Convenience stores on every corner

Hi, this is Aya from the support team at Datawrapper. You can usually find me answering your questions at

It’s four in the morning here in Tokyo and I’m struggling to settle on a topic for my Weekly Chart. In a weird hour like this, my favorite place to grab a midnight snack is a convenience store just around the corner.

In Berlin, there are Spätis. It’s tabacs in Paris. There’s a corner store in every country, and in Japan we call them “konbini.” But a konbini is not just a place where you can get food and drinks. It’s where I used to hang out with friends or print out school assignments when I was younger. I use their bathrooms, ATMs, garbage boxes, and electrical plugs on a daily basis.

Here is a list of many other things you can do in a typical konbini:

  • Shop from approximately 3000 products — 100 new products every week
  • Eat hot food, coffee, and bento box
  • Print, scan, fax, and copy documents
  • Print out local government documents, like residence and tax certificates
  • Print photographs and create business cards
  • Buy tickets to concerts and events
  • Subscribe to insurance services (e.g., car insurance, health insurance)
  • Deliver and receive packages
  • Dry cleaning services
  • Bike rental services

    (source: 7-Eleven website; this book on the trends in the convenience store industry)
A sketch of the 7-Eleven closest to home. The products are placed in a specific way to guide the customers around the store. Drinks are always at the back to pull the customers in. The counter is never directly in front, to avoid awkward eye contact with the cashier to make it more inviting.

The biggest convenience for me is that they’re open 24/7 and they’re everywhere. The first convenience store in Japan opened sometime in the 1970s, and now there are more than 56,000 around the country. Just in Tokyo, there are close to 8000.

In an attempt to quantify and visualize this ubiquity, I decided to see how many stores I could find within a one-kilometer radius in central Tokyo.

A photograph of the Scramble Crossing in Shibuya, central Tokyo, Japan. Photo by Timo Volz on Unsplash

Within one kilometer of the famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing, I found 114 convenience stores. Sometimes you’ll even find multiple stores from the same chain on the same block! And this isn’t even the densest area of Tokyo.

Obviously, the density and the types of convenience stores you find will vary across the country, which is visualized beautifully in this Twitter thread. I’m currently staying in the outskirts of Tokyo, but even from my quick 10-minute walk I passed more than eight stores and managed to take photographs of the three top chains in the country: 7-Eleven, Family Mart, and Lawson.

To show you what they look like, I went for a quick stroll to find all three within a few minutes' walk of each other.

To create the map above, I used Yahoo!’s Local Search API to search for convenience stores within a kilometer of the Scramble Crossing. Since I had around 100 markers, I uploaded them as a CSV file to my locator map. Then I used Hans’ tool to draw the 1 km circle and to draw the dashed radius line, and imported both as custom markers. Datawrapper locator maps have an option to turn on the 3D buildings, and you can also tilt the perspective slightly by pressing ctrl + drag.

These stores are convenient, but that comes with its own issues. With so many stores operating 24/7, there’s a constant labor shortage. Food waste is another issue. Abundant choice of hot food, lunch boxes, and constant supply of new limited editions — a lot of them have to be discarded at the end of the day. But... who can say no to the more than thirty options of ice cream at 4 AM?

My midnight snack: Matcha Shaved Ice, one of the hundred new products to be shelved this week. 149 yen (= $1.14)

It’s definitely a fun place to visit if you’re in Japan. It’s a microcosm of people’s necessities and what’s trending in the country. Is there a convenience store where you live? What do you mostly use it for?

That’s it for this week! If you’ve read this far, thank you. Next week, Eddie will be back with her Weekly Chart. See you then!