Whether on a budget or not, it is hard for any traveler to resist the allure of Japanese depachikas and conbinis in Tokyo and other Japanese cities. A depachika is the food hall located at the basement of Japanese department stores where vendors sell a dazzling array of prepared local and regional sweet and savory foods as well as popular Asian and Western treats. On a more downscale level, one can equally enjoy food treats offered by neighborhood conbinis (convenience stores), of which there are quite an astonishing number populating city and rural neighborhoods.
Both depachikas and conbinis are the epitome of convenience, and it is convenience offered to a customer with great courtesy and often, with a bow and a smile. For the food-focused traveler, it is convenience with a wonderful bonus: the foods are almost always delicious. And many, particularly in the depachikas, are beautifully presented or packaged to boot.
Japanese conbinis such as chains 7-Eleven, Lawson, and Family Mart are patronized heavily by locals but have proven to be great draws for travelers. Offering food and non-food items such as toiletries, medication, and ATMs, they’re clean, wonderfully efficient, and delightfully low cost. And the food! From onigiri(rice balls), karaage (deep fried food), steamed pork and sweet bean buns, assorted crustless white bread sandwiches, and packaged Japanese savory snacks to huge selections of beer, canned coffee, and other alcoholic drinks including sake, one can have an instant, cheap, and awesome meal (or party!) any time of the day.
On the other hand, upscale depachikas (the term is derived from “depato” for department store and “chika” for basement) clearly have aesthetics in mind to draw customers to their food offerings. A highly popular feature of prominent department stores like Takashimaya, Isetan, and Mitsukoshi, visitors will delight in wonderfully put-together bento boxes, colorful and artfully arranged salads, and intricate looking sweets, all very appealing not just to a hungry stomach but also to the eye. Many Japanese sweets and treats are already beautifully packaged, reminding one of gifts, and thus make perfect souvenirs for travelers to bring home. Most depachika foods are for take away although there are a few eat-in areas. And for customers who prefer fresh food like fruits, vegetables, and seafood, depachikas usually have a section for these as well. As a further nod to convenience, many of these food halls are linked to subway and train stations.
Any traveler would be remiss in not checking out these two wonderful fixtures of Japanese living.
— Reported by Maria Steinberg
You’ll find delightful-looking bentos at the ready at Tokyo’s Takashimaya food hall.
Tokyo’s Isetan depachika offers long, sugary wedges of deep fried sweet potatoes.
One of the things that differentiates depachika from conbini is its presentation. This beautiful Kit Kat tower is found in the Takashimaya depachika.
AFFORDABLE GOURMET FOODS IN CONBINIS
Classic hot and deliciously crispy beef croquettes and chicken karaage are big favorites at conbinis.
Plentiful sandwiches are popular among busy Japanese. 454 yen (about $4) per package is a steal!
Conbinis carry even hard liquors. Alcoholic drinks at Tokyo’s Family Mart include sparkling sake.
The only problem with packaged savory snacks available in conbinis is deciding which one to get.