A central aspect of life in Japan, I have discovered, is the embrace of and desire for convenience. Japan offers a number of conveniences that either differ from, or may not even exist in, other parts of the world.
While convenience stores can be found aplenty in the US, in Tokyo they are far more abundant. It is not uncommon to see two, three or more “konbini,” as said in Japanese, on one street. And this sight is not necessarily limited to tight urban areas like Shibuya, as streets full konbini can be found in residential neighborhoods too, often in the center of town or near a train station. The stores I see most frequently are FamilyMart, 7-11, Lawson, Sunkus and K-Mart. Ultimately the brand I choose makes little difference, as each one looks nearly identical inside, stocks the same products and charges the same prices. Much like convenience stores in the US, konbini stock magazines, candy, a wide selection of drinks, and plenty of prepackaged food filled with preservatives.
Chain diners are common to Tokyo as well. Eateries such as Yoshinoya and Sukiya offer inexpensive cultural cuisine, from soups to curry. The soups often consist of noodles, onions, spinach, egg, some form of meat, other vegetables, or a combination of all of these.
Curry is served in a surprising number of ways, with vegetables, cheese, or even burgers on top. Similarly to konbini, diners of these sorts can be found on most commercial streets.
Vending machines are probably the most common amenity in Tokyo, and each offers a large selection of drinks mostly uncommon in the US.
I’ve experimented with a number of juices and fruit drinks with exceptionally strong flavors from these machines, including peach, cherry and banana flavored beverages.
The vending machines offer both hot and cold drinks, indicated by a red or blue lit button. Hot drinks consist of teas, coffees and various espresso drinks. “Boss” is a popular brand of coffee commonly found in vending machines.
Even cigarettes and alcohol are available via vending machine, and without any form of age verification. Vending machines are ideal for students interested in exploring local neighborhoods, as a refreshing drink can be found nearly anywhere. Convenience often comes at a cost, however, as many of the beverages found in vending machines can be found at grocery stores for less.
Despite Tokyo’s many conveniences, a few notable inconveniences persist. Trash-cans are virtually nonexistent, even in restrooms, forcing me to dispose of my trash strategically (for example, throwing my candy wrapper away before I leave the Family Mart). Often I witness pedestrians leaving their trash behind in deviantly creative ways. I have seen magazines subtly left in bathroom stalls, beer cans tossed into bushes, and even an ice cream wrapper dropped down the sewer. Fortunately, recycling bins can often be found outside of konbini, with sections for combustible and non-combustible items. There seem to be specific efforts made to reduce trash altogether. Restrooms, for instance, rarely carry paper towels.
While a lifestyle in Tokyo can vary greatly from one in the US, for better or worse, I have adjusted rather quickly to the city’s abundant conveniences.