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The Mistery Of KOMBINI

Do you know KOMBINI?

KOMBINI is the abbreviation for Convenience Stores pronounced in very Japanese way with an accent on the final [i]. I think some explanation is needed on what a convenience store is for those who are living in areas where there is no convenience stores.

A convenience store, small grocery store, or corner shop, is a small store that stocks a range of everyday items such as groceries, snack foods, candy, toiletries, soft drinks, tobacco products, and newspapers. Such stores may also offer money order and wire transfer services. In some jurisdictions, corner stores are licensed to sell alcohol, typically beer and wine. They differ from general stores and village shops in that they are not in a rural location and are used as a convenient supplement to larger stores.

A convenience store may be part of a gas/petrol station. It may be located alongside a busy road, in an urban area, or near a railway or railroad station or other transport hub. In some countries, convenience stores have long shopping hours, some being open 24 hours.

quoted from Wikipedia

 

In Japan, most of them are open 24 hours a day. In big cities like Tokyo there is one, sometimes more than two in each block or just across the street. It is normally equipped with a cash dispenser, a multi-functional copy machine and you can make a payment of the fees for public services. It is very convenient, needless to say, and if you have one in your area, you will be able to live without being conscious of time. You don’t have to go to banks which are open only from 9 in the morning till 3 in the afternoon on weekdays.

KOMBINI at midnight Photo by Froschmann titled "Floating Space"
KOMBINI at midnight
Photo by Froschmann titled “Floating Space”

 

Traditionally, every store has its own days closed in Japan like in other countries. Some are closed on Sundays like in Christian countries, and some closed on Mondays or Wednesdays. Stores usually open at 9 or 10 in the morning and close at 7 or 8 at night. However, for the owners, the time while the stores are closed means there is no profit, which is a dead loss, because the amount of a monthly rent remains the same whether the store is fully open or partially open…

If the aim of an industrialist is to take all the advantages of what has been invested, which maybe a sheer aim of the capitalism, it is natural to avoid the loss of an opportunity to make money. “Closing” is nothing but a “loss”.

On the other hand, if a store is 100% the owner’s property and the store is run by the owner without employees, all he/she has to think about is the quality of his/her life, the balance of the loss and the gain. He/she may also concern on the joy of life enabled by the money he/she earns or the rest for his/her health. In this case, only one store is manageable, depending on the capability of the owners, of course, and the opportunity of gain is limited to what he/she can manage.

Maybe we, human beings, are born greedy. And with the great technology and the systems that human beings invented, the greed has been accelerated. But the technology and the systems exist because of our greediness, as Thomas Edison said, “necessity is the mother of invention”.

a great work titled "Greed"  by Scabeater
a great work titled “Greed”
by Scabeater

 

I used the word “greed” with intention, knowing that this is considered as bad demand. I know other similar words to “greed”, such as, “desire”, “wanting”, “longing”, “craving”, “ambition”, “passion”… But I am not quite sure what the difference is among these words. The border between the good and the bad, I think, lies only on the degree and the way of gratifying them.

Greed is one of the seven deadly sins, which destroy the life of grace and charity within a person and thus create the threat of eternal damnation in Christianity. Also in Buddhism it is regarded as one of the three poisons or the three unwholesome roots, which is called Raga in Sanskrit and translated into English as “attachment”, “passion”, or “desire”.

 

Ms. Barbara O’Brien, an Buddhism Expert, wrote in Greed and Desire.

The English word “greed” usually is defined as attempting to possess more than one needs or deserves, especially at the expense of others. We’re taught from childhood that we shouldn’t be greedy.

To “desire,” however, is simply to want something very much. Our culture doesn’t attach a moral judgment to desire. On the contrary, desire in the romantic sense is celebrated in music, art and literature.

A desire for material possessions also is encouraged, and not just through advertising. People who have earned wealth and the possessions that go with it are held up as role models. The old Calvinist notion that wealth accrues to people who are worthy of it still clanks about in our collective cultural psyche and conditions how we think about wealth. Desiring things isn’t “greedy” if we feel we deserve those things.

From a Buddhist perspective, however, the distinction between greed and desire is artificial. To want passionately is a hindrance and a poison, whether one “deserves” the thing wanted or not.

 

In any case, a convenient and comfortable life that we’re enjoying now is nothing but the result of “greed”, “desire”, or “wish” of the people of the past for the convenience. The definition of “convenient” is “suitable for your purposes and needs and causing the least difficulty”. In the past, if local shops do not have very convenient opening hours we should buy food for breakfast in the previous night before the closing time of shops. In order to have a gorgeous Sunday lunch, you should prepare everything on the previous day. Even if you find anything that you forgot to get in Sunday morning, there was no way but to give up. If you don’t have any other thing that you can use instead of what is missing, you have to change the recipe. I mean, you cannot live according only to your own will. However, a KOMBINI has wiped out this unpleasant and “inconvenient” situation.

 

History of KOMBINI
It is said that KOMBINI was born in 1927 in Dallas, USA. An employee of “Southland Ice Company” started to sell basic products for daily necessity, such as milk, eggs, and bread in one of the company’s ice houses. The advantage was their selling ice for preserving the items. Moreover, his idea met the people’s needs that they don’t want to travel long distances to the grocery stores for basic items. This is an origin of 7-Eleven.

Photo from Wikipedia
Photo from Wikipedia

 

According to the Wikipedia, the number of stores of 7-Eleven is more than 50,000 and surpassed the previous record-holder, McDonald, in 2007. 7-Eleven USA is headquartered in Dallas, Texas, while its globally operating parent company, Seven & I Holdings Co. Ltd. is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan.

