10 Reasons Why Japanese Convenience Stores Are Actually Convenient

The three konbini mainstays you’ll find in Okinawa.

Japan is full of surprises–one of the better ones is the local konbini (コンビニ, short for konbiniyensu sutoa), which hands down kicks the ass of any 7-11 back home. There’s so much you can actually get done at them! Here are just 10 of those things.
1.   You can pay your bills there!

Because my Japanese is still atrocious, there’s a ton of mundane daily crap that’s 10x harder for me to take care of here than back home. Luckily, paying my bills isn’t one of them! When my gas, electricity, and internet bills arrive in my mailbox every month, all I have to do is take them to my local konbini and hand them to the checkout person. He or she simply totals everything up (including any other purchases you’re making–you can also pay more than one bill at once), you give them the cash, and you’re done! No having to write and mail in a check (errrrr Japan doesn’t have checks), no having to set up an automatic debit from my bank account. It’s SO easy. I haven’t a clue as to how the money actually ever makes itself to the appropriate company, but as long as it’s out of my hands and taken care of by the time I step foot out the store, I really don’t care!

2.   You can pay for plane tickets!

In your home country, buying plane tickets online is a snap since all you need is a credit card. However, using my American credit card here charges me an annoying 3% foreign transaction fee every time, which I’d rather avoid. Rather than forcing foreigners to acquire a Japanese credit card (which is difficult to do… I know because I’ve tried), Japanese airlines give you the option of reserving your tickets online, and then actually paying for them at any konbini. I simply print or write down my ticket confirmation info, bring it into a store, drag a staff person over to a touch-screen thing that could otherwise be easily mistaken for an ATM to help me figure out how to access my flight info on it (which I’ve tried to do on my own before and failed miserably), and dish out the corresponding amount of yen at the register. Again, I don’t know how or why this works exactly, but I don’t worry about it because IT DOES.

3.   You can buy concert tickets!

And probably a whole bunch of other random stuff that I don’t know about. You just have to find it on that same magic machine mentioned above. Seriously. So simple.

4. You can get money from the ATM without paying a service fee, no matter what your bank!

Though the same limited “ATM hours” apply here as they do at banks (meaning after 6:30pm you pay a small fee to withdraw funds–by 10 or so, ATMs are shut down completely), it’s not like any random ATM in the States that charges you an outrageous surcharge for taking out money outside of your actual bank. If you use CitiBank back home, you can access that account from konbini ATMs!

5.   They serve as excellent (and sometimes the only) landmarks when giving directions!

Japan doesn’t believe in street names. So if you’re describing to a friend how to get to your house, your directions might sound something like this: “Turn left onto the main road. Keep an eye out for the 2nd Lawsons on your right–my street is the tiny alley across from it. If you hit Coco!, you’ve gone too far!”

6.   You can buy an entire balanced meal there! (Or like, close to one.)

Konbinis sell prepared bentos as well as ala carte items–even veggie dishes!

7.   The workers heat stuff up for you!

It’s been too long since I’ve stepped into an American convenience store to remember whether or not they have microwaves in them, but either way, the konbini trumps–the person at the counter always asks you if you want your onigiri, bento, or other food item heated and does it for you. Baller.

8.   You can eat your meal there!

There’s always a little counter and a few seats somewhere in the store for people popping in to sit and eat at. I assume this is because it’s not ok to walk and eat at the same time in Japan, or so I’ve been told. However, unless you’re a kid (I see my junior high school students eating dinner at the local Family Mart all the time) I wonder whether it is really socially acceptable for a capable adult to be seen stuffing his or her face at a convenience store. Just a thought.

9.   There are more Chu-Hi flavors than you’ll ever find at the grocery store!

Chu-His, the national sweet alcoholic beverage in a can, can be found in a wide variety at the konbini. Even though they’re a bit cheaper at the supermarket, the selection is always better!

10.  You can drink in the parking lot!

And it IS socially acceptable! At least, I hope so…



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