Comparing Japanese Convenience Stores to Their American Counterparts

Japanese Convenience Stores
One of the first things I noticed when I came to Japan were the convenience stores. They were everywhere. There were more Seven Elevens than Starbucks! At first I was a bit skeptic of these places; after all, almost everyone (in America at least) knows the dangers of eating a Seven Eleven sandwich. The cheap food isn’t worth the food poisoning. However, Japanese convenience stores, unlike their American counterparts, are actually, well- convenient.

First off, there are three main convenience stores in Japan. Seven Eleven, Family Mart, and Lawson Station. All three stores are similar, but for the purpose of this article I’m going to only compare Seven Elevens because America does not have either Family Mart or Lawson Station.

Comparing the two stores at a first glance, Japanese Seven Elevens and American ones aren’t too different visually. Same color scheme, and the inside layout is similar as well, with an isle of magazines and books, household items/health care items, a few rows of foods and snacks, then freezers along wall for cold/frozen foods and drinks. Japanese and American Seven Elevens both have ATMs (usually), but most Seven Elevens in Japan also have a printer/copier machine, which I think is really cool. People can even bring SD cards or connect their phones to print out pictures. It’s pretty cheap too. As far as I know, Seven Elevens with printers aren’t common in America. Another difference in appearance is the cleanliness. Japanese Seven Elevens are much nicer and cleaner looking than their American counterparts. Even their bathrooms are clean. I figure this is probably because the more respectful nature of Japanese culture in general. The employees actually care about their job, the store’s up keep, and the general public doesn’t go around leaving messes in the stores (I know this may seem a bit insulting towards Americans, but c’mon. I’m American too. Don’t deny the truth).

The main difference between the two stores is their food and its quality. We all know the common foods at an average American Seven Eleven. Some suspiciously fake-looking donuts, some hot dogs, pizza, and a few other various hot foods that have been in that heater for who knows how long, wrapped sandwiches, and slushies of course. There’s not much to say about these foods. They’re there, probably out of date no matter what that sticker says, and they look extra processed for some reason. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten any of the “fresh food” at an American Seven Eleven, except maybe a donut once when I was younger. These Seven Eleven foods, especially the sandwiches, are known for giving food poisoning to the poor soul desperate enough to eat them.

Japanese Seven Elevens could not be more different than this. There is such a wide variety of food, from Western to Japanese, and it’s all pretty delicious. They’ve got sandwiches and burgers, to okonomiyaki and oden. The variety of prepared lunches in the refrigerator section is nearly endless. Not to mention the hot foods up front actually look like they were cooked that day, not the the leftovers from cooking class mistakes. Delicious fries, kara-age chicken, croquettes and more, are in a Japanese Seven Eleven’s hot box. Japanese Seven Elevens also have a wider variety of their own desserts. There are little slices of cheesecake, roll cake, and cupcakes. Lots of pudding and cream filled breads, and many more traditional snacks like dango and other styles of mochi too (real mochi, not the stuff that’s mostly ice cream with a thin layer of real mochi on top). Of all the amazing foods at a Japanese Seven Eleven, my favorite are the egg sandwiches. While the other sandwich fillings aren’t really my style, this sandwich is like egg heaven. It’s creamy and simple, but must have a bit of mayonnaise or something because it’s simply addicting. Not to mention, Japanese sandwich bread is the whitest, fluffiest, bread there is. If there’s one foreign food (Yes, bread is foreign. The Japanese didn’t have it until the 1540’s when Portuguese missionaries came to Japan, which is why the Japanese and Portuguese word for bread is the same) that they’ve taken and made their own, it’s bread. They stuff it with anything people can imagine, from noodles to meats to sweets. Convenience stores usually have an entire aisle of these breads. What’s more, they’re all super cheap, not over a couple hundred yen each (a couple dollars). Of course these Seven Elevens have aisles of packaged candy and snacks like American ones, but I think the real amazing thing about Japanese Seven Elevens are the other foods because they’re the Seven Eleven brand. American Seven Elevens do not produce anything like that. Their candy and snack section may be fine, (unless one’s been to Japan and knows how vastly superior Japanese candy is to American candy) but Japanese Seven Elevens definitely pull ahead in the “fresh foods” category.

Aside from the food, Seven Elevens have other items too. American and Japanese Seven Elevens both have aisles with random everyday items, like soap and pens and such, but again, the Japanese Seven Eleven has a wider variety of these objects than an American one. Pocket combs, bobby pins, touch screen gloves, dress shirts, notebooks, face wash. I could go on for pages. Not only is their stuff cheap, It’s quality. Seven Eleven is so popular that sometimes companies even do special Seven Eleven only promotions. I actually have a face wash from a Japanese company’s Seven Eleven only product line. And it works well, too. Seven Eleven isn’t a joke in Japan. Another thing Japanese Seven Elevens have but American ones don’t are Ichiban Kuji lotteries. Other stores have them as well, but I first noticed one at a Seven Eleven. However, sometimes they are exclusive to certain stores. Usually there is a display set up and it shows all the prizes available. These prizes always have a certain popular anime, movie, or character theme. First, you have to take a voucher from the display, then go to the cashier to pay. Depending on how many one decides to buy, one gets to pick that many tickets. The tops of these tickets can be peeled off. They have a letter inside, and one gets the prize corresponding to that letter. Someone may not always get what they want, but they always get something. (I’ve wasted quite a bit of money on these myself). It’s super fun, especially because one always gets a prize, and it’s pretty addicting. “Maybe I’ll buy only one more ticket, this time I’ll get that pikachu plush!”. Another common promotion at a Japanese Seven Eleven is where people can buy a certain brand of candy, and then can get some sort of small gift with it, commonly a plastic file with a design or a pin. It’s definitely a good marketing strategy to make people buy more candy (it makes me buy more candy at least). These two features are probably one of the things I’ll miss the most about Seven Eleven when I return to America. American Seven Elevens simply don’t have features like this.

Although I obviously favor Japanese Seven Elevens, they don’t have everything American ones do. Seven Elevens in Japan don’t have slushies, and although I think they have great candy and food, I feel their western foods aren’t as good as their more traditional Japanese foods. And as much as I love Japanese snacks and candy, I do occasionally feel a bit homesick for my favorite American candies and chips. Japanese Seven Elevens are my favorite, but I don’t think the American ones should completely change to be like the Japanese ones, I think they need to take a lesson in quality and variety from the Japanese stores. It would also be pretty cool (not for my wallet though) if they did promotions like the Ichiban Kuji lotteries or “buy two candies get one of these things free”. Considering America though, it’ll probably never change. Overall, there are a vast variety of differences between Japanese and American Seven Elevens, even if they are supposed to be part of the same company.

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