“Konbini” is the abbreviation used in Japan as a corruption of the English “convenient store”. Konbini stores such as Seven-Eleven, Lawson and Family Mart are extremely popular among consumers of all walks of life in Japan. Today there are over 48,000 stores scattered across the country. They are everywhere!
Ready-made foods, such as bento (lunch boxes) of many varieties, including sandoicchi (sandwich) and onigiri (rice balls), and snacks make up about 40% of total sales. Take a look at one obento box (I purchased this obento at a kiosk at Tokyo Station before getting on a high-speed Shinkansen train leaving for my long distant trip). The limited space is carefully and beautifully packed with varieties of food items – a proper portion of protein, vegetables (including some seasonal selections) and carbohydrates. From a quick glance it represents the healthy world of Japanese meal. Now, let’s take a look at the ingredient list printed on the label. The list goes on and on and on. This healthy looking meal, in fact, is loaded with an endless number of chemicals. Chemicals enhance flavor, texture and color of each food items and surely prolong the shelf life of the obento box. Whenever I go back to Japan I always check the ingredients label on the obento boxes sold not only at Konbini stores but also at supermarkets, food departments at department stores and kiosk at train stations hoping that there are some improvements in this matter. Unfortunately and disappointingly I found this time that there is no change to the long list of additives, and the sales of konbini-bento are rather strong, stable and even increasing.