Ever been to a Convenience Store? As they might be very common in Northern America, they tend to be less popular in Europe. In Europe they are less common and usually replaced by a similar types of “Food & Wine shops” in the UK or Gasoline stations in Germany or France. The range is similar to the American counterpart, selling all types of snacks, beverages and magazines. Generally speaking a convenience store is defined as being a shop with extended opening hours (usually 24 hours), stocking a limited range of household goods and groceries.

In Japan however, this business concept is put to a whole new level. Since convenience stores arrived first time in Japan by the arrival of the American franchise “7 Eleven”, many new products and services were introduced. You need a pair of socks or a fresh shirt? Copy something for school or work? Pay your utility bills? Buy a ticket for the upcoming baseball match or Big Bang concert? Or maybe just simply collect your parcel that you ordered for pick up as you have been away from home? – Everything can be organized here!

“Kombiniensu Sutoa” or simply shortened to “Kombini” (コンビニ) can be found throughout Japan. With more than 54.000 Kombinis nationwide, it outnumbers supermarkets and grocery stores by more than four times. There are several Kombini brands with 7Eleven being the largest, followed by Lawson, Family Mart, Mini Stop, Three F and Yamazaki Daily. Japanese-style convenience stores heavily influenced those in neighboring countries, such as Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, and China. Groceries are usually delivered to each store two to five times a day, ensuring the freshness and constant supply popular products.

Each chain has its very own offers, such as Family Mart’s fried chicken (also known as “Famichikin”), Lawson’s called deep-fried chicken nuggets (“Karaage-kun”) or 7-Eleven’s high quality sweets and international credit cards accepting ATM. At all of them the staff will be more than happy to help you, if you got lost and just want to ask for the way. Nowadays Kombinis became an elementary part of Japanese daily life with some even having seating areas, sockets for charging your mobile phone, Wi-Fi access and of course toilets.

Here is a short list of some special services offered:
• Courier and Postal Service
• Copy/Print Service
• Sending/Receiving FAX
• International ATMs
• Pre-paid cards for cellular phones.
• Payment service for Amazon and other internet shops
• Buy Airplane tickets
• Purchase Sports/Music Events tickets
• Free hot water for instant noodles
• Free Microwave to heat up purchased food

Let’s take a look at the original purpose of these stores, the groceries. Of course you can find there some sweets and junk food like anywhere else in the world, but Japanese Convenient stores sticking out with fresh prepared salads and lunch boxes. One of the most popular snacks might be Onigiri (おにぎり), Japanese rice balls. These are hand-sized pucks or triangles of rice that are often filled with pickles, salmon, tuna, etc. They are really delicious and make a great nutritious snack or lunch if you have a few.

Another special thing about beverages in Japan is that there is an abundance of canned coffee and tea bottles, either cold or hot. The hot cans and bottles are placed on heated metal counters that keep them constantly at a high temperature of around 40℃. This is especially good when trying to find temporary shelter in the cold winter days.

Either you are hungry, thursty, lost or just wanna hang out for a while; the Kombini is always a good place to visit when in Japan.