“Record Conveni” is the coolest combini in town!

Japan’s top three convenience store chains — Lawson, Family Mart and 7-Eleven — might be famous around the world, but lying in their shadow you’ll find some other convenience store chains that are equally great, and Yamazaki Y Shop is one of them.

Run by Japan’s Yamazaki Baking Company, the world’s largest bread-baking corporation, this chain is known for its lineup of sandwiches and bakery products. However, at the Y Shop in Hamacho, in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, you’ll find much more than Yamazaki bread inside, because the owner is mad about music…and old records.

This branch of Y Shop looks like any other from the outside, but step closer and you’ll see a selection of records on display in the front window. As it turns out, these aren’t purely for decorative purposes, as there’s a sign that reads…

▼…”We Buy Records!! Please sell us your records. Enquire within.”

Our reporter Seiji Nakazawa is a musician who plays guitar in a band, so he’s seen signs like these at old-school record shops before, but this was his first time seeing it at a Yamazaki convenience store. Curious to learn more about the unusual music connection, Seiji stepped inside, and found that the interior looked just like a regular family-run Yamazaki corner store.

▼ There were drinks, snacks, sandwiches and bread…

▼ …but there in the window was something you won’t find at any other convenience store — trays of records.

Rifling through the records by the window, Seiji saw there was a good selection of Japanese and overseas bands represented, and on the side there was a section filled with band-related merchandise like T-shirts, and even an electric guitar on display.

Seiji felt as if he were in an old record store rather than a convenience store, especially when he plucked out a couple of records that he particularly liked. Taking them over to the register to purchase them, Seiji found there were two people behind the counter, who looked like a friendly grandmother and grandfather, and when he struck up a conversation with them, they told him that the records were there because of the store manager’s son.

The friendly lady told Seiji that the son might be coming in soon, so our reporter bought a coffee and sat outside with his new Aerosmith and Monkees records in the hopes that he might be able to meet the son behind the unusual store.

As he sat in the warm sunshine, Seiji saw a steady stream of customers come and go. While most people who stopped by left with snacks, quite a few of them also spent time perusing the record section by the window. It was rare to experience such a homely neighbourhood-type feel in the middle of the city, and just as Seiji finished his coffee, the manager arrived, and was more than happy to have a chat about the store.

As with all first-meeting scenarios, Seiji whipped out his business card and handed it over to the manager before they began their conversation. The manager, in turn, handed over his business card, and the musician in Seiji felt a slight twinge of envy at how cool it looked.

▼ Not your average Yamazaki shop owner’s business card.

▼ His name was Mr Yasutaka Shindo, and his shop was dubbed the “Record Conveni”.

Rather than use the title of “store manager”, Mr Shindo instead called himself the “store organiser“, with organiser” being a cool title often used by organisers of projects and events. Curious to know more about the title, Seiji asked him if he does actually organise events, and was surprised to hear this reply:

Mr Shindo: “I do. I usually hold a DJ event inside this store about once a week. I’ve been invited to DJ at a sake event at the Coredo Nihonbashi shopping mall next week, so I’ll be DJing at other places for a little while, but whenever there’s an event, I announce it on Twitter and Instagram.”

Seiji: Ah, so you’re a DJ?!

Mr Shindo: “I was originally a guitarist in a band, and at that time I performed at live houses [live music venues] in Shibuya, places like Crocodile and Shibuya Yaneura.”

Seiji: Actually, I’m also a guitarist in a band. It’s sad that Shibuya Yaneura is gone now. You must’ve been in the business for a while.”

Mr Shindo: “I guess so! I also ran guitar lessons for a while.”

Seiji: Eh!? You were a teacher?

Mr Shindo: “No, no, I called the teacher and held lessons in the basement. Rather than teach, I wanted to be taught!”

Seiji: Do you mean to say there’s a basement here in this Yamazaki store?

Mr Shindo: “Would you like to take a look?”

