A few months ago GH editor Paul asked me if I was interested in being the special guest on a new talk show called, “Deep Hiroshima Salon,” being launched as part of a joint project between local radio station RCC and GetHiroshima.
Of course I said yes, but then I began to wonder, why would they want to talk to me?! I just write a column about konbini [コンビニ] food.
And that, apparently, is REALLY interesting to many Japanese people.
You can watch the event below (I’m on around the 40 minute 40 second mark). But as we had to cut a lot of information due to time constraints I have written out fuller answers to Goto Izumi’s questions.
Why did you decide to write the column and why did you want to share that information with people?
I had decided to embark upon a one-year writing challenge writing about a topic everyday, but I wanted to do something once a week that I could commit to. I knew that if I was writing for someone else I couldn’t let them down and so I suggested to Paul to write about something close to my heart- konbini food.
I have always been fascinated by konbini. My very first time in a Japanese konbini was 11 years ago when I arrived in Tokyo to live and work for a year. My flatmates took me into Family Mart and one of them told me they never shopped anywhere else for food. I remember thinking, “Wow, this must be the best place ever! I can buy everything I need!” I remember hearing the chime as I walked in which is still the same chime today. It became one of my favourite sounds in the world and I even had it as my ringtone on my keitai for awhile.
I think the main reason I wanted to start writing the column was to share my love of something that people use every day and maybe just take for granted. Japanese people don’t really think about konbini because it’s something they’re so familiar with. Foreigners think they are just AMAZING!
I use them everyday for my morning coffee and usually bread for breakfast and it’s a place that is so in tune with the seasons and let’s people know that. It’s always changing and yet at the same time, it’s also constant and reliable. I think it’s something that makes people feel secure. They’re also super… konbinient. They’re not just a place to buy food or drink and I think that’s what I wanted to convey to people through my column.
What do you find interesting about konbini?
For foreigners I think konbini are on par or on the same level with vending machines in Japan. It’s just what we immediately think of when we think of Japan; a modern image of Japan if you like. They’re a novelty the first time you walk in. The products are all unfamiliar and if you can’t read Japanese you have no idea what you’re eating half the time. That’s both exciting and terrifying.
I find it fascinating how no matter where you go in Japan you can find one. When you go to the country and you stumble across the only one within miles you suddenly feel as though you’re coming home. It’s kind of like a sign of civilization in the middle of the wilderness!
Japanese konbini are like a whole subculture of their own. They can be used as a safe haven, for photocopying documents, for buying tickets, for paying bills and even for just using the toilet if you’re too far from home to go. In Japan even public toilets are fairly clean, but you can always trust the ones in konbini to be fairly good because the staff are just so vigilant.
Konbini in Australia are a WHOLE different story. I would never ‘hang out’ at my local convenience store while in Japan it’s perfectly acceptable to meet your friends there, use the air conditioning in summer etc. Australian convenience stores are also super expensive. I tend to only go there when I’m really stuck for one ingredient I need for cooking.
What’s your favourite konbini and why?
7-Eleven is without a doubt my favourite. Their products are high quality, the staff are the friendliest ones no matter which konbini you go to and there are always new and interesting products there. It’s the Number One konbini in Japan and it’s very obvious why.
When I stumbled across a secondhand jacket from 7-Eleven in SunMall I just knew I had to buy it and wear it on the show! 🙂
What are your favourite products?
I love 7-Eleven anpan; hands down the best konbini anpan. I will not eat any other type. I’m very loyal. Family Mart’s melon/meron pan is also number one. I have been known to go from store to store to find what I’m craving if it’s sold out in one store.
At the moment my new favourite is the ‘Chocolate Piece Danish’ from Family Mart. I have not only been eating it for breakfast but also for dessert or sometimes dinner if I don’t feel like much. Yep, I’m into healthy eating as you can tell!
I’m always buying onigiri too. 7-Eleven is the best place to buy them. My favourite is the osekihan. I also think 7-11 has the best tuna-mayo, but Lawson definitely offers the best basic salted shio-onigiri. 7-Eleven also does really interesting new products and always seems to try to incorporate local products. They did a Hiroshima kombu one earlier this year which included Hiroshima-na greens that GH editor Paul became addicted to after I introduced him to it.
Drinks are always an interesting one. I know chuuhai etc. is a little more expensive at konbini but it’s also where you can find ones that are exclusive to konbini or that are limited edition.
And, nothing says konbini more than 100 yen coffee. Who can go past that?! Their coffee is amazing! Big chains just cannot compete with that. I know some people still like to go to Starbucks etc. and sit down, but now that konbini has introduced sit-down areas, I predict the next big thing will be something like a 7-Eleven Café.
So there you go, my take on konbini and why I do what I do. Let me know your thoughts and whether you view konbini in the same way that I do.