When I lived in America, I bought something in a convenience store maybe once a month. There just wasn’t much I needed there, since the selection of beer was usually small and expensive, and no matter how hungry I was, letting my body break down its own tissues for sustenance was always a more appealing option than the greasy hot dogs and congealed nachos sold there.
In Japan, though, I can’t keep track of how often I stop into a 7-11 or Family Mart. The fact that most people do their shopping on foot means convenience stores here are more like miniature supermarkets, supplying basic groceries, tasty prepared foods, and other necessities.
Of course, the high demand for convenience stores in Japan means that sometimes they get built in areas of historical or cultural significance, in which case they have to be redesigned to fit in with the historical ambiance.
At the most basic end of the scale, sometimes convenience stores will tone down their color scheme so as not to stick out. For example, in the town of Shimoda, one of the first ports opened to foreign trade when Japan’s centuries of isolationism ended in the 19th century, 7-Eleven replaces its bold red, orange, and green with a subdued brown, much like McDonald’s does with its vibrant red in Kyoto.
Speaking of Japan’s former capital, this 7-Eleven branch in Kyoto makes up for keeping its normal, eye-catching logo with an outdoor seating area that takes inspiration from traditional tea ceremony decoration.
Competitor Lawson doesn’t have enough room to follow suit at this Kyoto location, but instead adds an example of the latticework that adorns the outside of the city’s classically-styled homes.
A few hours south of Kyoto is Koyasan, home to one of Japan’s largest mountainous Buddhist monasteries. Those who are yet to achieve pure enlightenment, as well as the numerous tourists who visit the area, can procure the earthly goods they need to fill their stomachs at this traditionally-roofed Family Mart.
This Lawson in rural Hiroshima Prefecture achieves a similar result on a larger scale.
Compared to the rest of Japan, Okinawa has its own distinct culture, cuisine, and even architecture as reflected in this Family Mart found on one of the islands that make up the prefecture.
Saitama Prefecture, Tokyo’s neighbor to the north, is a frequent butt of jokes for its perceived lack of sophistication compared to Japan’s largest metropolis. Don’t sell Saitama short, though, as it’s got cultural gems like the town of Kawagoe, with its rows of preserved warehouses. Here, we see the local Sunkus branch paying respect to the town’s cultural heritage with a wooden signboard and cloth entrance curtain of the sort used by merchants in Japan since the feudal era.
But perhaps the most impressively old-school Japanese convenience store is this townhouse that was converted into a Family Mart in Mie Prefecture near the Ise Shrine, one of the most sacred Shinto sites.
Like most major companies in the country, Japan’s convenience store chains are always looking for ways to sell their products overseas, and some seem to be applying these efforts to fit in with local architecture internationally, such as with this Family Mart on Jeju Island in Korea.
Meanwhile, this 7-Eleven in Boston is so posh we could see ourselves mistakenly wandering in and asking if we could open a bank account.
So remember, the next time you’re taking in the sites and feel like you could use a snack, take one more close look around, because there just might be a Japanese convenience store hiding in plain sight.