Coming from a more suburban background I never really went to convenience stores for anything. Occasionally there would be some movie coming out that I needed an in-theater snack for or we’d be on the road looking for a pit-stop, but for the most part, the gas stations themselves got a lot more use. That’s just how most of those convenience stores were where I lived, just a part of the gas station, and they were seen in a more run-down and offhanded light. Not the best places to visit on a daily basis.
Here in Tokyo though they’ve been a place I HAVE visited on a daily basis. Mostly for food but also for supplies, cough drops, Q-tips, and all sorts of daily necessities. Walking out to the 100 yen store is also a plus, and it serves much like a Dollar store in America but for more routine stuff including toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and all sorts of food. With the accessibility and rather cheap prices at both types of stores, I haven’t really found myself eating out all that much. At the same time it’s pretty easy to spend about 1000 yen per day with several meals.
There are three pretty common convenience stores around Tokyo: Lawson, 7-Eleven, and Family Mart. And they’re all open 24/7. I’ve found that 7-Eleven usually has the better selection of food, but Family Mart is better for anything else. There’s one only a block away from the dorms, and I find myself traveling up there regularly to restock. The school is also surrounded by a Lawson Station and a 7-Eleven right next to the building, so students can just take their pick. It’s hard to walk very far in Tokyo and not come across one store or another, which is great for when you’re out on the town and need to grab a quick bite without searching for a restaurant. This is especially helpful for those of us with limited Japanese language knowledge who have trouble ordering without the usual point and gesture.
The best thing about the convenience stores is definitely the food. Whether it be sandwiches, curry, ramen, or various bentos, there’s bound to be something to eat. And they restock at least twice daily so fresh food isn’t out of the question either. You won’t find any produce at places like these, but for that we have a Clover Mart not too far from the dorms which serves as a Walmart-type store. The convenience stores also have your typical supply of candy and junk-food as well as soda, water, all types of juices in huge cartons and even alcohol, which plenty of my classmates make use of. Since Temple Japan doesn’t have any sort of lunch program, most of the students shuffle down to one of the nearby stores and grab something to chow down on between classes.
What I really enjoy about the stores here that I haven’t really seen in America is the service. If you buy a bento or anything else that can be eaten hot you’ll always be asked if you want it heated up. Considering I usually buy food about ten minutes or less before I plan to sit down and eat this really helps out. Our dorms don’t have a microwave except in the main kitchen, so heating anything up is near impossible. We have a kettle for heating water and a burner pad, but that’s about it. Neither are very powerful and are useless for heating microwavable food. So it’s great to be able to still come home with a hot dinner. They also sell hot food as well, including some American favorites like corn dogs (though here that’s actually a ‘hot dog’ and ‘hot dogs’ are referred to as Frankfurts) and also fries.
The only downside I’ve found is it’s pretty easy to get addicted to the food there and end up having one repetitive meal like the hot Panini I ate a lot of at Butler. I was hooked on a beef and rice bento for a while. It’s one of the cheaper options for food so as a college student on a budget I find myself taking advantage of it. Also, spending the last two days sick, it was nice to have a place to pick up extra cough drops and tea to numb my throat a bit. Speaking of tea, there’s also a lovely little coffee shop nearby the 7-Eleven by the dorms. They’ll give you a little sample as you walk in, and I was able to pickup a good selection of teas, mostly peppermint, from there.
In conclusion, ‘convenience’ stores certainly live up to their name. I’m going to miss being able to access them once I get back to the States, as having a meal-plan just isn’t the same. I prefer to take food to go and eat in my room, so for me this is perfect. There’s nothing better then returning from a long day of classes and grabbing a nice, hot bento to bring back and eat while you catch up on work on your laptop.