An anthropological study of konbini and my big news

Well, it’s time to reveal my big news…

I’ve always been in love with Mr. FM (Family Mart).

Just kidding. Seriously, he’s not my type at all, but somehow, I ended up falling for him.

I’ve been thinking about this for nearly two years now (No, I don’t mean telling you I’ve always been in love with Mr. FM!) Last year I made a mistake and stupidly decided to put the thought aside because I’d met someone. That turned out to be something I’m currently trying to erase from my memory, but partly, as a result of this, I’ve decided to leave The Land of Konbini [コンビニ], aka Japan, and return to Kangaroo Land, aka Australia.

Of course, there are many other reasons that are far higher on the list than this and the main reason is that I have been offered the chance to pursue my passion.

No, I don’t mean taste-testing konbini food. 7-Eleven obviously didn’t get my not-so-subtle hints and FM is just too late.

I mean my writing. I have been offered a cadetship at an Australian newspaper and after one year, I will be considered a fully-fledged journalist. Yay me! ☺

How does this all relate to my konbini column?

Well, I won’t be writing it anymore and I don’t know anyone good enough (just kidding!) or anyone who loves konbini as much as me to continue writing it for you every week.

My final konbini column will be a combined Christmas and New Year’s edition on December 22.

Until then though, I plan on continuing my love for konbini and packing in as much konbininess (yes, I made that word up) as possible into my last few weeks (of both my column and Japan).

Oh, before I begin, let me say that the 7-Eleven Christmas-themed cups have arrived! Now I know it’s just over a month until Christmas but I still feel it’s too soon. Maybe it’s because I’m in Japan. Anyway, I’m not sure if they have the red and green cups this year, but I’ve been given a string of red cups lately, although it’s a slightly different red from last year. Very festive.

Anyway, this week’s column is all about the anthropological study of konbini. If that’s a little too technical for you, basically I mean the study of humans and how they interact with konbini.

As a side note, my first degree is actually in anthropology and I majored in archaeology, so there you go, this is right up my alley! Also, let me just say I did consider many times while I’ve been living here about doing my PhD and focusing on konbini as a way of studying Japanese society. After a little bit of research, I discovered a foreign guy actually did just that. If you’re interested, check out Dr. Gavin H. Whitelaw and read a few of his papers. I found them fascinating, but then again, I’m a weirdo konbini junkie. Maybe it’s just me.

I see konbini as the nucleus of a neighbourhood and community. I guess I could liken it to a heart or a brain. Konbini is used not only as a place to purchase items, pay bills etc., but also as a meeting place. I can’t count how many times I’ve said, “I’ll meet you in front of the 7-Eleven at the south exit of Hiroshima Station,” or, “Let’s meet at Family Mart near your place.” It’s also great for killing time when you’re waiting for someone. I love browsing the aisles for new products. ☺

Konbini is also used as a reference point when giving directions, or drawing maps for people.

In fact, depending on where the konbini is located, also depends on many of the products and promotions. Here in Hiroshima, we celebrate the lunar New Year by eating specially made sushi rolls while facing a specific compass direction which differs from year to year. You do in fact receive a tiny compass with your order to help you out. Thanks, konbini!

Konbini can also be a form of comfort. I know I once ducked into a 7-Eleven toilet when I was being stalked by a crazy Japanese guy I later reported to the police. I’ve also read other women using konbini for the same reason. The fact that my local konbini staff also know that I come in every morning for coffee and are ready to pass the cup to me, shows that they take an interest in their customers’ lives.

Konbini are a gathering place for social interactions. Just ask the gang members who hang out at my local Family Mart on a Wednesday night. Lots of elderly staff like to just go and have a chat to the staff about what they’ve been doing that day too. In some ways, I sometimes think konbini acts as a sort of counselling service.

Yep, konbini is definitely a major aspect of Japanese society and one that foreigners who visit and live here find quite interesting. We are often amazed by what you can do there and we sometimes don’t understand how Japanese people can just take them for granted.

I know for a fact that when I’m back in Australia I will think of konbini every single time I walk into my local corner shop. I’ll be searching for that damn anpan [あんパン], sweet red bean paste ball of dough and reminding myself that it’s not hiding from me anymore… it just isn’t there.

I guess now I need to find an aspect of Australian culture that means as much to me and can explain the society in just the same way as konbini.

Talk to you all again next week!

Photo: © Gavin H Whitelaw

Jade Brischke

Jade first visited Hiroshima with a group of her students from Australia and after falling in love with the city, vowed that one day she would return to live and work. It seems dreams really do come true!

When she’s not writing she’s out and about with her camera, walking and exploring the streets or some may say, wandering aimlessly. She, however, doesn’t believe any wandering is aimless.

Jade blogs regularly at jackcrispy.com.

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