Convenience stores in Tokyo, 7-Eleven, Lawson
Photo: Lim Chee Wah

Tokyo convenience stores are an unexpected champion at the Tokyo Olympics

Gold for the konbini: visiting journalists are discovering the everyday joys of Japan’s ubiquitous convenience stores

Emma Steen
Written by
Emma Steen

Convenience stores – or rather, konbini – are without a doubt one of the best things about living in Japan. However, it's easy to take these 24/7 beacons of light for granted when you’re accustomed to seeing one on every street corner. That is, unless you’re a foreign journalist who has only recently landed in Japan to cover the Tokyo Olympic Games

Unlike the athletes, who have access to an all-day dining hall featuring a feast of international dishes, the correspondents here to report on the sporting event have found themselves returning time and time again to the humble konbini for their next meal. 

With Covid-19 restrictions and shortened restaurant hours, dining options have been significantly limited for the city’s Olympic visitors, but they’ve still found a bit of adventure in the likes of Tokyo’s 7-Elevens, Lawsons and FamilyMarts. 

Canadian journalist Devin Heroux has been living almost exclusively on a diet of 7-Eleven food. Heroux has published daily updates of his hotel konbini spread on Twitter, which often garnered more attention than his tweets about gold-medal Olympic champions. Plenty of Tokyoites even replied with suggestions of what he should try next.

The same thing happened on the Twitter page of fellow Canadian sports reporter Anastasia Bucsis, whose followers were more eager to know about the ins and outs of onigiri packaging than of the live sporting events that were occurring in the meantime.

Andrew Keh of The New York Times even dedicated an entire story to the myriad of snacks he sampled from his nearest konbini, proclaiming that 7-Eleven’s chicken gizzards saved his life. FamilyMart’s staple fried chicken however, is ‘unnaturally shaped’ and ‘suspiciously juicy’. (A note on Famichiki: it’s best not to think too hard about what’s been done to make it taste this good – just enjoy it.) 

FamilyMart Famichiki
Photo: FamilyMart

Amid prolonged travel restrictions and a seemingly never-ending state of emergency, it is at times easy to feel disillusioned by Tokyo when bars, museums and other exciting attractions are inaccessible. But through toilet roll shortages, alcohol bans and shortened restaurant hours, the trusty konbini has always been there to provide us with tasty treats and creature comforts to uplift us in difficult times. 

So it's only fitting that convenience stores are awarded with as much recognition as this year’s gold-medal athletes. But while these champions will fly back to their home countries with their medals after the closing of the Olympic Games, our own prizewinner – the undefeated konbini – is here to stay. 

Photo: Matt Liu/Unsplash

If you still need convincing, here’s ten reasons why Japan’s konbini are the best in the world.

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