Wednesday, February 2, 2011

8 Unmistakable pleasures of Japan, No. 8. The Konbini (Convenience Store)

Concurrent with my list of complaints about Japan, I present 8 things I loved about Japan.

    Ah, Konbini. In so many ways, they represent everything I dislike so much about the modern city. The death of the small shop, the rise of convenience food, convenience shopping, convenience life. The absolute power of the corporate image, and the transformation of humans into interchangeable parts in a corporate machine, all bent to one end - money.
    That said, there are also many things to love about the konbini. Unlike the convenience stores that litter gas stations in the United States, the japanese Konbini really is conveient - to begin with, it's down the road, and one could literally survive (even in decent health, and without exausting one's funds) on its ministrations. There is warm food, which is not only healthy, but also seasonal and local. The Konbini in Obuse and Nagano tended toward soba, oyaki and oden (a fish-gelatin dumpling soup, strange, but good) the Konbini in Kyoto, more to onigiri and ramen, and though Oyaki was present, there was little soba, and no Oden.
    Konbini have fruit stands, and you can buy milk at prices approaching the grocery store - milk, eggs, raw meat and vegetables, if you are so inclined. There are of course, the other things. Huge magazine racks, odd-looking people doing odd things all day (the browsing of magazine racks, apparently a great pass-time in Japan, is particularly fascinating to watch, should you ever have the chance to do so unobserved, though be warned, many a businessman picks up more than one that is not family fare.) The Konbini also sells DVD's, and to see which US releases, and when, hit the Konbini stores can be quite amusing. The Japanese box art is also almost certain to vary from its stateside cousin, a point of much entertainment.
     All in all, the Konbini is a warm shop, a great landmark (on google maps for Japan, they are marked by symbols, I highly recommend you use them as landmarks) and is a little human carnival, all in one rediculously capitalistic package.

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