An Ode to Japanese Convenience Stores

There are a lot of great things about Japan. The people, the culture, the buns at the convenience stores... Wait...what?

After living in Japan for five weeks, it came to my attention that:

  1. Japan is more expensive than any other place I’ve lived abroad.

  2. I would probably never get sick of the food in Japan.

  3. I didn’t have enough money to sustain eating out all the time...except for when I made a run to my local Family Mart.

A commoner from the States would probably scorn me.


“But Lauren, are you talking about those fried hotdog-looking things on the hot metal rollers that sit there all day and then are eaten by sad people who can only hope to make it better by dumping three-day-old nacho cheese goop on it and then probably regret everything hours later as their digestive system takes a massive turn for the worse?”


No, you fool. I’m talking about convenience store food in JAPAN.

It’s completely life-changing and fresh and delicious and my mouth is watering thinking about my beloved, soft, hot, pork buns right now.


There are three main convenience stores that sell food, snacks, drinks, dranks, and pretty much anything else you’ll ever need in life. These stores are:

Family Mart, Lawson’s, and 7-11.

A few of us loved these so much, that our Halloween outfits actually revolved around them...

 MIssing: our Lawson's, who was the third of our convenience store trio.

MIssing: our Lawson's, who was the third of our convenience store trio.


If you’re thinking of the 7-11 that sells slurpees, your thoughts are incorrect. The 7-11 here is much better. But Family Mart and Lawson’s are much better than 7-11, mostly for the food and other random things you can get there. (Not that I tower over 7-11 like a convenience store kween, but I'm definitely above it if the other two are available.) Let’s start with the food.


The buns. Oh my god, the buns.

My favorite food from them, hands down. The buns (ok, baos, technically) are kept hot (not crossed, contrary to popular belief) in a mini oven, and come in a variety of flavors, both savory and sweet. My favorite was the pizza bun: cheese, tomato sauce and pizza spices inside a delicious, orangey (colored) bun. The buns are light and fluffy, and definitely incomparable to something like a hamburger bun. Another favorite is the pork bun, and the NEW bacon pizza bun. There’s a red bean paste bun, but I'm not a huge fan of red bean paste, and pizza always wins in my book, so I didn't try it. But I’m sure it’s great. Did I just spend an entire paragraph praising buns? 

You bet your buns I did. 

 
 

noodle me, brah.

Other amazing foods? Heat up soup. Ramen. Udon. Soba. All of the noodles. I once ate a soup and wine from 7-11 for $5 while my friend and her family went out to a Michelin star sushi meal. Did I flinch? No. Because my meal was fucking awesome. It damn well should've been a Michelin star meal.

 
 Chef Lauren says 1 Michelin Star

Chef Lauren says 1 Michelin Star

 

onigiri will make you giddy.

I ate a ton of onigiri. What is onigiri, you ask? For only 100 yen (a little less than a dollar), you could get a lovely little triangle of rice filled with your choice of tuna, chicken, fried chicken, soy sauce, egg, sausage...the list goes on. They’re delicious and always fresh. Ta. death. (And perfect for on the go, even though the Japanese don’t really eat on the go and kind of give you this weird look as you’re chowing down on a ball or triangle of rice while walking, but whatever, I’ve got shit to do!)

 

 

embrace the sweet stuff, too.

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All of the baked goods (pound cake, doughnuts, ICE-CREAM FILLED DONUTS THAT WILL BLOW YOUR MIND) and delicious desserts were also available, and while I can't find a photo of those chocolate-covered mini donuts filled with ice cream (hint: they were in the freezer section), I did love these weird pancakes. They were filled with maple syrup and butter and were actually delicious. Also available: a crap ton of candy you never knew you needed. Matcha green tea Kit Kats, Tough Gummies (the strongest gummy of them all!) and all the Pocky your heart desires. Plus much, much more. It's as if I was telling diabetes that I wanted it, in and around my mouth. So. Good. 

 

 

packaged weird shit! 

There's a weird section that I never really took advantage of, but it had things like packaged hot dogs covered in cheese, fried chicken sandwiches and even BUNS FILLED WITH NOODLES. (Pro tip: start using "Noodle Bun" as a compliment. Your friends will be confused.) How were they able to just have a shelf life? Because Japan is on TOP of it when it comes to keeping stuff fresh. Never actually ate these, but I’m sure they were great.

 

 

eat out of A pouch like the hobo that you are.

Ok, like the hobo that I am. Some may say eating potato salad out of a pouch is hitting rock bottom. Those people are morons. And to them I say, “you don’t know what you’re missing...moron.” This shit is delish. They even give you chopsticks to make your pouch meal more...sophisticated. 

 
 Pouch proud.

Pouch proud.


 

I pick(le) you.

If you didn't know, pickles are one of my favorite foods. But I don't just draw the line at cucumbers - pickle me a a package of daikon or carrots and I'll still pick you. Pickled things, in a pretty package, that people put in their pieholes. But in this case, they should be called pickleholes. The Japanese take their pickles seriously. Here's a guide, in case you're curious. I respect this on another level. I ate a lot of pickles. Especially from convenience stores.

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prepare for (fried) meat sweats.

