Quality Dining at 7-11

A few weeks ago, I went to a local 7-11 to pick up tickets for a concert. (Oddly enough, in Japan it’s common to purchase tickets online and pick up the hard copies at a 7-11 – I don’t know why.)

After collecting my tickets, I decided to buy tea before heading home. But on my way to pick up a drink, my eyes happened to wander to the food section, as they always do…

Convenience stores always have ready-made meals available all day long, like rice balls wrapped in seaweed and bento boxes with meat and vegetables. When I first arrived in Japan, I was obsessed with the idea of convenience store food. I tried all the rice bowls, the fried fish and veggies – I practically lived off of convenience store food for two weeks! But after being in Japan for seven months now, I don’t find it very exciting – or appetizing – anymore.

But at this particular 7-11, the food on display was different: the options, the types of meals, the quality – I’d never seen anything like it before! I rarely give the food section at convenience stores a second glance, but I was so impressed by this display that I thought it was worthy of a photo shoot.

IMG_E8385IMG_E8391The shelves were stocked with just about every kind of hearty Japanese comfort food you could imagine –  soba, udon, curry, pork katsu, grilled marinated meats with a heaping side of rice… And all were a reasonable 400-500 yen, or $4-5.


Yakisoba with a hearty sesame-flavored glaze.

There were plenty of “Western” inspired options too, like bowls of Neapolitan spaghetti with sliced ham, sausage, tomato sauce, and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

IMG_E8389My favorite thing about this display, though, was the abundance of meals catering to the health-conscious customer. While there were quite a few carb-heavy dishes, there were also just as many light and healthy dishes available too – like bowls of broth-based soups filled to the brim with steamed vegetables. IMG_E8388

IMG_E8386This Korean-inspired bowl with pork, tofu, kimchi proudly states that it has “1/2 serving of your daily recommended vegetables” – definitely not something you’d expect to find at a convenience store. IMG_E8392

And, of course, there were salads too – the healthiest of the bunch. But really, why buy a salad when you can buy a plate of spaghetti the size of your face?

Anyway, I think I’d still prefer my lunch to be made at home than from a convenience store refrigerator, but if I were in the mood for convenience store curry, I’d head to this 7-11 without a second thought.

20 Minutes at Tom’s Mr. Hedgie

It turns out that cats aren’t the only animal to have earned their own line of themed cafes in Japan. There are cafes for puppies, for owls, for lizards, for birds, for snakes, and more. I even heard about a pug cafe in Kyoto!

Though I can’t say that I’ve ever been particularly interested in spending my afternoon with lizards, there was one animal – my favorite animal, actually – that I’ve been hoping to visit ever since my cat cafe excursion… Hedgehogs!


On a day trip through Kyoto, my friend and I decided to stop by a hedgehog cafe called Tom’s Mr. Hedgie where you can hold, feed, and play with a hedgehog for up to an hour.

Apparently, most people make reservations in advance, but we arrived without a reservation and were seated within a few minutes. The staff member who’d led us to our table handed us rules and instructions for properly handling our hedgehog. (I asked for the English version.)

The cafe itself was immaculately clean, brightly lit, and smelled like flowers. And it was well-decorated with an impressive spread of hedgehog-themed goods: ornaments, photos, stuffed animals, and lots of miniature sized trinkets and accessories.


By far my favorite thing about it were all the warm, smiling faces! Everyone seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the quality time with their hedgehog playmates.


After choosing a time limit (we opted for 20, the cheapest option), a staff member brought us a yellow bucket, a paper towel, and a hedgehog of our own. His name was “Paido.” He was a baby and new to the cafe, so he scared easily and didn’t enjoy being held. I only got to hold him for a total of about 30 seconds by the time he’d made it clear that he wanted to be put down. My friend had a similar experience, so we let Paido be and watched him wander around the yellow bucket for the remaining time.


After 20 (short) minutes, Paido was escorted from our table back to his glass-walled home – which, in all honesty, he was probably relieved about.

I can’t say that 700 yen for 20 minutes is a price I’d be willing to pay again, but I’m happy to have had the chance to hold my favorite animal for the first time! (Even if it was short-lived.)


My daily commute on the 92

The bus comes at 7:43 on weekdays. I leave my house at 7:30 and arrive at the stop by 7:40 at the latest, depending on how long it take me to jaywalk across the main road.

There’s a convenience store next to the bus stop, a Family Mart. Sometimes I’ll wait inside because it’s much warmer in there than it is outside and I can check to see if the bus is coming from the window by the seating area. I see the same staff at the Family Mart every morning and I’m sure they recognize me by now – probably as that foreign girl who buys green tea and lingers in the seating area, who runs from the store at exactly 7:43. 

There’s an elderly man who rides the 7:43 bus everyday too and boards at the same stop as me. He’s short and balding and limps on his left foot. He has a tired, weary look in his eyes and his breathing is heavy, like the air is weighing on his lungs. When he waits for the bus to come he stands a few feet off to the side, looking down at the sidewalk, as if he’s intrigued by something on the ground. I still don’t know what it is he’s looking at. He might not be looking at anything at all.

The bus is always full by the time it arrives at my stop – or, our stop (mine and the elderly man’s). Some days are worse than others; some days I need to shove my way on board just to squeeze myself in far enough for the door to close behind me. It’s like this on Mondays, which makes sense I suppose, since its the start of the work week. The bus is less packed as the week goes on. On a few Fridays, there have even been empty seats available. But that doesn’t happen often. I’m usually lucky to get a seat at all during the 20 minute bus ride.

For the most part, there are always the same kind of passengers on the bus – people on their way to work, students going to school. The students either sleep, sitting up, their heads lolling from side to side, or they study. I’ve seen some studying English before. I’m always tempted to comment on their homework, tell them the answers. But I never do – no one talks on the bus.

I don’t usually recognize the faces on the bus. But there are a few regulars – passengers I see everyday.

There’s this one girl, probably about my age. She gets on earlier than me and always stands at the very front beside the driver. When I get on we catch each other’s gaze and smile. Sometimes, she’ll wave at me too. I think of her and I wonder if you can call someone who you’ve never met a friend.

There’s a student who reminds me of my little brother. He has a baby face and glasses with frames that don’t balance well on his nose. His backpack is nearly half the size of his body and it looks heavy, too heavy for anyone his size to carry. I want to ask him if it’s heavy. And I want to ask him if he’s tired, if he’s overwhelmed, if he’s happy. In my head I ask him these questions everyday but everyday he says nothing and gets off with the rest of the students.

And there’s the middle-aged man who boards two stops later than mine, with the satin pants and shiny black shoes. He plays games on his phone to pass the time. Sometimes he plays Pocket Camp, a game where you take on the role of “campsite manager” and decorate your own campsite with the help of visiting animals. I play it too. I think it was designed for a young, female audience, so it makes me happy to see him play. From a few feet away, I watch him tap his phone, chatting with his animal friends. I try to imagine what his campsite looks like.

I don’t know anything about them beyond that. I’ll probably never even know their names. And they will never know mine. But they are familiar, constant, and they make the ride a little easier somehow.