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There are many “symbols of Japan”–from Mt. Fuji to Akihabara, the country has numerous faces to the outside world. But regardless of what comes to mind when you think of the country, there’s a good chance that you’ll stop by one of its many convenience stores on the way to your destination. In many ways, the army of small shops that squat on half the corners from Hokkaido to Okinawa are the perfect symbol of the country. But it looks like the convenience stores of Japan are now facing a serious problem: They can’t find enough employees!

A recent article by Business Journal, a Japanese website dedicated to (surprise!) business, caught our attention with its alarming headline claiming that Japan’s convenience stores were facing a serious shortage of help. Panic gripped our hearts–without the employees to keep Japan’s convenience stores open, where would we get our oden and bento lunches?!

▼My diet consists of the major food group “Lawson.”

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Part of the problem seems to be the insane rate of expansion the top three convenience store chains are chasing. This year, 7-Eleven had a total of 1,600 store openings planned in Japan. Meanwhile, FamilyMart had 1,300 planned, and Lawson had 1,100 expected store openings. That’s 4,000 new convenience store branches in Japan this year alone! We can’t even fathom how much oden that is, but we’re pretty sure it’s enough to fill a few swimming pools for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

▼So Micheal Phelps can compete and get his munchies on at the same time!


Obviously, a new store means you need new employees to work there, but you might be surprised by just how many are necessary. While Clerks may have us believe that two morons can run a store by themselves, it turns out that the average Japanese convenience store needs about 20 people on its roster. With 4,000 new stores, that means roughly 80,000 new workers are needed.

But remember, Japan is an aging society, so there are fewer and fewer youngsters looking for part-time jobs now! Which is probably why many jobs that used to pay about 800 yen an hour (roughly US$6.66) are now commanding wages of about 1,100 yen (about $9.15). We should point out that the yen has weakened dramatically in the last few months, and that earlier this year, 100 yen was worth about one dollar. Which means that the $6.66 an hour wage used to be much closer to $8 an hour.

But even with a pay increase, how will Japan’s convenience stores find enough workers?

▼Hire a legion of Baymaxes?

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Well, it looks like the three major chains are trying a number of different approaches. For one thing, some stores are willing to hire people to work only one day a week–or even just one-hour shifts! Another approach is putting the elderly back to work. Just because you’re retired doesn’t mean you can’t stack shelves, damnit!

But here’s one tactic that might be more of interest to our readers–some stores are actively accepting for foreign employees, specifically students studying abroad, and are producing non-Japanese training manuals that included topics like proper “manners” and how to speak correctly. The Business Journal article even quoted someone from Lawson saying that people who “cannot use the language freely” (a nice way of saying “can’t speak Japanese”) could be hired to work in food preparation factories.

While working at a convenience store is the exact opposite of a great way to spend you time in Japan, we do have to say that it would provide you with a lot of opportunities to interact with the locals. Sure, you might never want to smell oden again, but you’ll probably have a lot of interesting stories about drunk middle-age Japanese salarymen buying cigarettes!

▼Just kidding! Who could get sick of this smell?


Naturally, this labor shortage isn’t country-wide, and some areas have no staffing problems at all. And hiring foreign employees isn’t exactly new, especially in major urban areas, like Tokyo, when you can find many non-Japanese folks standing behind the cash registers. But the current situation is opening up a lot more opportunities for foreign part-time workers. Lawson will reportedly even help people fill out resumes!

Of course, you’re probably not going to be able to get a work visa through 7-Eleven, but if you’re looking for a way to make some extra cash while taking classes, “teaching English” isn’t your only option. Of course, you could always try starting your own business, but just know that whether your name is Tanaka or Earl, you can probably find a job at a Japanese convenience store!

Source: Business Journal
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