If you’ve been to Japan, there is no doubt that you went to at least one of Japan’s famous ‘konbini’ stores.
For those of you who haven’t been, a konbini is a store that’s always open and stocks a wide variety of daily items. Seven Eleven, Family Mart, and Lawson are the three konbini giants, but it’s not hard to find other franchises, too.
The best thing about a konbini is that you can buy almost anything. Food, drinks, tobacco, magazines, manga, snacks, cleaning products, cooking products, toiletries – the list goes on.
But the real question is, are you making the most of your local Konbini? Here are 10 things you may not have known about.
1. Pay your utility and phone bills.
Personally, I prefer to have it automatically taken out of my bank each month, but you can also choose to pay at your konbini, too. You never know, actually handing over the cash directly might help you lower that expensive summertime air con bills.
2. Buying hot food and bento lunches.
Konbini have a large variety of sandwiches, salads, desserts and bento meals to choose from. A bento meal is a ready-to-eat meal that is often rice-based. If you want to eat it warm, just ask the staff to warm it up for you. If you’re in the mood for something less healthy, you can go to the counter and get foods such as fried chicken, sausages, hash browns, chips, manjū, and a ton of other stuff.
3. Paying for online purchases and concert tickets.
If you buy a product online, you’ll often get the chance to pay for it via konbini. Inside the store, there will be a machine (it’s easily mistaken for an ATM) and use the code you received when you bought the item to print off a ticket. Take it to the counter and you will be charged the same amount as your online purchase. For those who don’t have a debit card, this really comes in handy!
4. Buying garbage collection coupons.
Ever wondered how you are going to get rid of your old bicycle, cupboard, or microwave? No need to go to some far away place – go to your konbini! If you ask for a ‘gomi no ken’ (garbage ticket), it will allow you to throw away garbage at a designated area that’s most likely close to your home. The two most common tickets are the 200 yen tickets and the 500 yen tickets. If you decide to throw something large away, make sure to check with your local council about the size, restrictions, and costs of disposal (a lot of this information is the garbage calendars you get from the town hall). For especially large items, you may have to ring up and choose a day for it to be collected.
5. Buying soft served ice-cream.
I don’t know if all konbini do this, and it may only be in summer, but you can buy soft ice-cream! If you don’t fancy anything from the wide variety of ice-creams in the freezer, ask the staff or look around for displays to see if they are selling soft ice-cream! And as you’d expect of Japan, there’s plenty of flavours to choose from!
6. Topping up your travel cards.
Has your Suica or Pasmo train card ran out of money? Is topping them up in a busy train station too much of a pain? Then go to your local konbini and top it up there! If you’re not sure of how much you have left on your card, feel free to walk in and ask them to check your balance for you.
7. Winning prizes.
When I worked in a konbini, there was almost always some kind of promotion on. A common campaign was if you bought two or three of a particular selection of products, you’d win a collectible keyring, anime product, notebook or something similar. My favourite, however, is the 700 yen lottery. For every 700 yen you spend, you get to pull a raffle out of a box. The hit rate was about 50%, but sometimes you’d have a lump of winning tickets all together. A customer would come in and buy his usual 4200 yen carton of tobacco, and walk out with a whole bag full of goodies that he won!
8. Buying oden and yakitori.
You know winter is coming when you see convenience stores advertising their oden! Oden is a winter food that consists of boiled eggs, radish, fish-cakes, and other ingredients. It’s a great food to warm you up on those winter days!
While in summer, it’s all about yakitori. Yakitori is chicken on a skewer, it sounds simple – but you’d be surprised at how many choices you have. While you can choose from around ten different types of chicken meat, the main choice you need to make is if you want it salted or coated with a shoyu sauce.
9. To quickly eat some pot noodles or soup.
You might be thinking “well, everyone knows Japan loves pot noodles, so it’s pretty obvious” – but did you know that you can actually make the noodles and soup while you’re in the store? Many konbini will have a hot water dispenser just for your noodles!
10. Printing service.
Almost all convenience stores in Japan will have a printer that you can use. You can take in a USB or make an account online and upload whatever it is you need to print. While this is perfect for someone who only occasionally needs to print something off, if you regularly need to print off colour documents, it could get expensive.
For a guide to use a convenience store printer, click here.