Monday, April 7, 2014

Japan Trip Part VIII: Convenience Stores

7-Eleven stores have always kind of confused me. I simply could not imagine how a convenience store could survive without fuel stations attached. Obviously people go to these places, but why? They're like grocery stores, but more expensive and with far less variety, especially if you want something fresh. What's so convenient about that?

Japan is the largest market for 7-Eleven, having nearly twice as many stores in that tiny country than in all of the United States. As it turns out, convenience store means something a little different in Japan than it does here.

Of course, convenience stores truly are convenient for some people. If you need a quick snack, a bit of milk, or something like that, it actually does make sense to go to a convenience store rather than a full grocery store, depending on where you live. If the grocery store is 10-20 minutes away by car, a convenience store can save you a trip. For some people, convenience stores are the only place to buy food for miles, sad though it may be. So, yeah, I have a better grasp of the nature of convenience stores than I once did.

In Japan, though, convenience stores serve all those same functions and more. In addition to often having a larger selection of things to buy (including video games and movies, depending on the store), you can usually do things like pay utility bills, but concert/train/plane tickets, pay taxes, send faxes, and I'm sure lots of other things I'm not so familiar with.

That said, the few convenience stores I went to didn't seem much different than what I'm used to, and many of those services are available at the larger truck stops I visit often on my road trips. I don't generally have much use for convenience stores if I'm not traveling, though, so perhaps my perspective is skewed.

Really, this whole post is because, even though I didn't find them to be too notable, other people wouldn't stop talking about Japanese convenience stores. I'm assuming my opinion would change if I actually lived in Japan for a while.

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