Ah, the Japanese conveniences stores (konbini, コンビニ). Ironically, they are one of my favorite things in Japan (日本). Germany just doesn’t have anything comparable that even comes close to the variety and quality (!) the Japanese konbini offer.
Now, I know that the big-3 convenience stores, namely 7-Eleven, Family Mart and Lawson are all also available in other countries (especially 7-Eleven), but I’ve heard many people say that the Japanese ones are something else.
There are a few smaller ones too but the aforementioned 3 make up the vast majority of convenience stores available. In 2018, 7-Eleven celebrated over 20,000 (!) stores in all of Japan. Together with the other two, Japan has well over 40,000 convenience stores spread throughout the country.
And you can clearly tell! If you walk around in pretty much any city, you’ll find a convenience store around every corner. That’s not an exaggeration! Everyone who’s been to Japan can confirm this.
This is what makes them so great. It is important to know that they are a little more expensive compared to normal supermarkets, but not by too much most of the time. The sheer amount of stores at every imaginable spot makes up for it though.
Although I do recommend doing your planned shopping in a supermarket if you can find one near you to save money in the long run, konbini are the perfect solution for small purchases that you may want to make while actively travelling. Supermarkets are rarer, especially in the outskirts of a city.
Available goods in Japanese convenience stores
Let me get to the actual facts about Japanese konbini:
Even though they are “just” convenience stores, they offer a wide variety of food and beverages:
Anything from snacks, sweets, instant noodles, microwave food, dairy products, alcoholic beverages, smoothies, juices and soft drinks to hot food like fried chicken (Family Mart’s “FamiChiki” is awesome!) or nikuman (肉饅, lit. “Meat bread”, steamed bun filled with pork or beef).
Other than stuff for your belly, Japanese convenience stores also offer a fair amount of household goods or body care products like shampoo, tooth paste or shaving cream. Should you ever run out on something, the nearest konbini has got your back.
ATMs at convenience stores
It wouldn’t be a true convenience store if there weren’t a handful of other services for you to use.
The most important one is easily the ATM that is located in every 7-Eleven store, usually right at the entrance (I will focus on the one from 7-Eleven, since it accepts the most card types compared to the other two big konbini). Here, you can easily withdraw cash with pretty much any type of card. VISA, Mastercard, Maestro, American Express and many others are accepted.
I have used this service many times now with my VISA card and have never had a problem. The ATM is available in many languages including English (and German even!). The translation is spot on.
Getting your cash in Japan
Since the start of 2018, 7-Eleven has started charging a very small fee for withdrawals. It wasn’t there in July 2017 when I first came to Japan, so I was a little surprised at first. It’s really not much though.
If you withdraw 10,000 Yen you will be charged 108 Yen (100 Yen + 8% tax) (0,88€/$1; exchange rates as of February 2019) and for 20,000 Yen it will be 216 Yen (1,76€/$2). This amount is capped here though (at least it was the last time I went to Japan, it might have changed a little since then). The consumption tax in Japan is scheduled to increase to 10% in October 2019, which will also affect these fees (although very little).
With “capped” I mean that if you withdraw 50,000 Yen for example, it will still only cost 220 Yen. I find this fee to be a very minor inconvenience and nothing to worry about.
Important to note is that you need to make sure what fees may apply with your bank. My bank does not charge any fees for withdrawals I make anywhere in the world and I would highly suggest you get such a card as well. You can use these cards at other places as well such as a Postbank at a Japanese post office.
The 100-300 Yen fees a 7-Eleven or other places charge are nothing compared to the fees of a bank where it’s usually something like $5 (base) + 2% of withdrawn amount and maybe even currency conversion fees on top of that.
Another neat thing to note is that 7-Eleven ATMs can also be found at airports or bigger train stations, making it even more convenient.
Other services found in Japanese konbini
Now to the many other service that are offered at convenience stores:
Right next to the ATM you can most often find a so-called multi-purpose terminal. You can book a wide variety of tickets for concerts, events or transportation. The only problem is that most of these terminals are only available in Japanese.
The next service is more for people that actually live and pay utility or insurance bills and the likes in Japan, because you can actually do so at your local convenience store!
Most people traveling to Japan won’t be staying at the same accommodation for long and also won’t be there all the time. Should you ever feel like ordering something within Japan from Japanese websites (e.g. Amazon Japan), you can arrange the delivery to your nearest convenience store. They will accept and hold the package until you pick it up.
My friend actually did this while in Kyoto (京都) and he picked it up at a nearby Family Mart. Make sure to bring the documents/data connected to your purchase. Also, since most convenience store clerks are not necessarily good English speakers, be sure to have some Japanese phrases prepared or to bring a translation app/gadget.
Most convenience stores, especially ones a little farther away from the next train station or major stores, have a toilet in the far back of the store.
Lastly, some konbini have free WiFi available to be used.
As you might be able to tell, I am quite the fan of these Japanese convenience stores. I’m sure you’ll become one too as soon as you actively enjoy their amazing qualities.
They’re the perfect solution for small purchases that you may want to make on the fly without a supermarket in the vicinity.
Ever since my first trip, I don’t concern myself with exchanging money before the trip or even at airports anymore. I get all of my cash at 7-Eleven ATMs.
Let me again clarify that the goods that you get a these convenience stores are not all just cheap stuff or junk food. Most of it has respectable quality and freshness, more so than the products I’m used to in Germany.
Be sure to make the most out of them in times where you could use some convenience. 🙂
That’s it for this post, I hope you enjoyed it!
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Stay tuned for my next post where I am going to kick off our next city travel guide for Osaka (大阪)!
See you there!