Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Japanese Konbini

Having moved into my company apartment with no internet access and possessing a bank account of which the funds are rapidly drying up, I’ve had plenty of time to sit here and (aside from doing basically nothing) reflect on some funny but also fantastic things about Japan. Although I’ve been here for the best part of a year now, it’s taken me this long to sit down and really take in everything that has happened over the past eleven months. 

No Conbini is complete without countless signs and posters!
I hope that anybody who currently lives (or has ever lived) in Japan can relate to this and have a small chuckle! For those of you who have not yet been to the land of the Rising Sun, I hope that this will act as a primer for the kind of environment you will experience! I’ve got plenty to talk about but let’s just focus mainly on two funny and strange (but interesting!) things about the Japanese convenience store!

# 1 – The Welcome

When you enter, you'll hear at least one person shout, "Irasshaimase!" which basically translates as "Welcome!" or "Come in! Come in!” The interesting thing is that even when you've been in the store for a good ten to twenty seconds, you'll likely hear another (rather out of place) welcome. By this point, you start to realise that either someone must be forcing them at gunpoint to say it or they’ve been hypnotised at birth (I'll go with the latter). Although some might call this "service", the novelty wears off and it starts to get tiresome sooner than you'd imagine! 

A hoo hoo hoo hoo heeee!
 With that said, I do remember one occasion when I went into a convenience store and nobody greeted me. As much as I like to make satirical complaints about this kind of thing, I have grown accustomed to hearing this high-pitched welcome the moment that I step foot in the store. While it’s not restricted to convenience stores, the fairly small space means that your entry will rarely go unnoticed or unwelcomed. As such, when my entrance fell on deaf ears, I felt like the level of service had taken a nosedive and thought to myself, “How dare they not welcome me!”

Another thing that quickly got on my nerves was the monotonous intonation adopted by 99% of those working in conbinis. The interesting thing is that while they choose to use this bland speaking style while saying things they are told to say, they become normal human beings once you ask them a question beyond the reach of their robotic set phrases. You can expect this lifeless speaking style 1) when you enter the shop, 2) while you are just walking around the shop, 3) while they are handling your money, 4) when you complete your purchase and/or leave the shop.

# 2 – The Conversation block

they are not big on talking..

While in the UK, it’s certainly less common to be welcomed once you enter somewhere like an off-license, any small talk made with the shopkeeper feels completely genuine and honest when compared to the stiff robotic behaviour exhibited by a large portion of the conbini staff in Japan. To date, the most meaningful conversation I’ve had with someone in a conbini went something like this:


Me: “It’s pretty hot today, isn’t it. You’re lucky to be in here with the air conditioner on. I have to ride my bike to work for 25 minutes everyday in the heat!”

Shop assistant: “Wow! Your Japanese is amazing!”

Me: “Err… (I wasn’t exactly explaining thermodynamics but…) thanks!”

Shop assistant: “Here’s your change, sir. Thank you and come back soon!”

Me: “Oh… (Did you even listen to what I said in the first place or are you trying to get rid of me?)… Thanks! Bye…!”


Having said that, considering how robotic their mannerisms tend to be, it would probably be a bit startling to be engaged in a conversation with convenience store staff, so I suppose they might be doing it all in the interest of consistency!

Check back soon for more interesting but often weird things about Japanese convenience stores!


  1. I actually had a Nisei-jin friend who while on year abroad got a baito at a 7-11. I would occasionally go in there and despite being quite good friends and dormmates, she couldn't ever talk to me. Apparently you aren't allowed to converse with the customer.


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