lawson is popular among women for its wide variety of healthy foods. Lawson Store 100 offers perishables and daily necessities at a low price, from 100 yen up.
The number of concept stores have been increasing in large cities like Tokyo and Osaka, so we recommend checking them out if you find one.
3. Family Mart - Hot Foods You Should Definitely Try
FamilyMart is best known for one of its fried chicken snacks, the FamiChiki (158 yen without tax). It's so popular that many people go to FamilyMart just for the FamiChiki. The tenderness, the juiciness, and crispiness of this snack are all factors in its popularity. Because it's customary for the Japanese to eat fried chicken at Christmas, FamilyMart's FamiChiki is very convenient during the holiday season.
If you go to FamilyMart, you also have to check out the Oreno series. This series consists mainly of desserts and offers various types of large-portioned foods. Also, some stores even have a special corner for MUJI products.
Enjoy Shopping at Japan's Convenience Stores
There are various other convenience store chains in Japan besides those that we introduced today. Some can only be found in the countryside, and each of them has its own special qualities.
Even the rice balls (onigiri) have unique ingredients or flavors, so we encourage you to taste and compare them yourself. If you see a convenience store in town, there's no reason not to stop by!