7-Eleven may have originated in the States, but let’s face it, the ones here are pretty beat. You go in if you’re on a road trip and need snacks or are otherwise desperate for sustenance and/or cigarettes. We didn’t even have them here in New York until a few years ago and trust me, we weren’t missing anything. Let’s face it, no one is going in there and eating the hot dogs out of choice. The only reason to stop in is a slurpee, right? And then half the time the machine isn’t even working.
The 7-Elevens in Japan are a totally different story, though. The chain store is now headquartered there and they are obviously paying a lot more attention to their Asian market, because every one I went into while in Tokyo carried at least two or three times the amount of stuff any American location does, and most of them were amazing-looking products I had never seen before.
First, the food. Rather than the few soggy sandwiches and pre-packaged burritos that our Sevs usually have on offer, the stores in Tokyo had cases upon cases of prepackaged foods: rice balls, sushi, noodles, dumplings, bento boxes. Then they have what seems like hundreds of kinds of drinks: coffee drinks in cans (which I got totally addicted to in the three days I spent in Tokyo), dozens of brands and flavors of iced tea, beers and malt beverages. I had a grab-and-go breakfast consisting of rice balls and canned coffee practically every day I was there. Cheap, convenient, and tasty. They even have a seating area at the front of many of the stores!
But they sell so many other things besides food! While you’d be lucky to find a pack of post-it notes at an American convenience store, of course in Tokyo they have dozens of adorable school supply and other semi-useful novelties. I bought a little pocket ashtray pouch for just ¥100 (the exact same kind I’ve seen in specialty stores in the US for much more), since smoking in the streets is so taboo in Tokyo.
The 7-Eleven I frequented most often in Asakusa even had an entire aisle devoted to face masks, so if you feel like you’re coming down with a cold on your way to work, you can pop in and select your preferred style.
I was in 7-Eleven a whole lot during my stay since they are one of the few places in Tokyo where the ATMs will accept international cards (the Post Office is the other one), and the maximum withdrawal can be quite low so I was there almost every day. Bummer, but every time I went in I found new products and food to make it worth my while! Apparently 7-Elevens in Japan also offer a host of other services in addition, such as fax machines and photocopying, as well as being a place where residents can pay their utility bills. Why can’t we have convenience stores with actual conveniences like this back home?