When you are first getting settled in Japan the convenience stores (or convini) will be a Godsend. If it were not for the Family Mart at the end of my block while I lived in Yamagata, I don’t know how I would have survived. There was a legitimate risk of starvation during those first jet lagged days. Living in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language can be overwhelming at the least. The convini makes things a lot more bearable.
The first thing to note about Japanese convenience stores is that unlike their American counter parts, they are actually convenient. Family Mart, Sunkus, Lawson, 7 and Holdings (7-11 to the rest of us) and others are all open twenty four hours a day seven days a week. There is one located near any major train station, shopping district or major intersection. Cashiers are attentive, friendly and very helpful. Prices are clearly labeled and tax is always included in the price (by law.) Since the register has a digital read out facing the customer, you don’t need to understand any Japanese. And the cashier always gives you correct change.
Anything you will really need can be bought at the convini. Eggs, milk, juice, yogurt, fruit, toiletries, soda, beer, whiskey, hangover cures, energy drinks, DVDs, magazines, porn and stationary can all be bought day or night. They also have fresh meals prepackaged meals that range from 300 yen to 1200 yen. Things like beef bowls, tonkatsu, sushi, curry and rice, or soba noodles. And they are all very good. The cashier will even offer to warm them up for you when you purchase it, no extra charge.
That’s not the end of it. 7-11 allows you to upload documents on http://www.printing.ne.jp/ and print them out at a local branch. Lawsons has a service for buying tickets to museums and concerts. You can ship letters and packages from any convini like it was a Fedex. You can pay your utility bills and sometimes your cellphone bills at the register, too. You can buy a good umbrella for around 350 yen (useful for when yours gets stolen, and it will.) International phone cards can be purchased, and most convini have payphones with phone card slots outside of their store. The three common disposal / recycle bins can be found outside too.
There is not much you can’t do at a convini. When hungry, sober, lost or out late, the convini can help you. Conveniently so.