Tonkatsu (fried pork and chicken) with rice. Grilled meats. Meats on a stick. Fried chicken in a cute lil’ bucket. ALL OF THE MEATSSSSS.

 

 

hope you're thirsty. 

Because these places have every type of drink you’ve ever wanted.

Coffee. Coffee with milk. Espresso. Espresso with milk. All hot or cold. Milk tea. Matcha latte. Green tea. Smoothies. Bubble teas. Green juices. Pressed juices. Flavored water. Electrolyte water. POCARI SWEAT!

 
 

hope you're ready to get turnt.

Every type of drank (read: alcoholic) you never knew you needed.

Sure, there’s the beer, craft beer, Smirnoff Ice (y tho), ZIMA (I THOUGHT THAT DIED?), and other random malt beverages. But drank lovers, beware. I’m about to reveal a bit of information about a drank you never knew existed and probably never should drink, but you definitely should; I clearly have mixed feelings about it.

This is where things get a bit...hazy. Japan has a drank that’s now very near and dear to my heart (THAT I ALSO HATE WITH A FIERY PASSION.) May I introduce, to those of you who don’t know him…

Strong Zero.

A beverage with a name so oxymoronic that you’re not sure what to think. But that’s when you see it. Right on the can, staring at you in the face:

9% Alchohol. 0 grams of Sugar.

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Is it true? I don't know. And no one ever will. *googles and immediately finds that WHAT THE F, IT IS TRUE.*

The less-caloric sibling of “Strong”, Strong Zero is the fit brother in a family of alcoholics. Strong has sugar and is lazy and still lives in mom's basement. Strong ZERO is a functioning, productive alcoholic. (Much like many of my friends!)

Strong Zero made an appearance at many a party, late-night work session, hell, even during the day sometimes. He tastes like Fresca (or grape or pear or whatever other flavor you choose, but Grapefruit Lemon or Lemon is the best) and gives you the type of liquid courage that most people get from 17 shots of whiskey in the form of three 12 ounce (or 16, if you're brave) cans.

One is fun, two is ‘but where are my pants and why am i singing natalie imbruglia's 1997 hit single torn in the streets of downtown tokyo?'

Also, it's impossible to drink less than two. Which means it's always gonna be that kinda night. 

Anyway...you should Try it!


frozen food is still delicious.

Not to be missed, the frozen section of the stores have quite the delicious array of microwavable, “I’m too damn lazy” foods. While the store will heat up whatever refrigerated item that you choose (in their handy quick microwave ovens), sometimes it’s nice to just go home, do it yourself, and make your 180 square foot apartment smell like dumplings for two days. The dumplings and shui mai are not to be missed. They are AMAZING. And so is the weird pasta with cream sauce that looks disgusting but it’s actually not. Like, at all.

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What’s more, the store will give you chopsticks to eat all your foodz with. Because this is Japan. They will also give you a straw for any beverage. Individually wrapped, of course. Which reminds me...


SIDE RANT/NOTE:

While Japan is known for being very clean and environmentally friendly, the one thing that makes absolutely no sense is their need to package EVERYTHING individually. Straws. Bananas. Carrots. Chocolates that come inside a box that is already sealed. Anything that comes in a box that is already sealed. Stickers. Keychains. THINGS THAT DON’T EVEN NEED TO BE PROTECTED. (Did you see me write, BANANAS? THEY HAVE THEIR OWN PACKAGING! WHYYYYYY!)

</end rant>


dress for success.

Not only can you eat and drink like a king from these places, but you can also dress yourself at them. Need a new t-shirt because maybe you, oh, got too drunk at the after-work happy hour because you work too much? *ahem, Japan* Buy one at the convenience store in a nice little package! Need a new tie for work the next day? They got that too! Didja take off your shoes and walk around in your socks all night and now they’re too dirty to walk back into the office without getting a glaring look from Janice? Buy a new pair! The list of clothing items goes on. Need to take a shower? Douse yourself in body spray or perhaps bathe yourself somewhere, thanks to the soaps and shampoos and lotions that are there for you. Because when no one else comes through, these stores do.

 
 

While I could probably just rave on and on about how much I love Japanese convenience stores, I’m sad to say that the service isn’t the best. Many a clerk has left a bad taste in my mouth, but that shouldn’t stop you. You go in that store, get your buns, and LIVE YO LIFE.

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Who cares if it’s 7 AM and you just got home and you desperately need food? You know whose fault that is? THE CONVENIENCE STORES, FOR SELLING YOU 8 STRONG ZEROS THE NIGHT BEFORE. And if a clerk denies you your pork and pizza bun because it’s 7 AM and “they don’t sell buns in the morning”, don’t let them tell you how to live your life.*

Jump the counter, steal a bun, and run your own buns home, quickly!


Just kidding. This is Japan. Be polite, silly. Grab a bag of frozen dumplings and be on your way. (Don’t forget the soy sauce! It can be found next to the cute shirt you should buy because, newsflash, you have spilled Strong Zero all over you and smell like a walking bottle of grain alcohol.)

*Note: I’m still bitter about the time this happened. Whatever.

Professional writer, designer, and do-it-aller. Remote Year citizen/alum. Currently living in San Francisco and probably trying to avoid the terrifying amounts of pigeons.