Travel logistics can be one of the least enjoyable aspects of traveling, but thanks to its legendary convenience stores — known as conbini in Japanese — traveling around Japan is surprisingly simple!
The thought of schlepping my suitcase on trains and bullet trains, hiding my cash in various nooks and crannies, making sure I’ve packed everything on my list, and mentally mapping out bathroom breaks makes me want to curl up into a ball.
But I never stress about these details when exploring Japan, because Japanese convenience stores make traveling around the country so much better.
Here are just a few of my favorite conbini travel hacks to help make your trip to Japan a smooth and hassle-free journey!
Withdraw Cash From International-Friendly ATMs
Though credit card use is on the rise in Japan, it’s still very much a cash economy. It’s not unusual for smaller establishments to deal only in cash, so it’s essential to always have some on hand!
Read more about cash, credit cards, and ATMs in Japan.
Fortunately, as long as there’s a 7-Eleven convenience store in sight, you’ll never have to worry about being short on yen — and, as you will see, 7-Elevens are everywhere.
Plus, they’re open 24 hours!
These days, other conbini companies are catching up, so you’ll also find ATMs that accept overseas cards at some FamilyMarts, for example. However, 7-Eleven still tends to be the best bet.
Forward Luggage to Your Next Destination
One of the surprising joys of traveling around Japan is the country’s incredible luggage forwarding service. Sure, it may not sound very exciting, but using this easy and reliable service makes getting around the country a breeze.
But how can you take advantage of luggage forwarding when you’re staying at a friend’s house or an Airbnb?
Simply drop your suitcase off at your nearest conbini and continue along on your travels, secure with the knowledge that your luggage will be waiting for you at your next destination. With a couple of days’ notice, you can even send it to the airport for easy pick up right in your departure terminal.
Assuming you don’t speak Japanese, make sure to check out this guide from Kuroneko Yamato (one of the most well-known luggage forwarding providers in Japan) on how to properly fill out the forms and enjoy traveling light!
Read more about packing for your trip to Japan.
Eat Surprisingly Good Food
If you’ve done a fair amount of reading on Japan, chances are you’ve already heard that Japanese conbini food is surprisingly good!
Maybe it’s no surprise in a food-obsessed country like Japan, but Japan’s convenience stores put most other countries’ to absolute shame.
Sure, you’ll find junk food, too — the snack aisles at conbini offer endless delights — but on top of the usual snacks, you’ll find quite an array of culinary offerings.
There are dozens of varieties of onigiri (rice balls), countless bento boxes and salads, and all sorts of colorful and delicious sandwiches (including the iconic tamago sando).
You can slurp some noodles (there’s often a whole instant ramen section) or an intensely satisfying bowl of hot, soupy oden (this is all my mum ever wants to eat after coming off a flight to Japan), and wash it all down with an iced green tea or a can of delicious Japanese beer.
Of course, there are truly amazing places to eat in Japan (such as Tokyo’s sushi “temples”), but if you’re ever in a crunch, conbini have your back!
If you’re serious about coffee, you might already have a long list of cafes to hit up while traveling in Japan (check out our post on specialty coffee in Japan for inspiration).
But unlike in many other parts of the world, trying to find a good cup of coffee or espresso in the morning can prove to be a frustrating challenge! Many a visitor to Japan has been disappointed to discover that most cafes and bakeries don’t open until 10 or 11 a.m.
So if you’re out and about at the crack of dawn and desperately need a caffeine fix, skip the vending machine coffee and get thee to the nearest conbini.
No, it won’t compare to that third-wave coffee shop you wish would open earlier, but Japanese convenience stores are stepping up their coffee game — and for outrageously reasonable prices, too.
Stock Up on Travel Goods and Toiletries
As you can see, Japanese convenience stores are actually convenient. Extremely so! And another key way in which they shine is their sheer variety of travel goods and toiletries.
This goes well beyond basic supplies like toothpaste and Q-tips.
At most conbini, you can stock up on a host of essentials and more, from lightning cable phone chargers and eye masks for snoozing on flights, to socks and dress shirts (and even a tie if you’re in a pinch), design goods from shops like Muji, and so much more.
Of course, if the impressive selection still isn’t enough for you, you may need to pay a visit to the inimitable Don Quijote.
Access Free Wi-Fi
As anyone who has visited knows, Japan is not exactly the land of free Wi-Fi. Staying connected while traveling around Japan can be a real pain if you’re not prepared.
Unless you have a great international plan, we recommend picking up a pocket Wi-Fi device. But if you’re in a lurch, simply head over to the nearest conbini!
Read more about mobile service and Wi-Fi in Japan.
Convenience stores such as FamilyMart and 7-Eleven offer free Wi-Fi services these days, and an email address is usually enough to connect.
In addition to Wi-Fi, conbini can be useful when you need to print or fax something. Granted, this is not high on the list of priorities for most modern travelers (hello, electronic boarding passes), but if the need arises, check out this handy guide to convenience store copy, print, and fax services.
Buy Tickets for Activities
While this tends to be more useful for long-term visitors to Japan, it’s helpful to know that most conbini have little ticket kiosks where you can buy tickets to events, exhibitions, and concerts.
For example, with enough planning in advance, you can buy tickets to the Ghibli Museum from a Lawson convenience store. It’s also how I previously paid for domestic flights without using a credit card!
Use a Clean Bathroom
I’ll admit that when I travel to most countries, part of my brain drive’s permanently-in-use memory is used for constantly scoping out my surroundings while I’m exploring.
If I need to use a bathroom, where’s the nearest shopping center? Can I casually stroll into the lobby of a hotel and use the bathroom? Do I really need to buy a drink at this cafe to use their restroom, thereby negating the whole point of using it in the first place?
Japan is one of those places where you’ll almost never have to worry if you find yourself desperately needing a toilet. Practically every conbini has a free public bathroom you can use, regardless of whether you’re a paying customer or not. Just stroll right in to the back or ask a store attendant. Crisis averted.
Make the Most of Conbini During Your Trip!
Conbini are an integral part of daily life in Japan, both for those who live here and for travelers alike.
Hopefully this introduction to the wonders of Japanese convenience stores — and our favorite conbini travel hacks — help make your Japan trip just that much smoother!