10 Popular Corner Store Items From Japan Not Available In The US

By Loraine Balita-Centeno on March 24 2020 in Travel

Assorted Japanese food including sushi and sashimi. Image credit: Jwalsh/Wikimedia.com
  • There are more than 50,000 convenience stores known as konbinis all over Japan.
  • The three major convenience store chains in Japan are Family Mart, 7 Eleven, and Lawson.
  • Convenience stores in Japan don't just offer grocery items but other goods as well like umbrellas, phone chargers, and make-up among others. You can also purchase tickets there or send letters and packages.

Japan is on many people’s travel bucket list. A lot of travelers from all over the globe dream of someday visiting the land of the rising sun for good reason. The country offers tourists a fascinating ancient culture, exquisite natural wonders, and mouth-watering gastronomic fares. But the place is also notoriously expensive that it’s a mainstay in many lists of the most expensive places to visit.

But you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune to enjoy Japan if you plan, do research, and find more affordable alternatives. You can purchase transport passes that will save you a lot of money while going around and instead of dining in restaurants in touristy areas three times per day you can head to any one of their convenience stores also known as konbinis or neighborhood vendors selling many interesting fares you can only find in Japan. It’s the best way to get to know their culture and eat like the locals. They’ll keep your tummy full and your taste buds satisfied for a quarter of what you would spend in restaurants there.

10. Tetrapack Sake

A Tetrapack Sake in Japan. Image credit: Magda Wojtyra/Flickr.com
A Tetrapack Sake in Japan. Image credit: Magda Wojtyra/Flickr.com

There are many unique and quirky items you will find in Japan which is part of the whole Japanese travel experience. A lot of these are items you won’t normally find elsewhere like this sake in a tetra pack for instance. Yes, when you look closely in a sea of drinks and other frozen items in a Japanese convenience store you’ll see one or a few of these. You can get tetrapack sake just in case you want a quick sip after a whole day of traveling. It’s normally packed in a small tetra pack similar to those they use for juice and comes with, get this, a sippy straw!

9. Giant Crab Sticks

You’ll see this in many 7 eleven stores, placed among other snack items you can eat on the go. They’re fake or imitation crab meat though and are instead made of a Japanese processed seafood product. But the taste more than makes up for its fake coloring. It’s soft, juicy, and very flavorful. The texture is very smooth and delicate.  Sold per piece since they’re very big and enough to keep you full for a while, they are relatively affordable too.

8. Menchi Katsu

Menchi Katsu. Image credit: Michael Saechang/Flickr.com
Menchi Katsu. Image credit: Michael Saechang/Flickr.com

Menchi Katsu is breaded then deep-fried ground beef patty. It’s like burger katsu served in paper bags. The meat can be composed of beef or pork or a mixture of both. In restaurants, it’s served with curry or tonkatsu sauce but you can also find these in konbinis in Japan. You’ll see them by the counter in big glass heated containers. You can just tell the cashier which ones you’d like and they’d wrap them in small paper bags so you can eat this on the go too.

7. Dorayaki

Typical dorayaki. Image credit: Ocdp/Wikimedia.org
Typical dorayaki. Image credit: Ocdp/Wikimedia.org

You’ll often find these in many konbinis in Japan. Smaller than your regular pancakes these are packed in bags the size of your palm. The mini pancakes are soft and fluffy and the batter often includes honey and mirin (similar to sake but with lower alcohol content), and are often put together to sandwich syrup, butter, or fillings like chocolate or sweet azuki bean paste. It’s made famous by a Japanese cartoon character and is a favorite amongst kids and adults in Japan.

6. Mizuame Candied Fruit

Mizuame Candied Fruit. Image credit: Clipper Monsoon
Mizuame Candied Fruit. Image credit: Clipper Monsoon

These aren’t just fun to snack on they’re also a sight to see. You’ll often see corner stores displaying these colorful candied fruits on a stick. You have a variety of fruits to choose from: there’s ringo ame (candied apples), ichigo ame (candied strawberries), or anzu ame (candied apricot) among many others. The fruit is covered in a thick transparent glaze. The clear syrup is called mizuame or water candy.

5. Onsen Tamago

Onsend tamaga at Minshuku Korakuen, Nagano. Image credit: Blue Lotus from Jigokudani Onsen, Nagano/Wikimedia.org
Onsend tamaga at Minshuku Korakuen, Nagano. Image credit: Blue Lotus from Jigokudani Onsen, Nagano/Wikimedia.org

Tamago means egg, and onsen refers to hot geothermal springs. While this one isn’t as commonly found all over the streets of Japan, it's still sold by corner store vendors but more often along geothermal sites that tourists explore. Onsen tamago is a traditional meal composed of eggs that are slow-cooked in the waters of an onsen hot spring. The result is a delicately soft egg with the consistency similar to custard. It’s normally served in dashi (fish stock) and soy sauce.

4. (1) Yaki Imo

Yaki Imo. Image credit: TasteAtlas.com
Yaki Imo. Image credit: TasteAtlas.com

This is a type of street food that’s so simple and is often sold along streets of many South Asian countries. Satsuma-imo is the Japanese term for sweet potato. It’s a healthy, and filling snack on the go that will keep you feeling full for hours. They’re cooked over a wood fire giving the sweet potato it’s smoky flavor. After peeling the thin skin you can sink your teeth into the soft fluffy flesh which many think is a lot sweeter than American sweet potatoes. Usually available in Autumn, you’ll see these treats peddled around by street vendors or displayed by corner stores ready to be sold to passers-by. Best served hot, the yaki-imo is sold wrapped in paper so you can carry and eat it while exploring Japan.

3. Imagawayaki

Imagawayaki. Image credit: Tomomarusan/Wikimedia.org
Imagawayaki. Image credit: Tomomarusan/Wikimedia.org

This is a famous street food you’d often find sold inside stalls or corner stores in many tourist areas in Japan. It’s made from batter composed of eggs, flour, water, and sugar that’s then cooked all at the same time on many round-shaped metal molds. They’re soft, fluffy, round pancakes that usually come with a filling inside. Compared to pancakes though imagawayaki are a lot sweeter and fluffier. They can either be filled with chocolate, sweet custard, or red bean paste.

2. Oden

Oden. Image credit: Chloe Lim/Wikimedia.org
Oden. Image credit: Chloe Lim/Wikimedia.org

This is the Japanese' s winter comfort food you’d often find in convenience stores like Family Mart of 7 Eleven. You won’t miss it. They’re normally placed upfront or right beside the counter. It’s normally set up in multiple metal trays filled with fragrant dashi broth. Inside the trays, you’ll see food items like tofu, boiled eggs, fishcakes, daikon (radish), and konnyaku (jelly made from a type of potato) among others. The table would normally include cups and chopsticks so you can help yourself to whichever oden items you want then pay for them at the counter.

1. Onigiri

Oden. Image credit: Needpix.com
Oden. Image credit: Needpix.com

Onigiri is a full meal you can grab and eat on the go, like when your train’s coming and you don’t have time to sit down and eat. It’s available in most convenience stores and many stalls located inside train stations. While you can sometimes find it in stores outside of Japan too, the ones sold in stores in Japan has a distinct Japanese flavor because of the ingredients they use. So what is it?

It’s a ball of Japanese rice wrapped around a filling which could either be tuna, salmon, or egg without mayo. The whole thing is wrapped in a small seaweed wrap and shaped to form a triangle. There’s a proper way of opening it so you don’t accidentally dismantle it, but don’t worry instructions are written on the plastic cover.

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