I have always enjoyed going inside convenience stores in the Asian countries I have visited in the last few years, like those in Taiwan and Korea. For me, there’s an unexplainable charm in it that will just keep you drawn closely and curiously each time, making you want to spend another few minutes, which is actually more than what you’ve initially planned. When Sayaka Murata’ wrote, “A convenience store is not merely a place where customers come to buy practical necessities. It has to be somewhere they can enjoy and take pleasure in discovering things they like.”, in her novel, ‘Convenience Store Woman’* and I thankfully stumbled upon it, I got pretty convinced that I am not the only one who feels this way. And also, just for the record, I now believe that it’s not really weird to have this unusual kind of affection towards convenience stores.
It was our first night in Japan, and after hours of travel just to get here all the way from Manila, including the short accounts of getting lost in Ota-ku ward*, we found ourselves wandering inside 7-Eleven* looking for something to eat. This was after we asked the receptionist of the hotel for the nearest place where we could possibly have dinner and is still open even though it’s almost 2 hours before midnight. All he could point us to is the konbini* which is literally just few walks away. We didn’t really have much choice, especially if we are scheduled for an early flight the next day, bound for Hokkaido.
I entered the store thinking of getting some hot noodles, because the weather definitely calls for it, but before I could even reach the packed meals section to choose what kind of ramen would best satisfy my appetite, my eyes involuntarily made a quick survey of the possible items which I would never find in stores like this back home. At first glance, you would think that it’s almost the same because aside from the wide range of food, snack and drink that they offer, they also have the typical daily necessities like cosmetics, bathroom supplies and cleaning products. But from what I’ve heard, konbinis are quite different, and I think it’s simply because they’re in Japan and we have to admit that Japanese people are the most efficient ones in the planet.
I just passed by the shelf containing socks, underwears, thermal wears, mobile phone chargers, and pre-paid cards (Google Play and Amazon were the only ones that made it in my memory), when I saw a full shelf of manga* on display in the corner. I was amazed, because even though I am not a fan of Japanese comic books and graphic novels, it made me want to buy one and see what’s this fascination about manga is all about. Suddenly, I remembered: “I am here just to buy food and we need to get back to the hotel quickly.”
While some of us were waiting in line at the cashier to pay for our first meal in Japan, I tried to keep myself from hovering at the stores’ entrance door because the sensor keeps on detecting me; therefore keeping the doors open. After a few moments, I gave up and decided to just wait outside, braving the cold wind on my face, while lost in the thoughts that if a place as simple as a convenience store can infuse new sources of joy and excitement in our lives, I bet other places outside of it would make us feel the same or even more, but only if we are willing to find the beauty in the ordinary. And while this sounds quite good in theory, I won’t deny the fact that I am still having a hard time doing it in reality.
I decided to park these thoughts for a while, alongside with my question of how I am going to make the most out of this trip. For now, it’s time for me to walk back to the hotel and enjoy our first meal in Japan, all thanks to a konbini.
* Convenience Store Woman – A 2016 novel by Japanese writer Sayaka Murata. It showcases the atmosphere of the familiar convenience store that is so much part of life in Japan. The novel won the Akutagawa Prize in 2016.
* Ota-ku Ward – One of special wards located in Tokyo Metropolis. A ward is a special form of municipality in Japan under the 1947 Local Autonomy Law; “designated city“
* 7-Eleven – One of the big three when it comes to convenience stores dominating the whole Japan; the other two is Lawson and Family Mart.
* Konbini – A convenience store in Japan
* Manga – A style of Japanese comic books and graphic novels, typically aimed at adults as well as children.