If you’ve never been to a Japanese convenience store (conbini for short), do it. It will change your life. With over 3,000 items per store with everything from drinks, healthy options, obentos and cup noodles, anything you need for a day trip is easily within reach.
Let’s go through the major categories of what you might need to take with you on a hike, ski day or other outdoor adventure in Japan.
- Onigiri. The ubiquitous Japanese rice ball. This is by far the most common lunch item for Japanese outdoor enthusiasts. Compact, nutritious and delicious, it’s great for a quick energy boost along a trail or a for longer lunch. It’s even shaped like a mountain! Onigiri come in flavors like tuna mayo, umeboshi (sour plum), chicken, chahan (fried rice) and salmon, along with regional and seasonal variations. When purchasing onigiri from a conbini, make sure you follow the 3 step process to open them, it can be a messy process otherwise.
- Salads. Unlike an American convenience store where hot dogs rotate on a spit plate for days, conbini in Japan actually offer healthy options like salads, edamame, boiled eggs, coleslaw and stir fries. The salads, especially are great because they are so fresh and varied. Supposedly some conbinis even restock their food 6 times a day! Make sure to look for salad dressing sold in the tiny packets because it is usually sold separately.
- Obento. Obentos are literally pack lunches. Giving you a little more variation than onigiris, obentos most often include rice with a variety of meat and vegetables prepared a few ways. Conbinis will heat up your obento box for you, but if you’re going on a long excursion you can ask them not to since it will get cold anyway.
- Snacks. This is my favorite section. There is a whole row of snacks in every conbini that are perfect for taking on an adventure. Towards the healthier side, there are all kinds of nuts, dried fruit, jerky, cheese, dried fish and rice crackers. On the junky end, there are potato chips, candy, chocolates and desserts. True to Japanese form, most snacks are in nice small packages that are perfect for taking on a day trip.
- Something Hot. If you prefer something hot on the trail, buy one of the dozens of varieties of cup noodles available at Japanese conbinis. You will need a thermos for this, but fill it up ahead of time (hot water is also available at conbinis) and pour it into your noodles when you’re ready. Especially when it’s cold, something hot goes a long ways.
- Drinks. An entire wall of every conbini is dedicated to an incredible array of alocoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. For a hike, there are varieties of tea, soft drinks, juices and of course water. To order hot coffee, tell them at the register but for ice coffee, make sure you pick up the cup of ice in the freezer section. A can of beer at the end of a long trip is fantastic, so make sure you pick up one of those if that’s your thing.
- Bonus Items. A few of my favorite items that don’t fit neatly into categories include steamed buns (Winter only) called Niku-Man (look for pizza-man too), fried chicken, ice cream (a whole other post of its own) and smoothies.
That’s all you need for a great lunch on the trail or slopes of Japan! Enjoy