Somewhere in Japan

Dispatch № 53: A Reliable Bubble

35°51’14.52″N, 139°39’9.39″E

While I can’t speak for anyone else’s habits, from time to time I find myself wandering to the convenience store simply because I’m feeling restless and can’t think of anything better to do.

Once, I even went during a typhoon. Admittedly, it was ill-advised, and in retrospect a bit risky, but it was fun. And, more importantly, it clarified something for me about the konbini’s1 role in urban life in Japan.

Among other things, it functions as a valuable oasis of reliability. A bubble of normalcy in an unpredictable and sometimes intense or chaotic environment.

When I went to the 7-Eleven while the typhoon Hagibis was making my building shift and groan with its gale, the walk to the store was reminiscent of Buster Keaton struggling to walk into the wind2, though with less comic flair.

When the automated doors closed behind me, I was suddenly in a very familiar scene, typical of any konbini run in the dead of the night. It was calm, and about as quiet as could be expected given the conditions outside.

One customer was looking at a magazine, another was standing bleary-eyed and listless in front of the onigiri. A clerk was stocking shelves.

The same elevator music as ever. The same door chime. The same fluorescent light making everything shadowless and tinged slightly green.

Stepping inside the store was like stepping into the eye of the storm. A temporary calm.

I lingered for a few minutes to appreciate the atmosphere and delay going back out, but even during a violent storm, it’s not really a place one remains too long. A place to stop by, but not a place to stay.

I purchased a tall can of Asahi Super Dry, a package of Bokun Habanero snacks, and a vanilla Coolish ice cream. The clerk wished me a safe journey home and I left.

Walking home involved leaning into the wind again, only this time leaning back as it pushed me forward. I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it.

Back in my kitchen a few minutes later, the window rattled and the exhaust fan spun strangely in the wrong direction. I enjoyed my 2:00 AM snack by myself in the dark, reflecting on the way that the brightly lit convenience store is often a calm and comforting place, even when the weather is fine, and how unexpectedly nice a part of daily life I consider that to be.

  1. In Japan, the convenience store was originally referred to as a konbiniensu sutoa, now typically shortened to konbini. ↩︎

  2. In his 1928 silent comedy Steamboat Bill, Jr., Keaton famously struggles against the wind of a cyclone. The sequence can be seen on YouTube here. ↩︎

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Picture of David R Munson

David R Munson

Photographer, essayist, wanderer, weirdo. Everything is interesting if you give it an honest chance to be.

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