The Konbini – your ally in Japan

In Japan, the konbini is omnipresent. On this trip, it provided us with meals, beer and snacks. If we’d needed, we could have gotten wine, umbrellas, lottery tickets, cigarettes, a white dress shirt or tooth paste. Manga porn is on offer along with all the other magazines. It’s also where we discovered the strawberry and whipped cream sandwich – which we didn’t try. We relied on it for our travel-sustaining coffee.

The konbini is a convenience store on steroids, the ultimate multi-service store. They have ATMs and terminals that sell tickets for events and for local buses, the stores accept utility bill payments, offer Wi-Fi and some limited postal services, and many have public rest rooms.

Not to diminish the value of easy-to-find rest rooms, the main benefit of the konbini is the tasty, reasonably priced food. In addition to snacks and sweets like we have at home, there is everything you need to make a meal. You can buy hot items like bao buns stuffed with pork or beef, chicken nuggets, fish or meat skewers and fries. From the refrigerated case, you can pick wraps, rice bowls and curries that will be heated up for you at the cash. The choice of cold food is just as good: all kinds of salads, hard-boiled eggs, pickled fish and seafood and sandwiches made with white bread with the crusts removed.

My favorite cold food was onigiri, rice balls stuffed with seafood or meat or vegetables and wrapped in nori (seaweed). In fact, they’re not balls at all, they’re triangles. They’re packaged in cellophane and come with very precise three-step instructions on how to unwrap them correctly. They are delicious and the ideal hand-held meal.

Coffee here is not made to order. It’s packaged in plastic or metal bottle, sold hot or cold, sweet or plain, with or without milk, and it’s delicious. Konbinis have dozens of choices.

You can eat any meal of the day from the variety available at konbinis and many Japanese people take full advantage of it. They visit them on their way to work in the morning, for a quick lunch and for necessities on the way home.

It’s estimated that there are 50,000 konbinis in Japan. The market is shared by three brands, Family Mart, Lawson and Seven-Eleven, yes like the ones in the States. In most cities, all you have to do to find one is look around, it seems like there’s at least one on every street corner, open 24 hours a day.

If you want to travel on a budget in Japan, never go hungry and even sample local specialties, head for the konbini.

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