Convenience stores in Japan are conveniently convenient.
We know… 7-Eleven? Really? Yes. Fly all the way to Tokyo for a 7-Eleven convenience store, you should (okay, maybe not only for 7-Eleven).
Greasy pizza, ginormous gulps of soda (or slushies)… what’s the point?
How about 7-Eleven in Japan doesn’t have Slurpees? No pizza either. No fountain soda.
No, Japanese 7-Eleven is so much different it begs the question — why isn’t 7-Eleven in the United States more like Japan’s? Actually convenient and decently quality food.
Speaking of food… first, we’ll go over amazing things to eat in 7-Eleven (and other convenience stores, called conbini in Japan). Then we’ll discuss what really makes 7-Eleven convenient — especially if you live in Japan.
But before we dive in, remember, conbini in Tokyo are almost all open 24 hours (though some Mini Stops — another convenience store chain — have been closing since COVID — but seems most are still on a 24-hour schedule).
Heads up, recent changes — Japan recently enacted policies that prohibit shops like 7-Eleven from freely giving you plastic bags to hold the items you purchase. Bring an eco-bag with you to hold the items — or you will have to pay ¥3 for a small bag or ¥5 for a large one.
What to Eat in 7-Eleven
Convenience stores are loaded with a large number of prepared, delicious food. Some are bentos (boxed lunch), onigiri (rice balls), sando (sandwiches), some hot foods at the counter like fried chicken, corndogs, fries, oden, nikuman (pork buns), yakitori, and more. Frozen foods, dried foods, plus tons of drinks and snacks to choose from.
Then there is a variety of bread and dessert too — not to mention the variety changes seasonally.
Before you get into the foods here, if you’d like to learn more about Japanese cuisine, check out our thorough guide to over 80 Japanese dishes.
Bentos at most convenience stores are the main attraction — particularly at lunchtime (which is why you’ll find 7-Eleven parking lots quite full between 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM.
They are lunch boxes that, when you bring them to the counter, the staff will heat it for you using industrial microwaves. Pretty cool.
Common bentos you’ll find are katsukare (pork cutlet curry and rice), soba noodles (buckwheat noodles), hayashi rice, ramen, karaage, takoyaki (octopus balls), yakiniku/shogayaki (grilled meat/ginger pork), and more — far more. There really is a massive variety to choose from, and it changes from season to season.
If you need some help with Japanese cuisine, you should take a peek at our thorough guide to Japanese food, where we cover over 80 dishes to help you discover new dining ideas.
The hot foods in Tokyo 7-Eleven’s are unique compared to what you may be used to back home. They sit in a warmer, and the staff grabs what you ask them for. Sometimes they’ll heat it in the microwave too if it’s not warm enough.
About the closest thing is the fried chicken, called nana-chiki (there normal fried chicken and one without bones). They also often have karaage on a stick (Japanese fried chicken chunks). While you might try their fried chicken, there are other items to try.
The fries at 7-Eleven Japan aren’t great, skip those. Go for the “American Dog,” aka corndog, if you’re tired of trying new things and want a break.
The nikuman (meat buns) are awesome. They’re seasonal and available in Fall-early Spring. They have a few flavors actually — and they rotate them. But pork buns are the norm — others include curry, pizza, and anko (sweet red beans).
You’ll also see oden, a dashi and soy sauce-based soup with veggies, sausage, and eggs simmering in it during the cold months. Just ask the staff to help — point to the items you want, and they’ll scoop it into a bowl for you.
Onigiri are rice balls shaped like triangles, and they come stuffed with all sorts of flavors. Some you’ll commonly find are syake (salmon), tuna mayo, umeboshi (pickled plum), hijiki (brown seaweed), and much more. 7-Eleven is known for having the best onigiri of the convenience store chains.
Most come wrapped in nori (dried seaweed) both for flavor and make them easier to hold.
Plus, they’re cheap, at about ¥130 each — you can grab a couple of onigiris, and you have an affordable lunch to power you through to dinner.
Sando is the Japanese word for sandwich, and wow, does Japan have some delicious sandwiches you can just grab and go. The most popular is the egg salad sandwich.
We know… egg salad? Yes, egg salad. It’s good, cheap, and since there are 7-Eleven’s all over Tokyo (practically every square inch), you’re never more than a couple of blocks for a Japanese egg salad sandwich.
