JIN-435 -- Convenient Truths

J@pan Inc Newsletter

The 'JIN' Japan Inc Newsletter
A weekly opinion piece on social, economic and political trends
in Japan.
Issue No. 435 Wednesday October 10, 2007, Tokyo

Human Rights in Japan

Intellectual Property-Jury System-Arbitration-ALB Awards
PLUS Failed Businesses in Japan & Women in the Workplace
Read for FREE online at www.japaninc.com

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It is natural that a good deal of relationships, whether they be
with other human beings, places, names or random inanimate
objects are best described in the simple binary love/hate.
Love/hate relationships are the result of our unique
capability of being able to identify pros and cons and
constantly question and evaluate the things that enter into
our spheres of existence. This week we focus on an unavoidable
part of life for anyone living in Japan, and with which many
have one of the schizophrenic love/hate relationships described
above: the convenience store.

There are over 40,000 of these oases of snacks and facilities
in Japan compared with around 23,500 elementary schools.
Moreover, the trend is towards an increase in the number of the
former, and a decrease in that of the latter. The 'konbini' has
developed from a place to buy a quick feed and a can of drink
into a store where it is also possible to pay bills, post
letters, make photocopies, take out cash, book cinema and
concert tickets and more.

Interestingly, each prefecture in Japan has its own pecularities
regarding convenience stores. In parts of Okinawa for example,
the chain 'Hot Spar' (apparently related to the European chain,
Spar) have a monopoly in certain areas while in Tokyo they are
difficult to find. Meanwhile at the other end of the country,
Seicomart are dominant in Hokkaido operating roughly 1000 stores
up there.

Convenience stores can be both a blessing and a curse depending
on how you look at them. The case for pros and cons may be
summarized as follows:


*24 hour: It is easier to buy a can of beer or a coffee at 3am
in rural Japan than in the heart of London after 12pm.

*Facilities: You can go to the toilet, get photocopies, cash,
pay bills, book tickets, charge up your phone and so on- they
are convenient....

*Food & Drink: They stock a range of foods suitable for a quick
and relatively cheap breakfast lunch and dinner. Also, possible
to grab quick gifts, party food and frozen food.

*Reading: Without having to buy it is perfectly acceptable to
pop in and glance at a map, read a comic book or browse though
the magazines.

*Health & Beauty Goods: Pick up anything from toothpaste to
razors and from make up to sanitary towels.

*Electronic Goods: Buy blank tapes, CDs, batteries, emergency
phone chargers and other gadgets.

*Customer Service: Staff in convenience stores are on the whole
extremely well trained and polite. They greet customers
properly, wear a uniform and run to the register when required.

*Air-con: We've all done it. In the summer, convenience stores
are great places to take a break from the heat.

*Employment: Convenience stores are well staffed and create jobs
for people where they spring up.


*Unhealthy food: Convenience Store shelve the strangest of
food that Japan has to offer including spaghetti filled rolls,
strawberry and cream sandwiches and mayonnaise parcels. Many
of these taste good but the point is, 90% of it junk food.

*Energy Waste : The bright lights, air con, refrigeration units
and ovens use immense amounts of energy much of which is
unnecessary waste. One medical scholar has even suggested that
'bright light in the evening...inside the convenience store may
promote a circadian phase delay in students' - a cause of
insomnia due to its effect on salivary melatonin.
( http://www.jcircadianrhythms.com/content/2/1/4 )

*Excess Bags: If you buy a drink, a hot snack and a lunch box
there is a chance that you can walk out of a convenience store
with at least four layers of wrapping excluding the plastic

*Community Decay: convenience stores make it much easier for
family members to eat outside of the home and have put many
local 'mom and pop' stores out of business.

*Trash: products from convenience stores tend to come in
packaging that is difficult to recycle.

*Prices: Not only are all products slightly more expensive at
convenience stores compared to other places, and there are also
extra ATM charges.

