Convenience stores konbini (ｺﾝﾋﾞﾆ) are everywhere in Japan. There are estimated to be between 40,000-50,000 convenience stores nationwide selling everything from rice balls, to magazines to underwear.
Convenience stores first appeared in Japan in the late 60s and 70s, as the idea caught on from the USA. Fluorescent lit and garishly colored, city center konbini are staffed by an army of student part-timers (ｱﾙﾊﾞｲﾄ) and an increasing number of retired workers supplementing their pensions. In the countryside, many of the franchises are taken up as 'mom and pop' operations, often with the whole family pitching in.
Seven Eleven is Japan's top chain with presently over 10,000 stores, closely followed by Lawson, Family Mart (5,900), and the now merged Sunkus and Circle K (over 6000 stores). Most convenience stores are open 24/7, may sell alcohol, cigarettes and stamps as well as providing ATM and utility bill paying services. It is even possible to pick up goods at convenience stores ordered over the Internet, buy tickets for concerts and movies, photocopy documents, send faxes as well as stock up on bottled water, ice-cream and pornography.
Convenience stores also waste 1000s of tons of perishable food each year as products are pulled from shelves well before their sell-by dates. According to the Mainichi Daily News figures released by Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries show that about 600,000 tons of unsold food was discarded from the nation's convenience stores and supermarkets in fiscal 2003 - enough to feed about 3 million people each day.
'Konbini culture' has grown throughout Asia, and Family Mart even has plans to re-export Japanese-style convenience stores back to their land of origin - the USA.
Waribashi - disposable chopsticks
Natural Lawson Convenience Stores