7-Eleven comes to a rural town, and we’re one of the first to walk through its doors.

Our Japanese-language reporter Daiichiro Tashiro recently moved from the big smoke of Tokyo to the small smoke of Minamiaso in Kumamoto Prefecture, which lies at the foot of Mount Aso, an active volcano that last erupted in 2021.

▼ It’s been a big change of pace for him, but now that he’s surrounded by nature as majestic as this, he’s never been happier.

As Daiichiro eases himself into the slow life of the Japanese countryside, he’s been noticing a few things he’s never stopped to notice before. One of those things is the convenience of a Japanese convenience store.

Previously, in the city, Daiichiro had been surrounded by convenience stores, never even bothering to glance up at them as he walked past. However, here in the countryside, they’re much more spread apart, and not always within walking distance so he’s come to appreciate them in a whole new light. In fact, when a new convenience store opens, it comes with a lot of fanfare that Daiichiro hadn’t known about…until he received this flyer in the mail.

▼ Minamiaso Hakusui Branch Commemorative Open Event!

Daiichiro felt a sense of excitement upon hearing the news of a new 7-Eleven opening in the neighbourhood, and reading through the commemorative events planned for the opening got him even more excited.

First, there would be a “time sale”, when select products would be sold at a discount from 4:00 p.m. on each day of the event, held from 31 August to 2 September. The new store would also be selling the chain’s popular yakitori chicken skewers at a 500-yen (US$3.59) discount for a pack of ten, and offering a lucky draw for new nanaco card members or users of the Seven app, where everybody would win a prize. What really caught Daiichiro’s eye on the flyer, though, was the chance to purchase a lucky bag, which would only be available in limited numbers.

The flyer really worked to drum up a lot of local interest, because when Daiichiro arrived at the store bright and early on 31 August, when the doors opened at 7:00 a.m., there was a line of people outside waiting to get in.

▼ In the countryside, the opening of a new convenience store is an event.

As far as Daiichiro is aware, Minamiaso already has a Family Mart and Lawson convenience store, but this would be the very first 7-Eleven in the area, so it’s no wonder everyone was so excited for the opening.

Daiichiro was also excited, especially after stepping inside the store and feeling the festival-like atmosphere. Everything was pristine — the shelves were perfectly stacked and the products were yet to be sullied into disarray by customers, and Daichiro couldn’t help but snap some photos to capture the pure joy of it all.

Opening sale Melon Bread — Five for 475.2 yen!

Yakitori 10 Pack — 1,000 yen!

After checking out the food, Daichiro laid eyes on the product he’d come here for — the lucky bags.

These bags would only be sold at the opening, so Daiichiro picked up one small and one large, which set him back 6,000 yen (US$43.07). Lucky bags like these contain mystery items worth more than what you pay for them, so Daiichiro was looking forward to finding out what was inside them.

After paying for his purchases, Daiichiro’s heart melted when the staff handed him this free gift as part of the opening celebrations. It was a box wrapped in noshi paper, as is the custom when handing out gifts at formal occasions, and inside was one red and one white steamed manju bun with the character for “celebration” branded on them. Red-and-white is an auspicious colour combination in Japan, reflected in the customary bow on the noshi as well, which is another symbol to express good wishes.

▼ “Store Opening Commemoration” was written above the bow, and below, the name of the gift-giver — 7-Eleven Minamiaso Hakusui.

This was a beautiful, totally unexpected gesture, and when he left the store Daiichiro found another nice surprise waiting for him.

▼ The store had terrace seating unique to this branch, and beside the seating area, there was…

▼…a tap that dispenses natural mineral water from 80 metres (262 feet) below the earth!

Being in the vicinity of a volcano, this area is famous for delicious spring water, and here at this 7-Eleven they were giving it away free to customers. What’s more, there are special bottles designed to store water available, so if customers want one of these, they simply have to go in to the 7-Eleven and ask staff for them.

Daiichiro was so happy he was tempted to pinch himself, as he could hardly believe this was his life now. Convenience stores in the city are great and all, but out here in the countryside, they’re so much more.

▼ And he’s not just talking about the massive 40-vehicle parking lot.

Rather than just being a place to buy things, convenience stores like these are a way to connect with people and enjoy a sense of community. Unlike a city store, where customers are taken for granted, Daiichiro felt valued here, as if his patronage was wanted and appreciated. It reminded him of being a child and shopping at a local family-run store — when he was younger, every time a new shop opened in his neighbourhood he’d feel a sense of excitement, and it’d been a long time since he felt that same sense of joy.

It was a reminder of how living in the countryside brings you back to appreciating the small things in life, where even the opening of a convenience store is a cause for celebration. Daiichiro never expected the opening of a 7-Eleven to have such a profound effect on him, but, like a lot of things he’s now experiencing in the countryside, it left a mark on him that he’ll never forget.

As for what’s inside those lucky bags — Daiichiro will be revealing all in a future article. Because these days, his life is running at a much slower pace than usual!

Photos ©SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]