Aware of their weaknesses some convenience store chains have
tried things to combat them, for example, introducing a
healthier option for foods. Lawsons even make a clear push for
their awareness of Corporate Social Responsibility with their
philosophy of 'Happiness and Harmony in Our Community'
However, it is difficult to know what to make of such words
and gestures.

As a business 'konbinis' are an interesting story. Much has been
written in the past of 'konbini culture' and the business model
was analyzed in 2000 by a J@pan Inc journalist
http://www.japaninc.com/article.php?articleID=284 . In more
recent times, partnerships between convenience stores and other
companies such as banks or mobile phone carriers have become
more and more frequent. Last month Japan Post opened their first
in-store outlet at Lawsons in Kyushu while earlier this summer
FamilyMart linked up with NTT DoCoMo in a capital tie-up:
together they plan to introduce a system whereby customers can
pay for goods wirelessy via their mobile phones. On the other
hand, franchises have suffered of late with sales having been
in steady decline for over a year. Tokyo centered Sunkus
suffered a 2.7% decrease in share value after it predicted a
first half profit reduction of 20%.

Perhaps this fluctuation of fortunes for convenience stores is
related to the love/hate relationship between the stores and the
consumer. Ultimately, while there may be the occasional tiff, it
doesn't look like it is a relationship that is going to end any
time soon. For the negatives such as unhealthy eating, trash
and expense, there is much that can be achieved by
a bit of consumer responsibility. On the part of the stores,
however, a toning down of the lighting and a little less zeal
in the offering of plastic bags mightn't be a bad thing.

By Peter Harris
Chief Editor

Want to comment? It is now even easier to voice your opinion
than ever before! Simply visit www.japaninc.com/jin435 and
post a comment below the article. Alternatively, you can email
it directly to the author at peter.harris@japaninc.com


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Speaker: Robert Burnside - President, Empowr
Topic: Using 'Stories' to Create Winning Presentations

Details: Complete event details at http://www.icajapan.jp/
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Date: Thursday, October 18, 2007
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Cost: 3,000 yen (members), 5,500 yen (non-members)

Open to all-venue is The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan


On my 6 weeks or so trips to Japan each year, I find convenience stores, very handy. I can buy fish, rice and vegies take away, heat it up in the microwave and get an el cheapo Iced Coffee (that looks like Starbucks, only half the price)to go with it.
They also have prunes (to get body moving) and almonds, plus some great icecreams for only Y105 yen.
I just wish that they would sell garlic, because, it is great in tea if I have a sore throat and it keeps the colds and flu away.
Also, they should sell crunchy bread, not that horrible bread with cream or spagetti inside... yuk, I bought that once.
The staff are friendly, always there to help and very efficient, but I do wish they would stop giving me those incessant bags, when I always have my green cloth bag ready to collect my items.
Yes they do sell some strange looking food, but they also sell lots of salads and fruit ( a bit expensive) but what I like is that at 3AM in the morning, I can go and buy a yogurt or milk, or a sandwich, or whatever else is sold at the convenience store. They are everywhere and growing in number each time I go to Japan. Convenience stores must employ so many people- so thhey are great for employment and for the economy. However Cigarettes should not be sold in convenience stores or street automats, they should be banned. Tobacco is the most addictive drug around, is killing millions world side, MUCH MORE SO THAN ANY OTHER DRUG- legal or illegal and adds a huge bill to the Japanese health bill...BAN THE SALE OF TOBACCO in convenience stores and everywhere where young people can purchase.


Carole Goldsmith
International Journalist and Trainer
reporting across Asia Pacific region.

Two comments:
Scattered around Tokyo are Lawson Natural stores. Is the food there healthier?
The foodie website, egullet japan forum:
contains threads with favorable comments on some convience store food. The moderator, Torakris, uses them.

Thank you for telling me what I can buy in my local stores Carol, and thank you for telling me what they should and shouldnt stock.
I feel safer at night knowing that idiots like you are looking out for me.

Im off for a cigarette

And here's an interesting graph on convenience store vs. supermarket sales: