Two words for you: convenience stores. Actually, only one word if you say it in Engrish (or Japanese – depending how you look at it) – konbini.
Japan does them like nobody else. They’re everywhere, easy to get to, sell all sorts of stuff, they're clean, efficient, and well, convenient. Konbinis were the one thing about Japan I missed the most when living on the northern outskirts of Europe.
But they’re not just simple convenience stores. They’re conveniently convenient stores, too. And not just when it comes to melon bread and adult manga. Want to pay your car insurance and electric bill? No problem, you can do it at your local Lawson.
Want to shop on-line but don’t have a credit card? Or have a foreign credit card and don’t want to get whacked with massive currency exchange fees? No worries, you can still shop on-line and then pay for the goods at a convenience store. That’s how I bought my new MacBook – paid for it at 7-Eleven.
Want to withdraw money but can’t find an ATM that would accept your foreign bank card and there’s no post office around? Just head to the nearest 7-Eleven. Their ATMs do what many Japanese banks’ ATMs are unable to do – process a transaction on a foreign bank card.
We have two konbinis within 300 meters of our apartment building. One is a Lawson’s and the other 7-Eleven. There’s a Sunkus just a few minutes further up the road and a Family Mart, if you decide to walk in the opposite direction.
Not every konbini is open 24/7 (regardless of what some misguided visitors may tell you), but most open early and stay open until late. A huge contrast to a certain European city where the only thing still open around midnight was one lonely gas station.
And now, if you excuse me, it’s time for my late night walk to Lawson’s to get me some caramel ice cream. See you later!