I visited Lawson, one of the major convenience-store chains in Tokyo, Japan, and was blown away. Lawson felt like a miniature grocery store filled with a wide variety of foods and beverages, from baked goods to bottles of wine. The store has entire sections dedicated to salad-making ingredients, juice, baked goods, fried chicken, and more. Most of the items were incredibly affordable, too. Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
Convenience stores in Japan, which are also known as conbini, live up to every bit of hype I have ever heard. And after visiting Lawson, one of the biggest convenience-store chains in Japan, my expectations have officially been raised — and convenience stores in the US will never be nearly as appealing. Here's a look at my first experience in Lawson, a broke food lover's dream.During my trip to Tokyo, Japan, I noticed multiple convenience stores on any given block — and all of them seemed pretty magical.
The convenience stores I saw in Japan seemed like magical, mini grocery stores with nearly every type of foodstuff you can think of at cheap prices. Lawson is currently one of the major conbini chains in Tokyo now, but it actually originated in Ohio in 1939. When I first walked in, there were a few stalls for hot food.
To the right of the sliding doors, I immediately saw three main sections for hot food. And I was already tempted to buy some — I almost purchased a sleeve of chicken nuggets just for my stroll around the store. The first case was filled with steam buns in sweet and savory flavors like pizza with melty cheese, spicy curry with cheese, and bean paste and sesame bun. A bun costs about 120 to 180 yen, or $1 to $1.50. Next to it was the case of yakitori (a type of Japanese skewered chicken). It contained a variety of yakitori sticks like white-meat chicken with bell peppers and chicken tenders with shiitake mushrooms. Each stick was just over 100 yen, or around $1, and for a little more shoppers could make it a meal with onion rings and deep-fried veggies. There was also a fried-chicken station.
The fried chicken at Lawson is known for being delicious and it's one of the chain's most popular dishes. It's cooked on-site and comes in a variety of styles including honetsuki (fried bone-in chicken), honenashi (fried boneless chicken), and karaage (deep-fried chicken nuggets). You can try the karaage in flavors you won't really find in the US, such as tempura-battered with green seaweed and smoked-butter soy sauce. The chicken also comes in a range of spice levels. I tried the smoked-butter soy sauce karaage and was impressed by the crunchy outside and tender inside. I seriously couldn't get enough of the slightly sweet, umami flavor. Lawson had other fried snacks, too.
This section also featured other deep-fried treats like the cheese corn dog for 248 yen, which is little over $2, and golden-brown potato croquettes and hash browns for less than a buck. I also couldn't miss the big pot of oden stew at the cash register.
As I walked around, I noticed a giant sign above the cash register that was advertising a nice, hot bowl of oden, or Japanese fish-cake stew. At Lawson, you can mix-and-match popular oden ingredients such as fish cakes, fish balls, and hard-boiled eggs in the savory dashi (a type of cooking stock popular in Japan) for about 100 yen, about $1, for each additional ingredient. To the left was a huge display of hot coffee drinks.
One of my favorite things about Japan was how it was always easy to purchase a hot can or bottle of coffee — so I was delighted that Lawson had so many options. Cream, no cream, sweetened or not… the coffee options seemed endless.
Each bottle was around 130 yen, or $1.20. There were also hot bottles of tea available. I also saw a section dedicated to one of my favorite snacks in Japan — onigiri.
Onigiri is typically balls of rice that are filled with a type of meat, fish, or pickled plums, and then wrapped in seaweed. There were many flavor varieties available.
My favorite onigiri was the salmon-skin one, but there was also chicken, beef, tuna, and mayonnaise. Two of these filled me right up and they were affordable, too, at around 100 yen, or $1, a pop. After the onigiri, I saw a section of lunch foods.
The display largely consisted of bento, which is basically a portable lunch. At Lawson, they're prepared fresh and can be easily microwaved at the store. There were so many options it got a little overwhelming.
