Convenience stores or “conbinis” are everywhere in Japan. You can pretty much sort your life out in a conbini.
You can buy lunch and basic groceries; you can buy alcohol and cigarettes if that’s your thing; you can print and photocopy documents; withdraw cash from an ATM; pay for concert tickets or online purchases; pay your car tax, insurance and utility bills; buy basic types of medicine and household goods; read the latest manga for free; get coffee and other hot beverages; you name it, you can do it!
In my case, I use conbinis at least once a day, usually in the morning to buy lunch. I often pick up salads, some fruit and a yoghurt. I’ve also become fond of some of the energy bars, including the iconic CalorieMate, which many people have a hard time with. Soyjoy is another favourite of mine.
So I thought I’d put together a list of some of my favourite findings in conbinis. I’ve only included dried snack foods, because it’s hard to find photos for some of the daily perishable goods such as breads, pastries and readymade dishes. That said, I’m working on a photo collection of conbini ready meals and once I have enough decent images, I’ll post them here.
If you’d like to try any of the snacks mentioned below, click the “more info” button and you’ll be able to buy them online. Let me know what your favourite Japanese snacks are in the comments below. What do you love? What do you hate?
I've become a big fan of Soyjoy nutrition bars. They're made by the same company that produces CalorieMate, Otsuka Pharmaceuticals. But these taste much better.
They are basically a condensed nutrition bar, based on dried soy milk with dried fruits. That sounds quite awful, but they taste good and they are an effective energy boost. I often eat one before doing an evening work out at the gym.
The texture is quite firm, but still chewy and the blueberry version tastes great. Not too sweet, not too sour.
Look: 3/5 Taste: 4/5 Value: 3/5
Pocky must be one of Japan's most internationally famous sweet exports. The iconic "mikado" sticks, with the crisp biscuit dipped in milk chocolate is a winning formula.
I'm a bit of a conservative when it comes to Pocky. There are so many wacky flavours and styles of Pocky available, but I tend to stick to the original milk chocolate or sometimes dark chocolate versions.
Look: 5/5 Taste: 5/5 Value: 4/5
Cratz are one of my recent favourites. I particularly like the edamame version pictured above.
Cratz are kind of like pretzel pieces with a smooth green bean texture, mixed with almonds. They are salty and crunchy and very satisfying.
They remind me a bit of Snyder's Pretzel Pieces. They have a similar consistency and crunch about them. They are quite expensive though. Definitely not at the cheap end of the Conbini snack scale.
Look: 4/5 Taste: 5/5 Value: 3/5
Cheeza are small cheese crackers that are supposed to be made with real cheese. The Japanese title is "nama cheezu no cheeza" (生チーズのチーザ) or "fresh cheese Cheeza".
They come in two varieties, cheddar cheese and camembert cheese. I'm a big fan of the camembert type.
The texture of Cheezas reminds me a lot of Ritz crackers, but the flavour is much more intense. You really do get full cheesiness when you bite into one. They go really well with a glass of wine.
Look: 3/5 Taste: 4/5 Value:3/5
Kinoko no yama (きのこの山) translates as mushroom mountain. Produced by one of Japan's largest food manufacturers, Meiji, Kinoko no yama is a candy made in the shape of little mushrooms. The "stem" of the mushroom is made of a biscuit-type cookie and the top is made of chocolate.
Chocolate is the original and most common flavour, but you can also find strawberry, maple, green tea and banana versions too.
This is particularly popular among junior high and high school kids in Japan and it's not uncommon to see people passing these round among friends.
Personally, I find them a little too sweet for my taste, but I like the contrast between the soft chocolate top and the crunchy mushroom "stem".
Look: 3/5 Taste: 3/5 Value: 4/5
Jagabee (じゃがビー) is a popular type of potato chip snack in the form of french fries. The name "Jagabee" contains the word "jaga" (じゃが) which is an abbreviation of "jyagaimo" (じゃがいも) or potato.
The most common and therefore popular flavour is "bata shouyu" (バターしょうゆ) or "butter and soy sauce". This is a common flavour profile in Japanese cooking, mixing the sweetness of butter and the saltiness of soy sauce.
I don't dislike these chips, but I'm not a great fan either. The texture sometimes reminds me of old french fries: dry and crunchy. But they're definitely a big hit in Japan and always have a prominent position on conbini store snack shelves.
Looks: 3/5 Taste: 3/5 Value: 3/5
Kaki no tane (柿の種) is a popular spicy rice cracker snack often eaten as an aperitif snack or "otsumami" (お摘み) with beer or other drinks.
There are two main flavours, the original chilly spice and the wasabi version pictured above. I'm a big a fan of both. I particularly like the kick you get from the wasabi version.
They're called "persimmon seeds" because that's what they resemble, but they are made of puffed rice. They usually come in packs of 6 and are mixed with plain unsalted peanuts, which gives the snack a nice contrast.
Looks: 3/5 Taste: 4/5 Value: 4/5
I've always found the name "Pretz" to be a bit misleading, because it reminds me of pretzels, the North American sour dough salty snack. Pretz are more like mini bread sticks/chips.
They are the salty version of Pocky. As with most of the items on this list, they come in variety of flavours. My favoutite is the one featured in the image, "sarada" (サラダ) or "salad" flavour.
To be honest, they taste nothing like a salad. The only thing "salady" about them are the herb flavours. Still, these are tasty little devils and very crisp and crunchy.
Look: 3/5 Taste: 4/5 Value: 3/5
I only ever came across these sake flavoured KitKat bars once. It was on a special display in Family Mart, one of Japan's most popular convenience stores.
There are a whole range of KitKat styles in Japan from melon to green tea, but sake was a first for me. I bought them on a whim and expected the worse!
To my surprise, they are actually very nice. They've got a hint of cherry, mixed with the sourness of the rice wine. As soon as you open the box, you can tell what they're made of.
The closer we get to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the more I'm sure we'll see new Japanized flavours of popular snacks appearing in Japan.
Look: 4/5 Taste: 4/5 Value: 2/5
CalorieMate (カロリーメイト) is a long-running (since 1983) nutritional energy bar made by Otsuka Pharmaceutical in Japan. It comes in several forms, including the original dry biscuit or "block"; an edible jelly version; and a canned drink. Here I'm highlighting the dry biscuit version.
This is one of those snacks that you either love or hate. I really like them. They are very dry biscuits so you need to eat them with a drink. They go well with tea actually.
They come in foil wrappers so you can keep them for quite a while. They do work quite well as energy boost snacks, and often I'll eat a single bar mid-afternoon for a bit of a boost.
Like the taste or not, it is definitely a staple of Japanese snack culture. You can find it anywhere from train platform kiosks and convenience stores to major supermarkets.
Look: 2/5 Taste: 3/5 Value: 3/5