While Japan is the third largest luxury market in the world with countless luxury things to do in its cities like Tokyo, there is a place where all Japanese go to regardless of social status – the Japanese convenience stores.
As someone living and working in Japan, I’ve come to appreciate the most popular food in Japanese convenience stores, or “konbini.” They’re everywhere and open all the time, perfect for my busy schedule. The food is great and affordable, with lots of choices, and with my always-packed schedule, cooking isn’t always easy. Plus, the consistent quality and freshness of their food, even late at night, is something I really appreciate
The Biggest Convenience Stores in Japan
We have some big names in the Japanese convenience stores’ game, each with its own cool quirks and features. Below are the convenience stores giants and I have also outlined what makes each one stand out.
In Japan, when we think of a convenience store, 7-Eleven is likely the first name that comes to our mind. It’s the undisputed king of convenience, found on almost every corner in Japan. Not just a place for a quick snack, 7-Eleven is a place for our daily necessities, from breakfast on-the-go to late-night cravings. It’s also a pioneer in offering diverse services like bill payments and concert ticket sales, making it an important part of our everyday life in Japan.
Interesting Facts about 7-Eleven in Japan:
- 24/7 Pioneer: 7-Eleven led the way in round-the-clock service, a game-changer in our non-stop Japan’s workaholic society.
- Seven Premium Delights: Their own brand, “Seven Premium,” is a hit for offering everything from tasty snacks to complete meals, all with a touch of quality that surprises and delights.
- Smoothies: 7-Eleven is the only Japanese convenience store that offers fresh smoothies. My personal favorite is the green smoothie which is a combination of kale and other vegetables.
FamilyMart emerges as one of our favorite Japanese convenience stores among us locals. It’s our quick stop for unique offerings that you might not find in other Japanese convenience stores like 7-Eleven or Lawson.
In Japan, Family Mart is known for its exclusive snacks and innovative food selections, just like its extremely famous FAMICHIKI. FamilyMart provides a distinct experience with its special treats and seasonal items that cater to our ever-changing Japanese tastes.
Interesting Facts about FamilyMart:
- Famichiki Craze: Their Famichiki is legendary – a simple fried chicken snack that’s become a cultural icon in its own right.
- Relax and Recharge: With café-style seating, it’s more than a store; it’s a spot to pause, relax, and enjoy the city vibe.
Lawson is popular in Japan for its health-focused options, like the ‘Natural Lawson’ line with organic and healthier choices. It’s also known for its fresh bakery section, a hit among us locals. In fact, Lawson has MACHI café, their very own in-store freshly brewed coffee service.
- Budget-Friendly Lawson 100: Their “Lawson 100” section is a hit for those looking for great deals at just 100 yen.
- Focus on Wellness: With “Natural Lawson,” they cater to the health-conscious, offering organic and healthier choices.
- Uchi Café Indulgences: Their Uchi Café series showcases their dedication to offering premium, delicious desserts.
Ranking of the Most Popular Foods in Japanese Convenience Stores
Onigiri, or rice balls, are a big deal in Japanese convenience stores. They’re simple but so good. You’ll find them filled with all sorts of tasty stuff like salmon, pickled plum (umeboshi), or tuna mixed with mayonnaise. They’re wrapped in seaweed and are the perfect grab-and-go snack. Whether you’re in a rush or just need a quick bite, onigiri is a go-to choice for many people here.
In fact, Receipt Reward Japan, an analytics company specializing in the data of convenience stores in Japan, published a data (in Japanese) that Tuna Mayo Onigiri is the best-selling food in Japanese convenience stores.
The sandwiches you find in our convenience store are something special. They range from simple egg salad to more elaborate ones like katsu sandwiches, which have a breaded pork cutlet inside. What’s great is how they blend Western styles with Japanese flavors. They’re always made neatly and are super convenient for a quick lunch or snack while on the move.
Personally, I also grab sandwiches from convenience stores if I do not have time for breakfast in the morning or when I become hungry in the late afternoon at work. As someone who goes to the gym, I personally choose either chicken teriyaki sandwich or the tune and egg sandwich.
3. Bottled Drinks
Walk into any convenience store, and you’ll see a huge selection of soft drinks. There’s something for everyone – from the classic green tea and sodas to energy drinks and even some unique seasonal flavors that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s perfect for quenching your thirst, especially in the hot Japanese summers.
Regardless of the season, I always grab bottled tea from convenience stores – when going to the gym or when going to work. In summer, my favorite drink is 7-Eleven’s zero-calorie Zero Cider Triple drink that is very delicious and nutritious (it has lactobacillus that is good for gut health). In winter, of course, the hot bottled tea would be my best choice and recommendation.
4. Bento Boxes
Bento boxes from convenience store are a full meal packed into a neat, portable box. They come in a variety of styles, from traditional Japanese dishes with rice, fish, or meat and pickles, to Western-style options like pasta or hamburger steak. They’re super convenient for a quick lunch, especially if you’re busy and don’t have time to sit down at a restaurant.
The dessert section in the convenience store is like a mini paradise for anyone with a sweet tooth. You’ll find a wide range of treats, from traditional Japanese sweets like mochi and dorayaki (red bean pancakes) to Western favorites like cakes and pastries. They’re great for a quick dessert or a sweet snack to brighten your day.
If it will be your first time visiting Kyoto, you need to check out the convenience stores’ desserts that are only available in Kyoto.
For foodies: the only two things that you need to do in Kyoto are to visit matcha cafes in Kyoto and to grab matcha-flavored desserts at a Japanese convenience store. I have personally tried these matchas and my favorite ice cream is the matcha-flavored ice cream.
The Best Foods in Japanese Convenience Stores – Final Thoughts
To wrap it up, if you’re visiting Japan, make sure to check out the convenience stores, or “konbini.” These places are a goldmine for quick, tasty, and affordable food options. Grab an onigiri for a snack on the go, try different kinds of sandwiches for a quick lunch, or pick up some unique bottled drinks to quench your thirst as you explore. The bento boxes are great for a no-fuss meal with a variety of choices, and don’t forget to treat yourself to some desserts, where you’ll find both Japanese and Western options.
As someone living here, I can tell you that the most popular food in Japanese convenience stores is a big part of our culture and a must-try for any visitor wanting to experience everyday life in Japan. It’s convenient, it’s diverse, and it’s definitely a slice of Japanese life you shouldn’t miss.