Other sandwiches include:
- Ham and Cucumber
- Ham and Potato Salad
- Tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet)
- Yakisoba (grilled noodles)
- Whipped cream with fruit (sometimes mixed fruit, sometimes just strawberry, or blueberry)
There are more, and 7-Eleven often has seasonal (or limited time only) flavors as well.
7-Eleven, and all the major Japanese convenience stores, have a wide variety of instant noodles. Big brand name noodles from Cup Noodle and sometimes team up with popular ramen chains like Ippudo.
You’ll find a hot water pot on the counter near the cash register you can use to make your instant noodles right in the store before leaving!
This is actually amazing. If you haven’t seen the variety of drinks available at 7-Eleven and other conbini’s you’re missing out. They have a variety of water, tea, energy drinks you’ve never heard of, soda’s you might only ever see once in your life — same for juices.
And then the same thing for alcoholic beverages too — a huge selection of beer and canned chu-hi cocktails.
You can find some yummy desserts in 7-Eleven too (we told you, the Japanese don’t mess around).
Desserts such as:
- Dorayaki (pancake sandwich with anko inside) — anko is sweet red bean paste.
- Warabimochi (anko wrapped in mochi) — mochi is rice pounded into a dough-like paste.
- Annin Tofu (almond jelly)
And much more. Just like the main meal items, the desserts are seasonal too; so much variety the selection can be overwhelming sometimes.
Alright, with foods out of the way, let’s discuss other reasons why 7-Eleven in Japan is very convenient.
Paying: Cash, Credit, or Mobile
While mobile payment likely won’t be available to you as a visitor, paying in cash and credit card will work. It used to be not long ago; cash was the only way to pay.
Btw, when we say cash we mean Japanese yen, not USD. 7-Eleven doesn’t accept USD — and also will not exchange big bills with small bills (though you can buy a small item and then you’ll get back small change).
Now it is much more convenient since you can pay with a credit card. Careful with debit cards though. Some seem to work, others fail. Have a backup just in case.
Also, if you bought a SUICA card for train travel, you can use it to pay at 7-Eleven.
Update: we’ve discovered some 7-Eleven locations are experimenting with a cash register where you pay for the goods yourself, rather than giving the money to a clerk.
At one of these locations, you’ll hand your items to the clerk as you normally would. They will scan and total your bill. Then you move over to the self-serve register to pay — freeing the clerk to help the next customer while you pay.
Withdraw Yen From the ATM in Japan
The Seven and I Holdings is the parent company of 7-Eleven, Ito Yokado, and 7-Bank (among others). The 7-Bank part is interesting because now every 7-Eleven in Tokyo has an ATM inside.
And you can use this ATM to withdraw yen from your U.S. bank back home. The best part is while there is a service fee, you also get closer to market exchange rates.
If you’re withdrawing a lot of yen, this could work out to your favor.
Using the Toilet
Since there is a 7-Eleven around every corner, it’s very convenient when you need to use the restroom. You can just go in and use the toilet — chances are nobody will say anything to you.
But the polite way is first to ask the staff if you may use the toilet. Say “toire okashite kudasai” (sounds like toe-E-lay oh-ka-she-tay koo-duh-sigh).
Other Convenience Store Chains
Let’s wrap up this guide by saying the other big convenience store chains are pretty nice too. While 7-Eleven has the overall crown, there are things about the others that set them apart somewhat.
FamilyMart has a few hot foods 7-Eleven doesn’t, like their “FamiChiki” fried chicken.
Lawson is famous for it’s “karaage-kun” chicken nuggets. They’ve also recently begun adding a ton of prepared packets of foods to take home and construct your meals from.
Mini Stop was purchased by the large Aeon Mall group — so now you can get some supermarket items in Mini Stop.
But Mini Stop is most popular for their hot foods — where you order and they re-fry in a small kitchen in-store. Things like fries, nuggets, etc. are actually pretty good at Mini Stop.
We hope this guide helped give you insight into why 7-Eleven and other convenience stores in Japan are so popular. They’re actually convenient.
The store owners and staff are friendly, fast, and efficient at their work. It really works like a well-oiled machine. The logistics network 7-Eleven has built must be remarkable.