- Japan is home to more 7-Eleven stores than anywhere else in the world.
- On a trip to Tokyo and Kyoto, I understood why the convenience store has grown in popularity.
- It became a daily stop for me. I’d grab cash, pick up sushi, and try Japanese snacks.
There’s pretty much only one reason I ever step inside a 7-Eleven in the US, and it’s when I’m craving the artificial sweetness of a blue-raspberry Slurpee.
But on a trip to Japan, I found myself inside a 7-Eleven practically every day.
Whether it was to grab cash or scarf down a quick sushi roll, the convenience store has a new place in my heart (and my stomach).
7-Elevens are huge in Japan
According to Sugoi Mart, 7-Eleven is the largest convenience-store chain in Japan. I saw that firsthand. There were rarely times on my trip when I wasn’t a five-minute walk to a 7-Eleven. And usually, I had my choice between three or four within walking distance.
According to the Los Angeles Times, there are between 50,000 and 60,000 7-Elevens spread across the country.
The chain’s rise to popularity came about for a few reasons. First of all, 7-Elevens are convenient. Japan has a fast-paced lifestyle and long working hours, and since 7-Elevens are open 24/7, it makes it an easy place to grab a quick bite to eat, Sugoi Mart reports.
The quality food has also contributed to its popularity, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“The quality is next level,” Kaila Imada, a senior editor for Time Out Tokyo, who has written connoisseur’s guides to the convenience store, told the Los Angeles Times. “You can find dinner there and it will be a top-notch dinner.”
I discovered it was a fun place to try Japanese snacks and an easy place to take out cash
The convenience store practically became a daily stop on my 12-day trip to Tokyo and Kyoto.
It was one of the first places I visited when I arrived since 7-Elevens have ATMs where anyone can take out cash. Since Japan still heavily relies on cash, it was almost always easier to find a 7-Eleven than a bank that worked with my debit card.
The stores were both eerily similar and exactly the opposite of the ones I’ve been to in the US. While the exterior, branding, and store layout were identical, the food was completely different — and that’s why I think I was enamored by it so much.
In the mornings, I popped in to try different canned coffees, matcha, and teas. I guzzled bottles of Craft Boss matcha.
In the afternoon, if I wanted a snack between dinner and lunch, I’d grab an onigiri, which is a Japanese rice ball filled with seafood and covered by seaweed — the perfect walking snack. While the convenience-store sushi didn’t compare to the restaurants I visited in the country, it could compete with some of the sushi I eat back home in Denver, Colorado.
At night, I almost always popped into the store to grab some sweets. During the two weeks of my vacation, I tried a Choco Monaka Jumbo, which is an ice cream surrounded by a crispy wafer and crunchy chocolate shell; I devoured down Crunky Cookie Balls, which are crispy cookies coated in chocolate; and had more than my fair share of Pocky, which are popular biscuit sticks coated in chocolate, strawberry cream, cookies and cream, matcha, or banana cream.
Perhaps the best part was that the snacks were always affordable. I never spent more than a few US dollars on my 7-Eleven stops, so trying the popular snacks quickly became one of my favorite parts of my time in Japan.