If you ask anyone who has ever been to Japan or stayed in Japan for an extended period of time and ask them about convenience stores in Japan, they will all give rave reviews of convenience stores. Convenience in Japan is quite incredible and the 7/11’s are the pinnacle of convenience. To give you an idea of how convenient Japan is, In my local neighborhood there are three convenience stores, my house, a bookstore, three bars, many restaurants, and several vending machines. This is just on the walk to my house alone. There are about five on my walk to school. Every place in Tokyo has its own different kind of bars, restaurants etc, and they are unique, but everything you could ever want is in your local neighborhood in Tokyo. The convenience stores in Japan are quite different from the ones in the West.
For example, the convenience stores often carry many different kinds of food items, not just junk food. In theory you could do your grocery shopping in here. Some stores have fruits, vegetables, and meats right there in the store (on a side note, the pears and other fruits in Japan are legendary and taste much better than the ones in the U.S., seriously, they are so crispy and sweet it’s like eating candy). They have so many varieties of teas, sodas, alcohol, and water brands it’s easy to be intimidated if you are thirsty and just want a simple drink. If you want a quick lunch you are in luck. The meal options are often very varied. There are breads (so many kinds and fillings, it’s hard to tell what they are half of the time if you don’t read Japanese), sandwiches, onigiri (Japanese rice balls), curries, meat and rice bowls, meats, noodles, ramen among many other meal options. Some of the stuff looks so fancy and so good that it’s often hard to decide, at least for me. Almost all of the time it is guaranteed delicious with whatever you get it.
Service is often a lot friendlier, as well. Japanese courtesy plays a huge role here and store attendants are often very helpful if you can’t find something. The stores themselves are very neat and organized when compared with convenience stores in the West, in my experience. The stores in the west are not typically known for being the cleanest or most neat either. In Japan, store owners take great care and pride with cleanliness and it’s common to see an attendant cleaning just a small speck off the floor just because it bothers them that a part of the store is dirty.
Convenience in Japan is quite amazing, yet it also has led to some far reaching issues. Since many people want to come to Tokyo for not only its convenience, but for jobs, it leads to a depopulation of the countryside, which is fast becoming an issue in Japan. Perhaps convenience is not as good as we might think. The Japanese country side is quickly depleting in size and vegetation is noticeably growing over some of the older houses and abandoned houses are not hard to find in rural Japan. It also leads to the danger that too large of a concentration of the population is extremely vulnerable in a natural disaster. In Japan’s case, natural disasters come all too frequently. Having millions of people in a small area that is difficult to evacuate isn’t a good plan. This also affects food production in Japan. Farmer’s children sometimes don’t want to become farmers and their parent’s sometimes don’t want them too either. They go off to the city for college, high school, and work only returning for visits. This leads to a smaller tax base and less revenue for rural Japan. However it is not an unsolvable problem. If rural Japan makes changes and makes it more accessible to foreign visitors, there may be a chance they people will come back to the country side (trust me when I say if you don’t speak Japanese, it is next to impossible to get directions or help). Rural Japan is gorgeous and has so much to offer from its scenic views, beautiful mountains and forests, to its people who are very friendly. It is my hope that some day rural Japan will make a come back.