Sometimes, when you’re about to go into a meeting you might find yourself needing to print out a big pile of documents—or perhaps you’re like me and you’ve decided not to have a home inkjet printer and get caught up in the ink cartridge scam that values printer ink at 20 times the price of Dom Perignon champagne. In either case, you might be familiar with places like Kinko’s or Japan variants like Accea—where you can pay to use the computers or have the staff print or scan documents for you.
I used to think these places were quite cheap albeit a little inconvenient as there were none within a 10 minute walk of my home or office. But then, I discovered the super copier/scanner/fax/printers they have at 7-Eleven and Lawson. These machines are awesome—you can print any PDF file straight from a USB memory stick, scan documents to PDF or JPG or send faxes using the same machine.
Unlike 7-Eleven, the interface of the Lawson machine speaks 8 languages vs. the monolingual 7-Eleven machine. You may notice an English option on the start screen, but unfortunately, if you choose this, most of the cool functionality disappears and the machine will become a normal copier. If you can’t read Japanese, the toughest part of the 7-Eleven machine is probably the start screen. Once you’ve selected ‘文書プリント’ (document print – the pink button) the next steps shouldn’t be too hard to work out. The prices for printing are about the same as Kinko’s or Accea, but the convenience and not having to pay to use a computer is a big bonus. The hardest part about using the Lawson machine is trying not to get it to crash and expose the Microsoft Windows horribleness lurking within.
What do I need?
All you need is some digital media—such as a USB memory stick or an SD card—and documents in PDF format. Note that the machines will not print other file types such as Microsoft Word documents. Also, take care to have the PDF documents in a conventional size for Japan. If it has strange dimensions or is in a format like US Letter or Legal, you might have problems printing it. Safe paper sizes are A3, B4, A4 and B5.
How much does it cost?
The prices are quite standard. For an A4 print out in black and white, the price is 10yen per page. For color A4 printouts, the price is 50yen per page. You can specify individual pages of a document or page ranges when printing so you can save some money by only paying 50yen per page for the pages with color content. The prices are the same for the copier function.
How do I pay?
The machines take 10yen, 50yen, 100yen and 500yen coins. This is one of the few times that convenience store clerks will give you change. If you need coins, tell the clerks “ryogae kudasai” while pointing at the printer/copier. At 7-eleven you can also use your nanaco card (the most impractical electronic payment card around—you can only use it at 7-eleven) but you can’t use any other IC payment cards like Suica or Pasmo.
If your printing job is REALLY important and you need it in a real hurry, don’t bet everything on either the Lawson or the 7-Eleven machine working when you need it. I’ve had issues with Mac formatted USB memory sticks not being recognised—even using a Windows file system format like FAT. I reformatted the USB memory using the disk utility in my OS and it worked fine. It’s probably designed to be used with Windows so if you formatted the USB memory stick in Windows—or you haven’t fiddled around with it since you bought it, then you should be OK. Another option on the 7-Eleven machine is ‘ネットプリント’ (net print), which involves uploading your files to their website and printing them from the machine at the convenience store. I haven’t had a lot of luck with Net Print, but you can find a detailed guide to the 7-Eleven system on Surviving in Japan.
As of this update, I’m not aware of equivalent machines at other convenience stores, but it’s only a matter of time before Family Mart, Daily Yamazaki and the others catch up.