The Japanese Convenience Store Awardsairport_transferbarbathtubbusiness_facilitieschild_activitieschildcareconnecting_roomcribsfree_wifigymhot_tubinternetkitchennon_smokingpetpoolresturantski_in_outski_shuttleski_storagesmoking_areaspastar

The Japanese Convenience Store Awards

Family Mart Glow
Family Mart Glow | © Aleister Kelman / Flickr
Known as konbini, Japanese convenience stores are so much more than a store; they’re basically the hard-working central nervous system of the city. Constantly stocked with delicious and convenient snacks and everything in between, these immaculately kept convenience stores are arguably as important to the make up of the country’s bustling cities as the rail networks that weave their way across the map. The big question is, which konbini is the best? By comparing all the elements that make up the perfect konbini, and assigning each three points per category, each of the major players have been compared to see which comes out on top.

Best fried chicken

When you think about Japanese cuisine, fried chicken isn’t necessarily the first food that comes to mind; however, Japanese fried chicken will easily give any American joint a run for its money. In fact, Japan loves fried chicken so much, it’s been the number one Christmas meal for years now. Everyone has an opinion on who offers the best, but for freshness, reliability, and variety, this one goes to Family Mart’s FamiChiki. The tender, boneless chicken comes in a variety of seasonal offerings meaning that it’s easy to eat on the go and you’ll never get tired of the same thing day in, day out.

Winner: Family Mart = 3 points

Famichiki - Family Mart's Fried Chicken © Charlie / Flickr

Best ice cream

This section could be judged in a number of ways: value, variety, and quality. Each konbini does a pretty stellar job of offering a little of everything, but when it comes to ice cream, there’s one name you can’t beat, and that’s Mini Stop. Mini Stop is a slightly more elusive konbini name, but it is the understated master of the soft serve. One of the only stores to serve fresh soft serve, its humble cone is so good it was given the 2015 Monde Selection Gold Quality Award.

Winner: Mini Stop = 3 points

Baked goods

The award for baked goods goes to Family Mart. Although this one is very difficult to judge, given each outlet provides baked sweets, fresh sandwiches and other carb-heavy snacks, Family Mart has one difference: a ‘premium’ line of high end treats, including pudding sandwiches.

Made using only the best ingredients and with the utmost care, Family Mart’s black label baked goods are almost indistinguishable from anything you’ll get from a fancy Ginza bakehouse. If you can find a katsu sando (deep-fried pork sandwich), grab it, as those babies sell out at lightning speed.

Winner: Family Mart = 3 points

Best egg sandwiches

Soft, buttery, almost cloud-like compared to the typical tuck-shop option, konbini egg sandwiches are on a whole different plane. They’re the ultimate comfort food, so indescribably delicious even the world famous chef Anthony Bourdain has given him his official tick of approval.

For robust, pillow like fillings, 7/11 tops the list here. To mix it up a little however, Lawson offers an egg sandwich four pack featuring the classic, a tamago-taki (fried egg), soft boiled egg, and slightly sweet ketchup egg combo, which is a lot more delicious than it sounds. For that, it’s worth a point.

Runner up: Lawson = 1 point

Winner: 7/11 = 2 points

Most unique offshoots

The award for diversifying goes straight to Lawson. In a world of almost identical stores, Lawson has managed to get a little more niche, creating two other konbini chains: Natural Lawson and Lawson 100.

Natural Lawson is for the more health-conscious customer, offering a wider variety of snacks and meals featuring on-trend health foods like sweet potato chips and barley wheat onigri. They also seem to have a larger selection of craft brewed beers and one of the bigger selections of wine you’ll find in Japan.

If you care more about the hip pocket than the waistline, nearly all the items you’ll find in Lawson 100 are marked 100 yen (around $1 USD).

Winner: Lawson = 3 points

Onigiri

This one is tricky because as a konbini staple, the choice between the three major outlets really depends on personal preference. The team at TabiEats did an onigiri taste test last year and announced Family Mart the overall winner on the criteria of rice quality, filling taste and size, and nori (seaweed) crispness. However, if you’re travelling and don’t speak Japanese, 7/11 is usually the only place that actually shows an image of what’s inside, which for this purpose is worth some appreciation points.

Draw: Family Mart = 1.5 points, 7/11 = 1.5 points

Onigiri: Reis-Dreiecke / Rice Triangles with fish @ Marco Verch / Flickr

Non-food related goods

When people say that you can get everything and anything at a konbini, they’re not lying. Beyond snacks, meals and booze, almost every convenience store stocks a variety of daily goods you’d never expect to find.

Did you stay out all night and need a crisp work shirt in the morning? They have it. On vacation and forgot some toiletries? You’ll find them here. Run out of power and need a fresh iPhone charger? Look no further.

The Family Mart point of difference is the fact that the daily items stocked are produced by Muji, a minimalist-centric Japanese lifestyle company whose aesthetic labels and focus on quality have won fans around the world.

Winner: Family Mart = 3 points

Convenience

Well, this one is arguably the most coveted title of them all and it goes to 7/11. With reportedly 12,000 stores throughout the nation, it’s the most ubiquitous outlet. Also unlike most others, 7/11’s ATMs are very traveller friendly accepting foreign cards, which is important given that the nation is still largely cash-based.

Winner: 7/11 = 3 points

Overall winner: Family Mart

Scoring high in terms of food, and being the winner for non-food related goods, Family Mart has swept the competition for best convenience store with a total of 10.5 points, with 7/11 coming in at second place.