There’s a lot of convenience stores in Japan but 7-Eleven is definitely my favorite of them all.
Although the actual stores themselves tend to be on the older side compared to other convenience stores, they can’t be beat in terms of food quality. There’s a lot of things they sell though that I usually don’t even notice, but can really come in handy in a pinch. At the same time, there ARE things that convenience stores in Japan don’t have! It’s good to be prepared ahead of time for what you can and can’t find, so you don’t end up in trouble.
Can Find: Shirts, socks, and more!
Obviously you won’t be finding the newest hip Uniqlo T-shirts or anything like that at a 7-Eleven, but they have a small selection of T-shirts, business shirts, socks, underwear, and more. You might be thinking, “Why would I ever need to buy those from 7-Eleven?” but trust me, you would be surprised. There are two distinct times 7-Eleven clothing has saved me, both related to English teaching.
The first time was on my first day of training as an English teacher. I was wearing short socks. Apparently the managing teacher did not like this. After our break we were going to be teaching real students for the first time and I was not up to their dress code. Luckily during said lunch break, I was able to grab a pair of normal business socks at 7-Eleven and throw them on prior to my lesson. Instant professionalism!
The second time, I spilled sauce on one of my white business shirts during a lunch break between classes. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but I think it might’ve been McDonald’s barbecue sauce or something along those lines. I couldn’t go into a lesson with a giant red splotch on my shirt, and after running to 7-Eleven I was able to grab a new shirt to change into. Not a high quality business shirt by any means and I haven’t worn it since, but it saved me from a lot of embarrassment!
Can’t find: Specialized shampoo
Most convenience stores will sell at least one or two brands of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. Unsurprisingly though, they try to pick the most basic options as possible, to cast a wide net of customers. For myself and many other foreigners I know, standard Japanese shampoos and soaps aren’t quite up to snuff.
If you’re in a rush or aren’t very picky, of course you can grab something at the local convenience store! But if you want options or need something specific, you’re going to need to stop by a drug store. I generally use medicated shampoo for dry scalp, and while I’ve tried using 7-Eleven brand shampoo in the past, it just wasn’t good enough. Having to go out of my way to go to drug stores just for shampoos can sometimes be a pain, but don’t expect to find much at the conbini!
Can Find: Hangover “Cures”
If you like to drink, you’re going to want to get familiar with Japan’s special hangover “cures.” They’re usually at the top of the small drink section, on top of fiber/vitamin supplements and protein gels. They usually come in a few different forms, with drinks, pills, and powders all being common.
My personal go-to is the drinkable hepalyse, in a small brown glass bottle with a big picture of a liver on it. Even if you can’t read Japanese, the liver image makes it pretty clear what it’s about! I put “cure” in quotation marks because these things aren’t going to completely save you from a hangover, but I’ve had good results with them in the past. You can also drink them right before you start drinking to prepare your body for the pain, I guess. The drinkable version is a REALLY sweet pineapple flavor so do be prepared for that, as it can be… shocking.
Can’t Find: (Most) Medicines
This was one of the most annoying things I discovered upon moving to Japan. To get almost any kind of medicine, you need to go to a drug store specifically. These days there are sometimes upgraded convenience stores that also offer medicine, but the most you can usually find are the aforementioned hangover cures along with some weak stomach medicines.
I have a tendency to get headaches, so I almost always try to keep pain-killers on me. Back home in America I could find heavy-duty stuff basically anywhere, so I didn’t have to worry too much about having a stash. Here though I have to be much more careful, because there isn’t always going to be a drug store handy!
Can Find: Household Cleaning Supplies
I don’t know why, but I honestly am always taken aback by how many different home cleaning supplies you can buy at 7-Eleven. For some reason in my mind, I associate cleaning stuff with supermarkets or drug stores, similar to shampoo and medicine. But actually, the amount of stuff you can get at the convenience store is pretty dang good!
Similarly to shampoo though, there isn’t a huge brand selection. While that’s problematic for shampoo, for cleaning, I haven’t found it to be a problem. These products are made specifically for cleaning Japanese homes, after all! On top of what you would expect to find, like hand soap and detergent, there’s stuff like saran wrap and bug spray as well. You can usually even find Tupperware or paper plates and cups.
There’s also a lot of cleaning solutions for specific areas of the house, like the bath, or your kitchen drains. Japanese apartments seem to get dirty a lot easier than I’m used to and honestly, I’m not sure if it’s a problem with the buildings here or a climate thing. But that means that if I don’t clean a lot more than I’d like to, things start to deteriorate quickly. If you don’t have drain cleaner, bath cleaner, or any other random cleaners, I’d recommend stopping by 7-Eleven or another convenience store and getting a small stock! Better to start maintaining things early than to have to spend an entire day cleaning after it’s too late.
There’s a lot more random stuff you can find at the convenience store, like manga and pet food that I didn’t have space to delve into. Next time you’re at the convenience store, go down the aisles that you don’t normally go down. You’ll probably find one or two things that you’ve never noticed before!
Nathan works for the GaijinPot Housing Service, helping foreigners find their home in Japan. He’s American and has lived in Japan for about three years. Read Nathan’s self-intro to find out what brought him here!
If you are looking for an apartment in Japan (whether you’re applying from overseas or are already in-country), check out the GaijinPot Housing Service. With the GaijinPot Housing Service, you:
- Can choose from 3,000+ properties throughout Japan.
- Don’t need a guarantor.
- Can apply from overseas.
- Pay all your upfront costs and monthly costs with a credit card.
- Receive full English service, from the room view, to application, to post-move-in support.
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