When traveling in Japan, there’s one place that will save your day, bring great comfort, and fill you with joy: 7-11. No, we’re not kidding. We visit 7-Eleven more than anywhere else in Tokyo or Kyoto, and say that with absolutely zero shame. (To the contrary, we’re quite proud of it.) Drop your preconceptions and forget everything you think you know about 7-Eleven convenience stores.
In this ultimate guide to 7-Eleven, we’ll share info, tips on what to buy, and why this chain is a quintessential stop on any trip to Japan. For starters, there are ~21,000 7-Eleven stores in Japan, everywhere from major cities to small villages and outposts seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Also referred to as Seven & I Holdings Co. (the parent company) on some signage, 7-Eleven is the largest convenience store chain in Japan. It’s well ahead of other chains like Lawson, Family Mart, Daily Yamazaki, Circle K, and Ministop.
Of all of these, 7-Eleven is far and away our favorite, for reasons we’ll discuss in this article. It’s followed closely by Lawson, with Family Mart a distant third. We don’t even bother with the others unless we’re in a pinch and there aren’t any of the top tier trio nearby (there almost always are). Known as conbini in Japan, these convenience stores are a staple of everyday life–and can be crucial for tourists…
While the food is what we’re going to focus on here, the critical things that 7-11 offers in Japan are WiFi, ATMs, and clean restrooms with western-style toilets that have bidets! This last one is huge as public toilets are often in short supply. Making a pit stop to grab some coffee and use the restroom at 7-11 is one of our mid-morning “rituals” in Japan.
The ATMs at 7-Eleven accept US-issued bank/debit cards and are both easy and safe to use. While Japan is mostly cashless, there are a ton of mom and pop restaurants that only accept yen. “Seven Bank” ATMs, which are found both in 7-11 stores and random locations throughout Japan, are the best places to withdraw cash.
On a similar note, 7-Eleven accepts credit cards and SUICA as payment. We pay with SUICA wherever possible in Japan; it can be loaded onto your iPhone and connect it with Apple Pay. Every SUICA transaction codes as transportation, which is huge for credit card rewards.
As we move on to our food recommendations for 7-Eleven, we want to start by noting that this isn’t an exhaustive list of every item sold at these convenience stores. There are literally thousands of products available, and inventory differs from store to store and with each season.
The good news is that 7-Eleven Japan has a pretty handy official English website, that not only covers a wide range of products, but also offers how-to videos. We do not view these videos as “essential viewing” while planning your first trip. Most of what you need to know is pretty intuitive, and fumbling your way through interactions is part of the experience. Don’t stress this stuff.
On with the recommendations…
Start with Savory – Figure out the savory items you want to purchase first. You’ll order the hot, prepared items at the register, but it’s a good idea to figure out what microwavable entrees and items you’ll want to buy at the register before you even get there–and especially before you even look at desserts. (Be sure to get some karaage on a stick!)
Be Careful with Desserts… – I remember the first time we visited 7-Eleven in Japan fondly. The idea was to save time and money, and we definitely accomplished one of those things. However, we spent around $40, so we definitely could’ve done a meal at a restaurant cheaper.
Around $30 of that was spent on Mochifuwa Pancakes, cream puffs, custard cups, chestnut cake, chocolate mochi, peppermint ice cream…and I can’t remember what else. I didn’t even come close to eating it all and had an upset stomach afterwards thanks to all the sugar, but everything looked so good! It was impossible to resist. I still make a similar mistake (albeit not to the same degree) on the first day of every visit to Japan. So this is more of a “do as I say and not as I do” type of thing.
Don’t Miss the Ice Cream – With shelves of alluring layered pancake desserts and beautiful cakes, you might fill up on desserts before getting to the ice cream case and its comparatively less-attractive products. That would be a mistake. The top options all have ‘flavor ribbons’ and are incredibly creamy and decadent. My favorites are the cream cheese ice cream (above) and mint/peppermint, which has a great texture.