Some of the prepackaged meals included cacio e pepe, quiches, spaghetti and meatballs, dumpling soup, chicken or pork katsu over rice with eggs, curries, ramen and soba noodle soups, stir-fries and more. Each bento was under 500 yen, which is under $5.
The meals had rather large portions for the low price, in my opinion. I couldn't get over how affordable they were — a ready-made dish like this in New York City could easily cost around $15. Of course, I couldn't visit a conbini and not get a pillow-soft sandwich.
I don't know what I loved the most about these little sandwiches — they had white bread, no crust, and tons of creamy egg salad. These sandwiches remind me of delicate tea-time snacks, but filled with heartier fillings like chicken teriyaki or pork cutlet. They were each under 300 yen, or around $3. Lawson also had plenty of dinner options, which consisted of pre-seasoned and pre-cooked dishes.
Next up there was a section of vacuum-sealed packages of pre-cooked meats such as meatballs with gravy, grilled chicken, chorizo, chunks of stewed beef, grilled pork belly with rock salt, salmon, and stewed chicken wings. Each pack of meat ranged from 220 to 330 yen, which is around $2 to $3.
I think they could easily be heated up with a side dish or two if you wanted to create a complete meal. For salad enthusiasts, there was also a wall of salad ingredients begging to be tossed together.
This section seemed so expertly curated — literally everything I could ever want in a salad was before my eyes. The top shelf had vacuum-sealed creamy sides like egg salad, potato salad, and other scoopable goodies that make or break a leafy base. Each bag cost around 100 yen, or around $1. The shelf below that featured all the meats ideal for slicing on top of a salad like a steamed chicken with shiso flavor or smoked chicken breast for around 200 yen, or around $2. The section also had a ton of different shredded greens and veggies to choose from.
Below the other ingredients, I found a wide range of shredded veggies and leafy greens in double-serving bags. From a white-radish mixed salad to mixed corn with shredded carrot, the possibilities for the salad bases seemed endless. And that wasn't it. On the bottom shelf, there were more salad add-ons, from dressing to eggs.
Some of the add-ons included individually packaged hard- and soft-boiled eggs. There were also individual dressing packages you could use to top off your salad creation. I also found a wall of cold cuts and pickled veggies for the perfect charcuterie plate.
The variety of cold-cut meats impressed me and I saw everything from pastrami and ham to roasted pork and smoked pork tongue. It was also affordable — each package cost between 100 to 200 yen, or around $1 or $2. The next aisle was jam-packed with beverage options.
There were more drink options here than I thought possible. There were medicinal juices and green juices in one area.
There was a section of pouches filled with medicinal juices with a combination of vitamins and supplements for around 200 to 300 yen, which is around $2 to $3. Protein drinks lined another shelf.
There were also cartons of milk protein drinks for 155 yen, or just under $1.50. Shelves also had juice drinks, cartons of iced teas, and every beverage I could think of.
There were also some yogurt drinks and different types of green smoothies, all of which cost under 200 yen, or around $2. I also came across a wall of refrigerated bottles of tea and coffee.
Just like the section for hot tea and coffee, the selection of cold varieties was just as enticing. Depending on the size, drinks ranged from just over 100 yen to 200, when is around $1 or $2. The beverages didn't end there. I even came across a wall of canned beers.
The shelves were lined with Japanese beers, like Asahi and Sapporo. Most cans were under 300 yen, which is about $3. The alcoholic drinks continued with a wall of canned cocktails.
For under 200 yen, which is about $2, you can grab a variety of sparkling cocktails such as Suntory highballs (a blend of whiskey and sparkling water), coke and whiskey, and zero-calorie cocktails. The cans were nice and cold, too.
One that I picked up was 7% alcohol and it had a citrus flavor. I also came across sections dedicated to wine and sake.
The wine selection was pretty affordable with the bottles mostly costing under 1,000 yen, or about $10. Most of the sake selection costs 1,200 yen or less, which is about $12. Other options are personal-sized sake bottles or mini-cartons that sell for as little as 265 yen, or around $2.50.