Everything Mr Shindo revealed to Seiji was a surprise, but he certainly wasn’t expecting there to be a secret basement in the store. Seiji felt butterflies of excitement begin to dance around in his belly as he was led towards the back of the store.

▼ There, next to one of the drink fridges, was a door that looked like it might lead to a restroom, but instead, when Mr Shindo opened it…

▼ …there was a narrow staircase leading to an underground floor!

▼ What in the name of Yngwie Malmsteen???

At the end of the stairs behind the door next to a fridge was a secret basement that looked like a music lover’s paradise. It was a fantastic setup — a personal studio filled with all sorts of fun equipment like electric guitars, amps, and even a DJ booth.

Seiji gazed around in awe at the space, taking it all in before continuing his conversation with the owner.

Mr Shindo: “By the way, we’re holding a DJ class today.”

Seiji: Really? Wow, you’re really making great use of the space.

Mr Shindo: “It was originally a stockroom, but it was so spacious that I turned half of it into a music studio.”

Seiji: It reminds me of the studio used by Kazuyoshi Nakamura [a Japanese singer-songwriter]. If it was originally a stockroom, though, where do you store things for the shop?

Mr Shindo: “I’m using the space on the other side of the back wall as the stockroom now.”

Seiji: I see. So when you hold an event inside the store, is this where it’s held?

Mr Shindo: “Well, during the pandemic we held a streaming event here. But for most of the DJ events we usually set up a DJ booth at the back of the ground floor upstairs so the music flows out into the store.”

Seiji: see. I’m curious to know, though, what made you decide to sell records inside a Yamazaki convenience store?

Mr Shindo: “That record shelf by the window was originally an eat-in space. It all started when I was talking to some of our regular customers and they said they’d like to hold a mini flea market outside the store. So we went ahead with it and I put out some old records and they sold quite well. That’s when I thought, ‘I could sell records’, so I thought I might try selling them inside the store, and that’s where I am now.”

Seiji: Being able to buy records here makes it feel like an old record store. 

Mr Shindo: “I’m glad to hear that. I became an authorised secondhand dealer so I could sell them.”

Seiji: Wow, that’s dedication! But what about Yamazaki? Are they really giving you this much freedom to do what you want?

Mr Shindo: “Yes, they are. You could say it’s all part of Yamazaki’s broad-mindedness. Originally, we were a liquor store for about 90 years, and I’m the third generation owner, but these days it’s hard to survive as a liquor store alone. In 2012, we decided to change the business to a convenience store.

At that time, I thought about going with Lawson or Family Mart, but Yamazaki was the only company that gave me this much freedom. The contract was like a voluntary agreement between both sides. As expected, a little bit was said about certain things, but the president seems to be happy about the arrangement!”

Well, there you have it — a look behind the scenes at one of the most unusual convenience stores in the country. After doing a little more research into the topic, Seiji discovered that all Yamazaki convenience stores operate on voluntary agreements between operator and owner, offering more freedom than a franchise contract with one of their big-name competitors.

In addition, it appears that the owner is free to choose whether or not they want to stay open 24 hours a day; another perk you won’t find when working for big convenience store chains, which require their outlets remain staffed around the clock, even when business is slow.

As we’ve seen in the past, the rigid rules for opening a big-name convenience store can cause some owners to feel disgruntled, leading them to go rogue against the company. So next time you pass by a Yamazaki Y store in Japan, you might want to pop in and support the smaller chain that values the happiness of its shop owners.

It’s no wonder Yamazaki is held in such high regard by the people of Japan. With more freedom for owners to run their business to appeal to locals as they see fit, you never know what you might find at a Yamazaki convenience store!

Store information
Y shop Kazusaya store / Yショップ上総屋店
Address: Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Hamacho 2-55-5
Open 7 a.m.-11 p.m. (Mon-Sat)
Closed Sundays and holidays

Photos ©SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]