Is This a Trap of Convenience or What?

As I wrote in the previous article, a convenient and comfortable life that we’re enjoying now is nothing but the result of “greed”, “desire”, or “wish” for the convenience of the people of the past. All we have now is the result of the effort or the invention made by the people of the past… In other words, it is the gift from the past. Then I ask myself, “Am I thankful to the people of the past for their gift?”

To examine people’s attitude toward the convenience, I made a small research in several convenience stores!

-Survey method: Observation, pretending to browse through fashion magazines. (Notice: I bought one in each store at the end of the observation!!)
-Places of Observation: several convenience stores of Top 3 chains in Tokyo



-Results: What I found from my observation is as follows,

I found more customers who seemed angry than who seemed happy. I noticed that many of them looked upset especially when they were waiting in line at the cashiers. I found no one yelling, though. I found very few people talking to staffs of stores. People who talked to staffs smiling were mainly women at 50-60 years old and mainly in day time after lunch time.

Staffs can be divided into two groups; ‘extremely nice’ or ‘inexpressive’. But there is one thing in common. They move their hands so quickly when working with a cash register, when counting money, and when putting the products in plastic bags. They work as if they were machines.
I used the word ‘extremely nice’ instead of just ‘nice’ because I felt as if they were forced to be nice…. I think many people from outside Japan find shopkeepers, in general, very nice, nicer than ones in their countries. This is because we are trained to be nice in employee training. However, I felt some difference between the courtesy of staffs of convenience stores and that of staffs in department stores and other kind of shops.


I guess the staffs of convenience  stores will be taken place by robots who work faster than human beings and will never make mistakes...  Photo by
I guess the staffs of convenience stores will be taken place by robots who work faster than human beings and will never make mistakes…
Photo by Aaron Webb


Difference between convenience stores and departments stores
The big difference, maybe the biggest, is if the customers are happy or not. I mean if they are enjoying themselves in shopping. What they buy in convenience stores is not something special, but basic things that they need for their ordinary lives. On the other hand, people go to department stores to buy something special for some special occasions. That’s why customers in convenience stores don’t look happy at all. All they desire is the convenience, in other word, ‘speed’, I guess. As a matter of fact, things sold in convenience stores are normally sold in lower price in supermarkets or drug stores which are located maybe farther than convenience stores. They shop at convenience stores just because of the convenience and they don’t want to spend less time as possible. They don’t want to spend any time or energy with staffs. This is what I felt from observing the angry faces of the customers in convenience stores.


Then, why are the staffs of convenience stores are ‘extremely nice’ or ‘inexpressive’?
I guess the main task of jobs in convenience stores will be to avoid complaints from customers… In other word, staffs are afraid of customers. If you have to face someone armed, or someone who looks obviously stronger than you, you will butter him up or you will assume an air of total indifference to him. The battle is to be avoided if there is no chance of winning… The direct complaint to the staff can be helped. But there are some customers who want to make complaints to managers, owners or headquarter office, which is a real big trouble to be avoided. So, what is required to staffs is not to make customers upset.


Luckily, I was able to get opportunities to ask some questions to a guy and a middle aged woman who worked in convenience stores. They told me the truth on the condition that I would not name the convenience stores where they work. Both of them were very nice and belonged to type A ‘extremely nice’. Here, I summarize their answers to all my questions.


Courtesy is one of the important things for staffs. The greeting phrases are fixed and they are trained to say them clearly in a loud voice;

いらっしゃいませ irasshaimase (Welcome!)
ありがとうございました arigatougozaimashita (Thank you very much.)
もうしわけございません moushiwakegozaimasen (I’m truly sorry.)
しょうしょうおまちくださいませ shoushou omachikudasaimase (Wait for a second please.)
かしこまりました kashikomarimashita (Certainly.)
またおこしくださいませ mataokoshikudasaimase (Please come again.)


Another important task is to put everything that a customer has bought into plastic bags. I used the plural. The key point is to show that the staffs themselves want to use as many bags as possible. There is no Eco-Friendly concept in convenience stores.

Also in Japan, following western countries, reusable shopping bags were introduced and in 2008 there was a boom of reusable ‘Eco-bag’ made of canvas. Moreover, many supermarkets started to sell a plastic bag for 2 to 5 yen.

On the other hand, in convenience stores, staffs are advised to show their customers that they are willing to give as many plastic bags, chopsticks, plastic spoons, plastic forks, and plastic straws as customers want. They have to show that they themselves want to put heated things and cold things in different bags. Surprisingly, they have to ‘want’ to put a box of cigarettes in another small bag separately to food stuff since there are some customers (smokers) who think poisonous cigarettes should not be in the same bag with food. Staffs are told by the manager of a store to say, “Do you permit me to put cigarettes in a different bag?” and they are banned to say, “Can I put cigarettes together with the other things in the same bag?” I personally prefer the latter one, but it is prohibited! It has to be the staffs but not the customers who want to use plural bags…

There are 20,404 supermarkets in Japan (quoted from ‘Supermarket survey’ as of September, 2014), on the other hand, there are 51,367 convenience stores (quoted from Japan Franchise Association, as of August, 2014. Thus, it is meaningless even though we care about ecology trying to used less plastic bags in supermarkets…


Ecoposters by Berge Gazen
Ecoposters by Berge Gazen


I asked, moreover, when they feel frustrated at work. The answer of the two was the same. They get frustrated or even frightened when they see people waiting in line at the cashier. Sometimes Some customers yell at them or throw money and grab a plastic bag as if they snatched it and go away without giving any glance.


Photo by Celestine Chua
Photo by Celestine Chua


To conclude the interviews, I asked why they choose working at convenience stores. The reason was it was easy to get a job and it would be also easy to quit it. In fact, they say many new staffs come and go so frequently. I found convenience also here…


This small survey that I made cannot be recognized as a proper research because the numbers of samples are so limited. So I cannot draw the conclusion from it. But it reminded me of a famous movie, “Star Wars” which many of you may know very well. Isn’t the ‘convenience’ very similar to the ‘Force’?

‘Convenience’ was created by effort to improve our life, which we should be happy with. But, once achieved we are not happy at all with it and, what is worse, we get annoyed if we cannot have everything in our own way. Not only when shopping in convenience stores but also when taking metros and trains that cover almost all the territory in Japan with super accuracy, and when receiving a parcel which is delivered in one day at the time appointed, we get easily annoyed if there is a delay of only a few minutes… Is it the trap of the convenience or is it the dark side of the convenience?


It takes strength to resist the dark side. Only the weak embrace it! It is more powerful than you know…
―Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul


Photo by Epic Fireworks
Photo by Epic Fireworks


I’m afraid in Japan there are many Darth Vader or Anakin Skywalker… Maybe we’ve got spoiled by famous Japanese technology or Japanese hard working spirit.


All we need, I think, is Master Yoda so as not to make Japan the Death Star.


May the Convenience Be With You!  Photo by Angelo Su
May the Convenience Be With You!
Photo by Angelo Su


**The magnificent photo used for the title is by Sara Lando.

にほんブログ村 歴史ブログ 日本の伝統・文化へ
にほんブログ村 英語ブログ 英語の日記(和英併記)へ

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