Japan; a land rich in culture, natural beauty and the humble convenience store. Here lies a love letter, a thank you note, to 7 Eleven, Lawson and Family Mart, all of which harboured sanctuary throughout my travels in Japan.
It was after a night out in Kyoto that I fell in love with Japanese convenience stores, known as konbini. I’d been at a nightclub, recommended to me by a thirty something staying at my hostel, he was a fellow Australian and wore suits clubbing. After managing to get through security without sufficient ID my friends and I descended a few flights of stairs, underground, into what felt like a mad rave in hell hosted by the devil himself. Ornate rooves, gargoyles and stone. The music was a toxic concoction of K-pop and deep house remixes of Western hits. After one too many vodka red bulls I walked back to the hostel, hungry, on a budget and desperately in need of a toothbrush and some Panadol. It was then that I stumbled across the holy, fluorescent glow of a 7 Eleven. The automatic doors opened, as I stepped inside it truly felt as though I was walking through the gates of heaven, an air-conditioned oasis. In the first aisle I was presented with both a toothbrush and Panadol, beyond this lay a myriad of snacks, alcohol, hot food and cosmetics. I had unearthed a drunk girl’s day dream, free wifi and all.
While in many senses convenience stores were like a loving mother whose warm embrace comforted my lost, sometimes intoxicated and hungry self they could also be compared to the likes of a cool older sister who buys me Passion Pop and introduced me to my scene phase. Stocking a variety of alcohol, all for a very reasonable price, customers are spoilt for choice. The most notable alcoholic beverage, however, is Suntory’s Strong Zeros. These canned drinks truly deliver with 9% alcohol for a mere 130 yen (about a dollar 50). However economical Strong Zero’s are I’m at odds to recommend them as after a night on these you’re guaranteed the hangover from hell.
It was after one such night that I had to check out of our hostel in Shinjuku and travel to one in Shibuya. Choosing to drink the night before travelling was a mighty mistake indeed. After walking around all day, waiting for delayed trains and inevitably getting lost all the while lugging around a heavy pack and an even heavier hangover we finally arrived at our accommodation in Shibuya; a tiny apartment wedged between a train line and a highway bypass. Noisy, filthy and dirt-cheap. I could think of nothing better than some Inari to soak up the hangover. Bringing me utmost joy I looked across the road to see a Family Mart on the corner. Of course I wandered over, pockets heavy with coins, feeling ever optimistic. I bought three inari and a carton of orange juice, sat down on the curb outside and called my mum using the wifi. What had started as a bleak day was suddenly looking up. Although their convenience often goes unquestioned (where else can you buy a hot meal, porn and a toothbrush?), I have to remind myself of their contribution to our environment’s steady decline. Everything is wrapped in plastic. Even the bananas. However much appreciation I hold for Japanese convenience stores, my love will always be bittersweet.
From the densely packed chaos that is Tokyo to Japan’s tranquil villages convenience stores proved ever loyal. I have come to think of these places of refuge as guardian angels keeping a watchful eye on poor travellers like myself. Open twenty four hours, seven days a week and located on just about every corner in Tokyo they’re truly something you can count on.