Konbinis are the lifeblood of Japan. Seldom can you travel more than a few miles without seeing one, and so common are they that in towns and cities you can often stand outside one and spot another in the distance.
They offer food and drink, emergency supplies like spare underwear, electronics and magazines, as well as hosting ATMs, taking delivery of your amazon buys and act as a place to pay for bills and buy tickets. Most are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
And they are all laid out in the same way – seriously!
There is even a chapter in an English textbook that talks through the rationale and reasons why…
All Konbinis are the Same
A lovely array of bins – occasionally moved inside in particularly busy or urban areas.
Around the entrance sit many services; like the hot water heater for cup-ramen, photocopier, ticket machines and ATMs etc.
Inline with the entrance is the counter, perhaps to give would be shoplifters a harder route of escape? Or simply to make you enter more into the store, like how…
Drinks are ALWAYS at the back/furthest corner
What do people buy more of than anything else in a konbini? Why drinks of course! Hence why a wall and a half is given over to cool fridge displays, with booze being in the very furthest corner.
Consumers have to walk past a number of other tempting goods on the way to the drink and to the paypoint.
Along this wall often the freezer section with bits of food, ice cream, and somewhere here lives the toilet.
Toilets in Japan
Firstly, you can never be sure if you’re going to get a squat toilet, a plain sitting loo or a fancy, musical butt washer. Second, they can be a single mixed toilet, separate toilets, and some even have a single small room with a urinal!
A nice thing in Japan is that toilets are considered public spaces, ie. you can use the facilities even if you’re not buying something! Though perhaps this is why they are at the far end of the konbini – so that you have to pass lots of tempting goods!
Magazines are always displayed along the external window wall – why? So people can watch people read the animes in the window? I don’t know! But this will occupy the full length of the window row N combined with chester freezers with on-the-go ice creams.
On aisle’s other side are a number of medical/hygiene goods – special recovery drinks, toiletries, clothing things you might need if you’re a busy salaryman who didn’t make it hope last night!
Electronics are kept closest to the counter – presumably because they are high value items. These consist of charger cables, charging blocks, batteries, alongside other household goods products. Facing these are on-the-go meals – cup ramen, canned goods.
Your nibbles – Crisps, potato snacks, popcorn, some chocolates, biscuits, cookies cake line either side of this aisle. This can also house some liquor or drinks that don’t need to be or aren’t drunk cool. The pay counter at the end of this aisle is the one most commonly opening, if the konbini isn’t so busy. Why? To pull consumers looking for drinks down the snack aaisle and pick up some en route.
What could probably be described as baked goods/fresh-ish food is sold here. One side is refrigerated, stocking coffee drinks, fruit juices, some fruit and vegetables that gives way to salads, sandwiches, ready meals, before hitting the bento boxes, onigiris and hot drinks as we move closer to the counter.
The other side has dessert-bread goods, meaty bread goods, weird burgers and sandwiches that don’t need to be chilled goods. Closer to the counter there may even be a desserts section!
The Pay Point
A minimum of two counters, between which sit the hot foods – fried chicken, sausages, chips, Japanese delicacies simmered in hot tea all day… Some on sale items sat in front of this.
Behind the staff live the cigarette stands, with their marketing campaigns on colour screens, and promo boards with cool looking graphics.
Many konbinis offer cafe style drinks, made with fresh-ish coffee beans, and often soft serve icecream!
Predictable, yet Unpredictable
So finding your favourites in the konbini is easy, right?
Well, Japan, with its belief of Wabi Sabi, the appreciation of impermanence and the transitive nature of things, you’ll often find that something new and delicious is only available for short, limited run.
Or that things are seasonal – when it reached the end of winter – no more Lawson lasagne for me!
So even an enterprise as commercialised as konbinis, with their psychological games and manipulation, has running through its veins, a thread of Japanese philosophy, that is hundreds of years old.