Socks, Drugs, and Wi-Fi: A Look at Japanese Convenience Store Services

Wherever you are in Japan, there is a chance there is a convenience store—or several—nearby. Shops not only offer a wide selection of merchandise, they also provide a number of unique services suited to travelers.

A Must for Travelers

Japanese convenience stores stock a wide selection of personal items, from such consumables as toothbrushes, facemasks, cosmetics, and hand towels to articles of clothing including socks, underwear, gloves, and knit caps. Shoppers will even find items like smartphone chargers, batteries, and stationery.

Extensive selections of toiletries, facemasks, and cosmetics.

FamilyMart offers a variety of hygiene products, including its own brand of disposable underwear—a handy item for travelers.

Most chains carry well-known brands. FamilyMart sells Muji-brand clothing, lifestyle goods, and foods. These high-quality products with their recognizable designs are popular in Japan and other parts of Asia.

Muji-brand products, from underwear to hand towels to stationery goods, line select FamilyMart shelves.

Japanese convenience generally carry select pharmaceuticals, including energy and nutrient drinks, vitamins, and over-the-counter antidiarrheal and gastric medicines.

There are a growing number of shops offering regulated drugs including cold and flu remedies, antifever and pain medication, and kanpō (traditional Chinese medicine) that require a registered sales staff on the premises. As of 2018, Lawson offers such pharmaceuticals at approximately 180 stores and plans to extend this business to 900 locations by fiscal 2021.

The pharmaceuticals section at a Lawson store.

Café Comforts: Wi-Fi and Power Outlets

Over the past several years, convenience stores have increasingly been offering eat-in spaces onsite. Some seats are equipped with power outlets, making them comparable to cafés in terms of comfort and functionality.

A comfortable eat-in space. (Photo courtesy of Lawson)

Another recent addition at many shops is free Wi-Fi. Registration and use policies vary by chain. The following links provide details at Seven-Eleven, FamilyMart, and Lawson branches.

Another useful service at most convenience stores is public toilets. Just remember that it is standard practice to first inform a store attendant that you would like to use the restroom.

Simultaneous Interpretation Assistance

Multi-function copiers for faxing, scanning, and making copies are standard at convenience. Apps such as Seven-Eleven Multi-copy are also available that allow maps, travel information, and business documents to be downloaded to smartphones and printed. Customers can print postcards too using pictures taken on their cameras or smartphones. Just buy a stamp at the cash register and drop them in the mailbox.

There are also ticketing machines where customers can purchase a wide selection of tickets, including for trains and busses, amusement parks, music concerts, and sporting events.

Seven-Eleven is adding English-language menus to its multi-function copiers at more locations.

Seven-Eleven stores offer a simultaneous interpretation service in English and Chinese by phone via call centers so that customers can communicate with Japanese-speaking employees. As of this writing, the chain is considering adding Spanish and Korean interpretation options.

An employee contacts the call center for interpretation assistance.

(Originally published in Japanese. Text by Fujitani Ryōsuke; photos by Jōraku Hiroyuki. Banner photo: shelves displaying pharmaceuticals for sale in a Japanese convenience store.)

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