The first 7-Eleven store in Japan was opened in 1974 in Toyosu, Tokyo. Yet, their business hours were from seven in the morning to eleven at night. In the next year, 24-hour-operation started not in Tokyo but in Fukushima.

I looked through more information about 7-Eleven and I found the current numbers of its outlets in the world;

Japan: 15,504
USA: 8,144 (Hawaii 59)
Thailand: 7,210
Korea: 7,064
Taiwan: 4,867
China: 1,925
Mexico: 1,552
Malaysia: 1,472
Philippines: 893
Australia: 598
Singapore: 560
Canada: 484
Denmark: 196
Sweden: 189
Norway: 158
Indonesia: 128

(Total: 50,944 (as of June, 2013)

 

The numbers in Japan, 15,504 is too astonishing… But this is only the number of outlets of 7-Eleven. Of course, there are also other KOMBINI chains, as Family Mart, Lawson, Mini Stop, Circle K Sunkus (not thanks), Daily Yamazaki… According to JFA, Japan Franchise Association, the numbers of Convenience stores in Japan is 51,367 in August, 2014.

 

In Tokyo, there are more than 7,200 KOMBINI (in March, 2014), among which top three chains dominate 77.4%. Here are the numbers of outlets of Top 3 chains of KOMBINI in Tokyo.

7-Eleven2,144 (38.5%)
Family Mart1,852 (33.2%)
Lawson1,578 (28.3%)
(Total5,574 (77.4%) )

 

As these numbers show, the three top chains are competing for the market share, and thus the service and the quality of the original products has been really improved.

I think the quality of convenience stores in Japan is superb especially for the foodstuff. Here is a very interesting video on food of KOMBINI by Kyde and Eric, Americans who are living in Japan.

 

In KOMBINI, as you saw, a great varieties of food are available. You can also ask to heat them by microwave. Actually, you don’t have to do anything for preparation. They are all ready to eat. So, for those who are on a trip and don’t want to go to a restaurant for every meal, or who are not willing to dedicate their precious time for cooking KOMBINI is indispensable.

Not only the meals. What I personally recommend is the Cheese Cake of 7-Eleven.

cheezecake
Tastes astonishingly good with the quality far higher than the value of 150 yen.

 

I normally prefer to buy sweets in confectionery shops, but I eventually tried it while I was driving in a countryside. Since then I was addicted to it.  If I had run a confectionery shop, I would have soon decided to wind up my business… No confectionery shops on a small scale cannot compete with this 150 Yen cheese cake.

Moreover, I have to add coffee of 7-Eleven. As I don’t like Can-coffee (coffee in a can), actually millions of varieties exist in Japan though, I had never bought coffee in KOMBINI. But ever since I tried the iced coffee of 7-Eleven for the first time, I have been addicted to the aroma of coffee which I can feel while the machine is making my coffee. Again, I would have decided to wind up my business if I had a coffee shop… It costs you only 100 Yen. I think you should try it if you like coffee. (FYI, I take only iced coffee as I prefer espresso for hot one.)

 

coffee_seveneleven
A coffee machine in 7-Eleven. It is very easy to manage even if you cannot read Japanese.
You can also ask for a help to a staff.

 

Other than foodstuff, I think the quality of service offered by employees is comparable with or better than that of normal stores where more expensive products are sold, even though most of them are part-timers.

Let’s have a look at another table.

Total
Only KOMBINI established
more than 1 yr ago
Monthly Sales876,601 million yen
(+2.0%)
796,363 million yen
(-2.4%)
Numbers of
Shopping Customers
1,427,570,000
(+0.9)
1,313,342,000
(-3.6%)
Average Amount
of Purchase
614.1 yen
(1.1%)
606.4 yen
(1.2%)

 

These numbers show the difficulties that the stores which were established more than one year are facing. Even though the monthly sales and the numbers of shopping customers are increasing in total, those of the “old” stores have a decreasing trend. Moreover, the average amount of purchase of “old” stores is lower than the total. We can figure out from this that obtaining “regular customers” is something very difficult for convenience stores. Consumers are always seeking for the new.

Suppose you get your own shop after a great effort to realize your dream. And if your shop is recognized as “old” only after the first anniversary?? Imagine that!

In fact, in Japan, especially in big cities like Tokyo where I live, new KOMBINI is built before I notice. If I am away from the area for three months, at least one old and small store is changed into a KOMBINI or “old” KOMBINI is changed into a new one of another chain. Perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit but the birth of new convenience stores are like “bamboo shoots after the rain”, which means increasing rapidly.

 

Here is a quote again of Ms. Barbara O’Brien, an Buddhism Expert, in Greed and Desire,

Much of the world’s economy is fueled by desire and consumption. Because people buy things, things must be manufactured and marketed, which gives people jobs so they have money to buy things. If people stop buying things, there is less demand, and people are laid off their jobs.

Corporations that make consumer goods spend fortunes developing new products and persuading consumers through advertising that they must have these new products. Thus greed grows the economy, but as we see from the financial crisis, greed also can destroy it.

 

In the principles of Yin and Yang, everything has a bright side and the dark side. A desire for improvement or change seems to be a definite good, but is the new always better than the old? Moreover, the convenience seems to be the sheer aim to achieve with technology, but aren’t we, human beings, getting lazy and losing something very important?? I think it is just like a double-edged sword. It is a very effective weapon toward enemies, but at the same time, it can be very harmful toward ourselves.

 

Lady Justice with a double-edged sword
Lady Justice with a double-edged sword and a scale
A magnificent work of Elizabeth D’Andrea

 

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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