Everyone will tell you, it is rude to eat while walking in Japan. However, it does not mean that the frantic pace of Japanese life slows down during meal times. From experience, Japanese people, salary men in particular, tend to eat very fast. Moreover, snacking throughout the day instead of observing formal meals is quite common in Japan. During the Edo period, street food, chief among them sushi stalls, occupied a large place in growing cities landscape. This tradition is still alive in Japan’s largest cities where people often seek a quick bite during the few minutes of respite they have from the day’s work.
Convenience stores, called konbini in Japan, are very different from their American counterparts. First off, the food is always fresh albeit still containing a lot of fat, sugar and salt. Food deliveries are made several times a day for the busiest shops. The selection includes a broad choices of prepared foods which include sandwiches, cold noodles, salads, stuffed breads, fried chicken, oden, steamed buns and much more… The crown jewel of konbini foods is undeniably the onigiri. These rice balls with fillings in the middle come individually wrapped using an ingenious system that keep the outer seaweed crisp. The classics include tuna mayo and negitoro (fatty tuna with green onion). More original selections like spam musubi, fried rice, grilled eel are also available for purchase. The onigiris are always fresh, always good, and always cheap making them an ideal snack for hurried customers.
Second, Kobini are like the name indicates: convenient. The most famous chains in Japan are 7-eleven, Family Mart, Lawson and Sunkus with a convenience store for every 2,000 Japanese. They are open 24/7, present just about anywhere and offer many other services beside fresh food. The question is not what a konbini has to offer but rather what it does not. Running out of alcohol after a night out, go to the konbini. Need a toothbrush, shampoo or even fresh underwear, go to the konbini. Need cash, a package delivered, pay your bills, go to the konbini. Need to meet up with someone or need a place to waste time, go read magazines at the konbini. The list does not end here, so if you are in Japan you will wonder how you have done without them for so long.
If the nearby konbini is not convenient enough, you can opt for vending machines that are at every corner in Japan. These vending machines are ubiquitous in high traffic areas but one can find them also in very odd places. Vending machines can be found in back alleys of residential neighbourhoods, in hotel rooms, in train cars and at the summit of Mount Fuji. Most vending machines offer cold drinks like water and soft drinks, or hot drinks like tea or coffee. Certain vending machines sell cold foods like onigiri or ice-cream, other, sell hot foods like ramen or yakisoba. Some even sell cold beer and sake even though the legal drinking age in Japan is 20. Needless to say, these vending machines epitomize a way of life where human interaction becomes minimal.
Finally, if you can’t spare the time to sit down to eat or drink, tachi soba or tate bar might be the right stop for you. On train platforms and busy parts of town, you will find tachi soba or tachi udon shops open to customers. These noodle shops offer no seating space for their clientele. Instead, diners park themselves at belly high counters for a quick bite. The hungry patrons saves time during their commute while this set-up enables an effective rotation in a small space. Tate bar operate under a similar system but with alcoholic drinks. These bars are not made for extensive stay although they do also offer some small food plates. Revelers usually swing by tate bars before they go off to some more serious drinking and eating. A major advantage of these standing shops is that they are cheap. I ask you: would you turn down a 400¥ bowl of noodles (4$) or a 200¥ beer (2$)?