This chain takes konbini food to a whole other level.

Japan is famous for its convenience stores, which sell everything from whiskey and fried chicken to pancake steamed buns.

While the top chains — Family Mart, Lawson, and 7-Eleven — tend to steal the spotlight from smaller ones like Mini StopDaily Yamazaki and New Days, we’ve been keeping an eye on a new contender, that some people are saying is even better than 7-Eleven.

▼ The chain is called “Sakura Mikura“, and it has sakura petals in its logo.

So what makes the chain so good? Well, on a recent trip to Gunma Prefecture, home to Sakura Mikura, our reporter Masanuki Sunakoma walked through the sliding doors to find out why this place is so special.

The chain, which opened in 2021, is run by Zensho Holdings, which operates some big names in the food industry, like the Sukiya beef bowl chain, the Hama Sushi conveyor belt sushi chain, and the Cocos family restaurant chain. The focus on food is evident in the presence of tables outside the store, an unusual sight at a konbini, where customers can enjoy a spot of alfresco dining.

The chain has grown from four to nine branches in just over a year, and they’re all located in Gunma Prefecture.

▼ According to the company, the “sakura” in the name aims to “bring smiles to the region, as the cherry blossoms do“.

There’s plenty to smile about here, because as soon as you enter the store, the first thing to catch your eye is the unusual “みくら食堂 (“Mikura Shokudo”or “Mikura Dining Hall”), which is what makes the chain so great.

Unlike Japan’s top convenience stores, where food options are lined up on shelves or in a display on the counter, the food at Sakura Mikura is on a whole other level. 

Diners here can order hot food in much the same way they would at a shokudo eatery, and what’s even better is the fact that it’s handmade in-store 24 hours a day, for ultimate freshness and flavour.

▼ Like eating at a fast food restaurant, but inside a convenience store.

The menu includes a wide variety of hearty, reliable favourites, like rice bowls, meat sauce pasta, and even motsunabe (offal hotpot).

Masanuki used the touch panel to order a Karaage Don (Japanese fried chicken rice bowl) for 518 yen (US$3.84). You can select dishes with or without toppings and either on their own or as part of a set, and once you’ve ordered, you simply pay for it at the cash register, along with any other products you pick up while browsing the aisles.

You’ll want to pick up some onigiri rice balls here, as they’re all made in-store rather than being trucked in from a large facility like the ones you get at the big chains.

Masanuki picked up a rice ball filled with Kishu Nanko Ume — nanko ume is the highest quality brand of ume, or Japanese plum, and Kishu, the old name for the region covering Wakayama and southern Mie, is one of the top producing areas — and he was thoroughly impressed by the quality and flavour.

Bursting with freshness, it was like a rice ball that his mother would’ve made for him at home when he was a child.

The Karaage Don was also a big hit with Masanuki. It contained three pieces of freshly fried chicken, which were crunchy and juicy, and the rice below was plump and delicious, nothing like the bland rice you get in bento boxes sold at big convenience stores like 7-Eleven.

▼ Like a freshly made bento from a bento shop!

Served with mayonnaise and seaweed flakes, this was a fantastic meal, and if Masanuki lived in Gunma, he’d happily eat rice bowls here every day.

Masanuki describes Sakura Mikura as “a bento shop combined with a convenience store”. It’s amazing that they serve food this good 24 hours a day, and Masanuki couldn’t help but ask the operators why they only operate in Gunma Prefecture.

The company told him that Sakura Mikura is currently in its “experimental stages“, which is why you can only find it in Gunma at the moment.

That’s all they would reveal to him, though, so Masanuki has his fingers tightly crossed for the possibility that they may expand into other areas soon. If Sakura Mikura were to open in his Tokyo neighbourhood, it would be way more exciting than the opening of a big-name chain, which, as we’ve seen before, is already pretty exciting.

So, the big convenience store chains better look out, because if this konbini makes inroads into other prefectures, they’ll have some serious competition on their hands!

Related: Sakura Mikura
Photos ©SoraNews24

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