Ubiquitous in Tokyo, convenience stores keep the wheels of the capital turning—in more ways than you might realize. Far more than mere pit stops for rice balls at two in the morning, the humble conbini offers a long list of handy services, from booking tickets to getting great coffee, photocopying, free wifi and even fresh undies. Here are 10 things you might not have known you can do at your local 7-Eleven, Lawson, FamilyMart, Ministop or other convenience store.
1. Book or pay for tickets (including flights)
Most* convenience stores in Japan have a machine you can use to book or pay for entry passes (e.g. to the Ghibli Museum), as well as movie, sport, concert and other types of event tickets, bus tickets and flights you’ve booked online.
Called Loppi in Lawson stores, Fami Port at FamilyMart, Multicopy at 7-Eleven and other things at other stores, these machines can generally be operated in multiple languages, including English. You simply search for the ticket you want, put in your name and mobile number, print out the ticket and pay for it at the cash register. Need cash? You can draw it at the in-store ATM—just make sure it supports your Japanese bank.
*Note that tiny stores in rural areas may not have a ticket machine. The Daily Yamazaki chain tends not to, either.
2. Get great coffee
Yes, convenience stores in Japan serve pretty decent brews. Sure, it may not be the stuff hipsters blog about, but it’s fresh, strong and cheap (less than half of what you’d pay at a big coffee chain).
Order and pay at the till, and you’ll be given a cup to use at the nearby coffee machine, if not handed the finished product itself. Read our review of conbini coffee.
3. Buy fresh, local veggies
Convenience culture may carry unhealthy connotations, but some stores in Japan have been working to combat this by stocking fresh vegetables. You can pick up the staples like potatoes, onions, carrots and tomatoes, as well as bean sprouts, cabbage, pumpkin and more—all depending on the store.
My local Lawson 100 (a Lawson where almost everything is priced at 100 yen) has a good 2–3 meters of veg, much of it pre-sliced and packaged into small-ish portions that are ideal for one-burner cooking.
Pro tip: While the quality is generally good, conbini veggies don’t seem to keep as well as veg from larger supermarkets or greengrocers, so it’s best to use them up quickly.
4. Get a cheap, decent meal
Again, convenience stores aren’t all about trash food. You can find a variety of sandwiches (if you haven’t yet, do try the egg ones—they’re light and delicious), wraps, salads, noodle dishes and bento boxes.
If you want fried and heavy, you can find it, but you can also find far lighter, calorically-balanced meals. Some stores stock vegetarian and vegan ready-meals, too. You can ask the cashier to heat up your food on your way out (“kore o atatamete kudasai”).
5. Pay your bills
It’s less exciting, but you can take your gas, electricity, water and many other bills (including pension and health insurance) to the local conbini and pay them at the cash register. The cashier will give you a stamped slip to confirm the payment has been made.
You can also pay for your online shopping orders, e.g. from Amazon, at the store.
6. Make copies, print and send faxes
No printer in your tiny pad? No problem—take your documents/photos to the convenience store, on a USB stick, SD card or the like, and fire up the magical multi-function machine there.
Black and white copies/prints cost about 10 yen per page, and a range of sizes are supported. If you accidentally timewarped back to the 80s and need to send a fax, you can do that too.
7. Buy prepaid postage
Got stuff to send via snail mail? Job applications and contracts often have to be sent the old-school way, but in general Japan relies on a lot of post, so you can expect to use it while you’re living here.
To save a trip to the post office, you can buy prepaid letter packs and stamps, so all you need to do is seal your mail and pop it into the nearest postbox.
Note: You can actually post your letter pack at some convenience stores. A number of stores will also send or receive takkyubin (courier) items for you, e.g. through Yamato Kuroneko. Just look for the relevant signboard outside, or ask the cashier if this service is available.
8. Charge your Suica or Pasmo card
If you don’t feel like doing it at the station, you can recharge your IC card at a convenience store. You can either ask the cashier to charge your card at the cash register, or do it yourself at the ATM (at 7-Eleven stores, anyway).
You can also load money onto other prepaid electronic money cards, and use them to pay for your purchases at the store.
9. Buy a new outfit (almost)
While your local Lawson is not where you’re likely to find your full wardrobe, you can pick up the basics, like undershirts and briefs, socks and stockings, as well as warm hats, gloves and so on. So if you miss the last train (see below), you can rock up at work the next morning sufficiently fresh, with your sins well hidden.
You can pick up a toothbrush, makeup and sewing kit too (for those really rough nights out).
10. Get a hangover cure
Following on from the above, if you have one too many and can hear your liver cursing you the next morning, the conbini is, once again, your friend. Seek out the little fridge (usually near one of the regular shelves; not with the other fridges) that is filled with tiny bottles of mystery—and a whole lot of B vitamins. Read more about hangover hacks in Japan.
You can grab a banana and a bottle of Pocari Sweat on your way out, too, rounding off the classic salaryman trio.
The ideas in this article were contributed by Lily Crossley-Baxter. Carey just strung the sentences together. Note that while we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change.