7 Amazing Things from a Japanese Convenience Store You Won't Find Back Home
For the first time, my wife and I are joining forces to complete a collaborative article. Why? Well, as you all probably know, Japan has the BEST convenience stores in the entire world. But what makes them the best? What are those special things about them that you won't find in convenience stores back home?
Kim and I talked it out, and while we could agree on what should make the list, we could not agree on priority order. As a result, we decided that the best thing to do was to let YOU, the reader, decide based on our personal choices. So, without further ado (ladies first):
Kim's Top 3:
Sake with a sippy straw?!
I get it, alcohol isn’t a new concept when it comes to convenience stores - a lot of them around the world will sell some kind of beer, wine, or spirits. Japan convenience stores are no different in that regard - there’s usually a shelf section selling large bottles of sake and other spirits, and the obligatory refrigerator cabinets with various beers and chu-hi cans. and But when I saw these at the convenience store for the first time, I was surprised! It makes for easy (a little TOO easy!) on the go drinking.
I’ve also seen umeshu (plum liqueur - a favorite of mine!) sold in these sippy, juice-box containers. When I do buy them from time to time, I cut the container open and pour it into a glass - I feel like the straw makes it look dangerously like a kids drink!
Surprisingly decent make up, beauty supplies, and even beauty related vitamin drinks
Need a face mask to prevent ageing, some BB cream to give you that smooth looking complexion, or perhaps some face cleanser or moisturizer? The convenience stores here have your back. 7-11 stocks Fancl branded items, which are a well regarded preservative free line of skincare. They have their own free-standing stores in a lot of malls around Japan, and their stuff works really well - so finding it at a convenience store is a surprise. Family Mart has a range of beauty products for sale in their stores that are produced by Muji - and best of all, they sell both full size versions and mini travel sized bottles. The travel sizes are perfect if you realize you've forgotten to pack face wash or another toiletry item for your vacation.
There is also a section in just about every convenience store I’ve been to that has a bunch of vitamin drinks - some are for energy, but there are ones dedicated to beauty, too! For instance, there’s a collagen drink that’s produced by the well known Japanese cosmetics brand Shiseido - and despite seeing energy drinks at convenience stores around the world, I’d never in my life seen a beauty drink before!
Everything you need for ramen in a snap
I think this is brilliant, and everywhere needs to think ahead like Japan does. How many times have you bought something to eat from a convenience store elsewhere - and then realized that it wasn’t very convenient at all since you had to go home and heat it up...or maybe you didn’t have the right utensils to eat it then and there?
One of the most popular go-to meals in a hurry here is ramen. Convenience stores here will allow you to buy your ramen cup of choice, and then they have hot water boilers ready to go for you - so that you can just peel back the lid, fill up the cup with boiling water, and wait for those noodles to do their thing. You’ll never have to worry about not having eating utensils either - the staff at the convenience store will be sure to give you chopsticks, or knives/forks/spoons depending on what you purchase.
Adding to that is that a lot of convenience stores now have sitting areas where you can eat your meal - complete with electrical outlet ports at each little booth. So if you’re out and about traveling, but your smartphone (that you’re using to snap pictures and connect to wifi with) has gone dead, you could plug in and charge it up if you needed to!
Mike's Top 3:
If the convenience store has a "T" sticker in the door, it means that it can handle mailing and delivery services. Why does that matter? Well, say you're out in the sticks and you don't want to lug some neat souvenir all the way back to your hotel room--you can go into a convenience store and they will help you prep it for shipment. Oftentimes, the shipment will arrive same day or next day at the basic price.
Convenience Stores also give you a delivery location. So say you really want to order something from Amazon Japan while you are traveling here, but you don't have an address to receive it--you can select to have the item delivered to the nearest available Convenience Store and you can just pick it up there. If you desire, you can even request cash on delivery and simply pay for the item at the Convenience store. This is a major help for travelers who are looking for that special something from Japan but are unable to acquire it from anywhere other than an online store.
For those of you who have been to the Ghibli Museum (or have researched how to go), you may know that the only ways to get tickets are through a travel agency or through Lawson's convenience stores. That is true for a lot of venues and events from Universal Studios Japan (for the Fast Pass) to concerts to movie premieres. This is also a great way for travelers to get tickets on the go, especially if you don't have access to a printer to print out the tickets you purchase online.
If you are interested in purchasing tickets at a convenience store, head to the machine in the corner that resembles an ATM (oftentimes, it is directly adjacent to the ATM). There, the screen will have menu options. Unfortunately, many of the ticketing options are only in Japanese, but don't be bashful about asking for help from the staff who can walk you through the process.
The "Safety Net" Aisle
There's an aisle in every Japanese convenience store that I call the "Safety Net" aisle. It gives you everything you could possibly need for meetings, functions, gifts, etc. Let's say you're visiting Japan for a wedding and you have no idea where to get the proper envelope for a wedding? What if you are going to a workshop with your favorite Japanese artist and you forgot your notebook and pens back in the hotel? What if you wake up in the morning after a long night out on the town and you smell like cigarettes and alcohol and just want a clean shirt? What if your camera's SD card is out of memory and you want to be able to keep snapping pics? The Safety Net aisle has stationery, formal envelopes (for thank yous, weddings, etc.), basic clothing items (t-shirts, underwear, socks, stockings, etc.), electronics staples, and myriad other items. And the best part is: EVERY convenience store in Japan has a Safety Net aisle, so just duck in and prepare to be rescued!
But wait, there's more...
Finally, there is one thing that we both agreed was the most amazing thing you'll find at a Convenience Store in Japan that you can't back home:
Kim is Australian and I am American, and in neither of our home countries would anybody ever utter the words, "What should we do for dinner tonight--want to grab something from the convenience store?" However, we have said that countless times in our time in Japan, especially while we have been on-the-go during travels. Sometimes there won't be any restaurants open due to holidays, or perhaps you don't have the luxury of time on your side. In those cases, you can go to a convenience store and always find something fresh and delicious to each that is relatively healthy for ready-made meals. My go-to option is Katsu-don (pork cutlet and egg over rice) or Mabo-tofu (spicy Tofu over rice), while Kim loves the Spaghetti dishes. You can get it heated up there in the store or take it with you to-go. There are also a number of hot meal items like fried chicken, yakitori (meat on skewers), and oden (various foods boiled in fish broth).
And Kim's Honorary runner up:
Clean bathrooms. Always.
I wish I could say this wasn’t an amazing thing unique to Japan, but if you asked me about the overall state of restrooms elsewhere in the world at convenience stores, my reaction would be that the majority of the times they are BAD - and occasionally you get a good, clean one (and it’s like you hear angels singing from the heavens at that very moment). Japan is the opposite in that regard - I feel like it’s once in a blue moon that you come across a restroom facility that isn’t pristine, but the vast majority of the time they are fabulously clean.
We hope that you’ve enjoyed our take on the amazing things that Japanese convenience stores have that you might not see elsewhere in the world - and we’d love to hear from you if you have any things you’d add to the list from your journeys in Japan!
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