Convenience stores are a major institution in Japan. Statistics indicate that the United States has one convenience store for every 6000 people, give or take, on a national scale. In Japan, the number is one for every 2000. There are a number of reasons for this disparity. Most of them are rooted in the unique cultural aspects of modern Japan.
Part of the reason convenience stores have grown so much in Japan is simply because they have done so well financially. Much of the culture that has sprung up around them has stemmed from their success. Japan is a very busy nation. The large shopping trips that are common in the West are rarely feasible in Japan. Individuals there are more likely to rely on online markets like Redmart.com than they are on supermarkets. Smaller supermarkets make more sense from a perspective of time spent. This has allowed them to perform very well, and as they have grown, they have gotten much easier to rely on. This becomes a self-feeding cycle; the more convenience stores are available, the more people can safely rely on them for their day-to-day needs, and it continues until districts are appropriately saturated with convenience store access.
Something else that has made the difference is the remarkably-lower crime rate. Japan has a strong police force and much lower crime in general. Crime is one of the greatest hindrances of convenience stores in the West, where they make vulnerable target for desperate and unimaginative robbers, often armed. The low crime rate means that convenience stores can be open much longer and in far more locations in Japan. It makes it safer to operate them and safer to shop at them. It isn’t uncommon to find Western shoppers who outright refuse to shop at convenience stores for fear of criminal activity, so the removal of this cultural taboo goes far in Japan.
An increase in privacy has also increased the standing of convenience stores. Many people in Japan do not want their shopping to become a social outing. They simply want to get the goods they need for the rest of their day. This has led to a huge increase in the number of available vending machines as well as the accessibility of convenience stores. Convenience stores make it much simpler to get what you need and go home without unwanted social contact. This combined with the increased hours of convenience stores in Japan make it possible for individuals with otherwise-crippling anxiety to carry on with normal lives doing their own shopping.
Convenience stores in Japan are a serious institution. Their growth from their introduction in the 60s and 70s has been remarkable and easily outpaces anything that has been seen in any Western nation. As more products become available in convenience stores, including electronic money cards, cell phone cards and other resources, their role will only increase as easy ways to fulfill basic life needs. Convenience stores will never be the most inexpensive places to shop, but they’re doing a better and better job of living up to their names.