June 19, 2013
Conbinis are everywhere in Japan. Lawson, 7-Eleven, AM/PM, Yamazaki Daily, to name a few. You throw a rock, and you would probably hit three conbinis simultaneously. Well, let me tell you, that only happens in urban Japan.
I grew up in Wakayama, in the middle of the mountains. The holy Koya mountain is about an hour away, and a cat station master resides about 15 minutes away. Recently, CNN featured this article about Wakayama as Japan’s hidden gem. Great article! But the reality is that I grew up in the middle of nowhere, where conbinis don’t exist.
While growing up, I had to make a mad dash to buy everything I needed before my neighborhood store closed around 7pm, or someone had to drive me out 30 minutes to the larger stores that were open until 9pm. Open 24/7? Forget it. There were only 9,000 people in my hometown, so there was no need to serve our needs 24 hours a day. Regular operating hours of 9am-7pm was plenty enough for my town. The closest conbini was about a 25 minutes drive, and the shitty kind, Yamazaki Daily (which doesn’t even exist in that location any more).
Every time I go home, I’m reminded that things haven’t changed. There are still no conbinis in my hometown. Sure, instead of a 30 minute drive, it’s now only 15 to get to a 24/7 Lawson, but it’s definitely not within walking distance.
This is perhaps why I LOVE going to conbinis for no particular reason whenever I can get to one by foot. Whether in Tokyo or Osaka, while staying at a hotel or a friend’s apartment, I will walk to the nearest conbini and buy a pack of Mammy, just because I love that fake yogurt taste. Or I will buy savory bread stuffed with potato korokke (croquette) or yakisoba, or I get some dried fish snacks, or their “freshly made” fried chicken, or hair gel, manga books, anti-hangover drinks, along with a bottle(s) of booze, say either wine or shochu.
I am hoping U-MART will carry my favorite Japanese snacks, White Lolita. Japanese snack names are pretty weird. No, Japanese naming anything is weird. Gatsby is a well known line of men’s grooming products, and I happened to just finish the book Great Gatsby. There’s no point in boasting his life as the “coolest” as these Japanese products try to claim. He is one of the saddest characters I’ve ever read.
Anyway, conbinis are awesome, and I am so happy for Oaklanders to have U-MART close by. It may not open for 24/7, but it will be the go-to place for Japanese stuff. When you have a craving to squeeze Kewpie mayo into your mouth, go to U-MART.
*Conbini Cabaret celebrates conbini culture, in preparation for the opening of U-MART on Tuesday 6/25. Umami for life! -KA