Eggcellent Egg Salad – Although they’re not as “sexy” as the ramen, bento, and other options, the sandwiches (“sandos”) with the crust removed are excellent. Pork cutlet (katsu) and egg salad (tomago) are two of the most popular options–and in our opinion, the best. Other flavors include lunch meat with vegetables, chicken teriyaki, strawberry & cream, and combinations of the aforementioned flavors. (Strawberry & cream isn’t as good as it looks; everything else is great.)
Look for Local Specialties – We’ve noticed that 7-Elevens at different regions in Japan stock different items. For instance, the shelves full of green tea items were spotted at a store between Kyoto and Uji, Japan’s famous green tea city.
Outstanding Onigiri – Rice balls (onigiri) are an easy grab and go meal while you’re in Japan. It’s very basic and utilitarian, but it’s a nice option for filler when you’re otherwise eating a bunch of unhealthy junk food. Onigiri consists of rice wrapped in seaweed, with ‘stuffing’ in the center for flavor.
Common rice ball options are tuna, salmon, and pickled plum. The huge advantage 7-11 offers is English labels on its rice balls, meaning you won’t accidentally buy pickled plum when you wanted salmon and about throw up after taking a big bite! (True story.)
Choice Coffee – As we previously covered in our Best Coffee Shops in Kyoto post, Japan has a burgeoning Third Wave coffee scene, with kissaten being well worth the visit for a slice of bygone-era Japan. However, sometimes you just need a cold or hot coffee in a hurry. 7-Eleven has both, including a line of BOSS Coffee brewed exclusively for the convenience store. This is our go-to coffee at 7-11, and that’s it pictured above.
Serious Soda – This is not particularly noteworthy since a huge selection of drinks is what you’d expect even from 7-Eleven stores stateside, but it’s worth briefly mentioning because sometimes Cool Coke & Peculiar Pepsi flavors that are unique to Japan never make it to vending machines. Plus, 7-11 is almost always cheaper for these drinks.
Ramen with Rave Reviews – We love ramen. It’s what we eat in Japan more than anything else. While we prefer visiting the intimate ramen shops, which are typically cheap and an essential experience in Japan, instant ramen at 7-Eleven can get the job done in a pinch if it’s late at night or (for some reason) no ramen shops are open near you.
These noodle cups are not what you’re used to elsewhere. This is not simply cheap food for poor college students. The 7-11 shelves are stocked with Japanese favorites such as Cup Noodle, Sapporo Ichiban, and Nissin. There are famous ramen chains, like Ippudo and Ichiran. There are even two restaurants with Michelin stars, Tsuta and Nakiryu Dandan, that sell instant ramen at 7-Eleven!
Coveted Cookies – In addition to doing literally everything else well, the Seven & I Holdings brand cookies are second to none. These prepackaged cookies are inexplicably soft, gooey, and absolutely delicious.
Our all-time favorite snack in Japan is the Matcha White Choco Cookie pictured above. Alarmingly, we did not see this on our last visit, and we fear they might be phasing it out. As much of a travesty as that would be, there are plenty of other exceptional flavors.
PIZZA CHIPS!!! – With an entire aisle dedicated to them, 7-11’s potato chip game is on point. You’ve got steak flavored chips, ramen flavored chips, and so forth. However, all you really need is the pizza flavored chips, which are topped with cheese.
Ultimately, we hope this guide to 7-Eleven makes your first visit to Japan’s convenience store mecca a pleasurable one. While we’d recommend trying everything we recommend here, we’d also encourage you to explore, buy random things, and make discoveries for yourself.
Although we’ve made hundreds of purchases (literally) at 7-Eleven over the years and visit these convenience stores more than any other “point of interest” in Japan, we still haven’t seen or tried it all. With each trip, we buy something new that’s like a revelation. These finds are so satisfying, and even the rare duds are a memorable part of the fun!
If you’re planning a trip to Japan, we start by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto and Ultimate Tokyo City Guide to plan all aspects of your visit to Japan’s top two cities. You should also check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other places to visit!
Have you been to 7-Eleven convenience stores in Japan? What did you think of the experience?Any favorite foods at 7-11? Do you prefer 7-11, Lawson, or Family Mart? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Any questions about what we’ve covered here? If you’ve yet to visit Japan, is this something that interests you? Hearing about your experiences—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!