If neither suits you, there are also cartons of shochu, a Japanese distilled beverage, to choose from. There was also an entire aisle dedicated to ramen, a favorite in Japan.
This aisle has all sorts of ramen, miso soup, yakisoba noodles, and soup bases for 100 yen to 200 yen, or around $1 to $2. Fortunately, many of the containers were easy to prepare.
This is a convenience store, after all, so I was not too surprised that many of these were microwavable or could be prepared with hot water. My mind was blown by the chip aisle.
This aisle was a reminder that, in my opinion, Japan does snacks better than any other country. During my trip to Japan, I had some of the best snacks I've ever tried, especially in terms of chips. Some potato-chip flavors that stood out to me were pizza, seaweed, honey and butter, and grilled corn with wasabi beef. A large, sharable bag of chips cost under 200 yen, which is around $2. There were plenty of snacking options beyond chips, too.
Rice puffs, rice crackers, and crunchy sticks are just a few examples of other snacks I saw. The store also had another delightful category of snacks — candy.
The entire aisle was neatly organized and every shelf was loaded with sweets. The range of gummy candies caught my attention first.
The gummy selection was particularly satisfying with fruit flavors that included melon, pineapple, and other more unique fruits that most stores in the United States typically don't carry. There were a lot of chocolate options, too.
From chewy gummy candies and chocolate-dipped Pocky to chocolate-covered fruit bites, nuts, and chocolate bars, the aisle was packed with goodies. Most of the candy costs under 200 yen, which is around $2. I also spotted a section of dried meats from Lawson's Natural label.
I saw packs of dried squid parts, habanero pork, beef sticks, salamis, roasted pork jerky, pork-tongue jerky, dried salmon, and more. Each meat pack ranged in price from 200 to 300 yen, or around $2 to $3. The seafood packs cost slightly less. The Natural label also had a collection of nuts.
The selection of nuts included just about everything from almonds to walnuts, and it even included some chocolate-dipped varieties. Each bag cost just under 200 yen, or $2 per pack. The baked-goods selection had me drooling.
Lawson launched its own series of "Uchi Café SWEETS" that features specialty desserts like dorayaki (Japanese red-bean pancakes), sponge-cake cream rolls, layered cupcake desserts filled with different mousses, and sakubata (crispy cookie sandwiches filled with a buttercream). Most of the desserts cost under 250 yen, which is less than $2.50 a pop. The section also had bags of different types of cream puffs for roughly 300 yen, which is about $3.
There were plenty of single-serve options and ones for larger groups, too. There were also a ton of sweet types of breads to choose from.
I was blown away by the selection of soft bread rolls filled with cream and Oreos or strawberries. There were shelves of savory baked goods, too.
The shelves also had a nice selection of savory breads and pastries, like hot-dog buns filled with all sorts of meat-and-cheese combos, pizza breads, rolls topped with different condiments, and more. Lawson also had a bunch of my favorite Japanese dessert, which is dango mochi.
Dango mochi are small rice-cake balls that are often covered in red-bean paste or a sweet and savory sauce and skewered on a stick The combination of chewy sweet mochi and the sweet soy-sauce glaze is absolutely delicious. Plus, each treat was affordable and came to around 100 yen, which is about $1. As I left with my haul of goodies, I couldn't help but feel excited to plan my next trip to Lawson.
As someone who gets excited by variety, especially when it comes to food, this place had me bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at every turn of the aisle. There were restaurant-quality prepackaged meals that represented all sorts of dishes and so many coffee drinks that it'd take weeks to try every single one. For me, Lawson has seriously raised the bar for all convenience stores — and I can't help but feel disappointed that the ones back home in the US will never live up to my newfound high expectations. Read More:
13 of the most Instagrammable foods in Tokyo I tried the KFC rice cooker 'hack' from Japan, and it didn't live up to my expectations I flew on a Hello Kitty plane, and everything from the utensils to the barf bags were cute