East vs West

How about that typhoon hey?

Well, actually, I don’t know. I was living it up in Tokyo and watching as my friends in Hiroshima posted photos of radar images telling me they were going to be wiped off the map by Typhoon #18. I thought, yes, it might be windy and rainy, but konbini [コンビニ] will be open for business 24/7 as usual. Konbini is a tough MOFO! The day it has to close due to inclement weather, NK missiles etc. is the day I lose faith in the world. Let’s not talk about it anymore!

Oh, my God, I completely forgot about a story I had been meaning to tell you all. Seriously though, why do all my konbini stories lately involve the delicious but mysterious (because it seems to be missing a lot recently!) sweet red bean paste bread known as anpan [あんパン]?

I didn’t even remember all this until I was sitting on the plane ready to leave Hiroshima on Saturday morning of the long weekend. We’ll get to the point of this column in a minute, but I need to tell you about my anpan experience back in March.

It was early morning in Narita Airport on my way back from Australia to Hiroshima when I realised I was hungry. I needed coffee and I wanted anpan.

I was downstairs where the Narita Express leaves from, sitting right in front of Seven-Eleven when the hunger struck.

I wandered around in there, my eyes frantically scanning the shelves of baked goods. Where was my classic anpan? Where was the familiar fairly large, smooth-topped parcel of goodness with the sprinkle of black sesame seeds on top?

Well it wasn’t there.

Why?

Because the Tokyo version is small (like half the size people!) with a sprinkling of white seeds instead. And not sesame seeds. You know the ones I mean; the tiny white ones that look like poppy seeds, but a tad smaller.

I bought it; I was desperate for proper Japanese food after a week away, but it was weird. It had a completely different taste and well, it was so small. Sooooo small. I don’t think you realise how small.

Tiny Tokyo Anpan

As I sat there waiting for the plane to leave last weekend I began to wonder: does this kind of thinking apply to all things East versus West? East Japan versus West Japan I mean. Don’t get all defensive there, I wasn’t insinuating anything! If anpan is small, then what about… well, the size of the konbini for example? You dirty-minded people, you thought I was going to say something else, didn’t you?!

Konbini size is all the same really, no matter where you go in Japan. I couldn’t remember back to my time living in Tokyo and what size konbini were, but I wondered if in the megacity of megacities, that because space was limited that it would be smaller. Not so.

That’s when I began to imagine a super konbini! A King of Konbini if it were? It could stock not only the usual things, but branch out intootaku [オタク] goods for konbini junkies like me. I’m sure other weirdos would enjoy that sort of thing. Or a café where you could get freshly made meals on site. Kind of like a roadhouse stop in Australia or America. Add on a gas station and wham bam, you have a mega konbini.

I have high aspirations for konbini. Their potential is limitless.

As I’ve mentioned, I went to Tokyo for the weekend, so I thought I would explore the differences between East and West Japan as far as konbini go.

I can sum it up in one sentence:

There’s not much difference.

But… I will tell you my great discovery after a little Googling before I left. I write another column about Daiso on my own blog and I discovered that there is a kind of amalgamation of both konbini and 100 yen shops.

Yes, it’s called Lawson Store 100.

Lawson 100

Yes, as in everything is 100 yen but it’s a konbini.

Brilliant, brilliant concept.

Even better was that I stumbled upon it on the exploration of my old neighbourhood and almost skipped into it with joy. The staff didn’t blink (much) as I snapped photos, exclaimed out loud in Japanese with joy and then walked out empty-handed.

Sure, they have a lot of the usual products you can buy anywhere, all for 100 yen (which means other places are ripping us all off!), but look at the alcohol!

Lawson Store 100 has its own versions of all your favourite flavours.

Unfortunately, I was on medication for a cold, so I couldn’t partake in a sample, but I will go back one day and try it out. And I’ll let you know.

Fresh produce at Lawson 100

I think perhaps the best thing of all in the shop is the cheap fruit and vegetables. Everyone in Japan knows how expensive this can be and yet here there is good quality stuff for cheap. People in Tokyo in particular need this kind of thing and many foreigner tourists complain about the lack of fresh fruit available when they visit. This kind of store solves all those problems.

Anyway, my trip to Tokyo was well worth it and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I think just maybe I was more excited about konbini there than I have been about it here in Hiroshima for a few months. Maybe because it was shiny and new and I haven’t been in Tokyo konbini for a while, so I wanted to see what products they did or didn’t have in comparison.

I’m off to find myself a proper large anpan from 7-Eleven. Maybe the Yamazaki brand…

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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