Sociological Analysis of Seven-Eleven
So called 'Convenience Store', open 24 hours a day and all the year round, is fast becoming a fad in Japan. With the progress of urbanization, people are getting busier and busier, in other words, getting impatient.
People used to take for granted that shops and stores are closed on holidays and during the night. Urbanization has gradually changed their lifestyle and consequently, the ultimate policy was established ; the stores should be open as long as mankind exist.
The trademark Seven-Eleven itself, which had meant 'From 7 am to 11 pm' , remains now as no more than nominal. There are many corporations which are following the trails of Seven-Eleven.
The question as to which comes first--convenience stores or people's lifestyle--is like the question about the hen and the egg. Maybe they are complementary to each other. The modern industrial society has brought about today's prosperity of these stores.
These stores are radically changing the lifestyle of people, especially young, On a New Year's Day I saw a a young man enter one of those stores to buy 'onigiri', or rice balls. He may be fed up with '', the celebrated food during New Year's Holidays. Convenience stores are thus breaking down the long-established traditions of Japanese seasonal events.
People who hate to conform conventional norms and who think themselves nocturnal animals are delighted at the coming of these stores, too. More and more young people are accustomed to sitting up late and even the most conservative portion of retail store business is beginning to pay attention to them. They have come to think the store must be open even after midnight, it must be clean and safe.
Bright illumination is indispensable. The front door which faces a busy street must be transparent, thus made of glass. This is necessary from the viewpoint of preventing robbery. Consumers will be relieved to find only one quasi-daylight spot in the midst of darkness and cold.
But what is most important is the displaying of the goods. They must not be piled up carelessly like those of small supermarkets. Large glass doors wait for you to open and pick the foods up as you like. Hamburger and even 'oden' ,or snacks dipped with soup are served.
Do you want to know the difference between canned cola and 'post-mixed' cola? The latter contains much more carbon diode and tastes all the more refreshing. Some people seem to desire ice cream suddenly in the dead of night. They are also satisfied. Home delivery service of package is also accepted there. The employees are always busy, and more will come.
The goods are not always discounted ones, but rather precious ones which in no such time and place can people get. So they are a little expensive, but rich in variety and the pleasure of choosing them is all the more intense because they are hard to get outside the shop, say, in the midnight or too early in the morning.
Consumers will never go to those old, dirty and dark shops which are run by an old stubborn and unfriendly manager. Convenience stores are not only where you get things but where you feel at home as if it were a lighthouse in a rough sea.
The sociological impact of convenience stores on Japanese society will be getting stronger as American ways of life invade Japan. In New York City and other large cities, most of public transportation is available 24 hours a day. This necessarily leads to vitalization of business district during the night. In Japan the procedure will be taken in the same course. The very coming of convenience stores may some day force public transportation to open up longer than now.
One of the positive side effects of convenience stores is the revitalization of urban areas. Some people may decry increasing juvenile delinquency, prostitution and crimes, but since the time of Roman empire, urban area has been the epicenter of new ways of thinking and lifestyle. New York is a typical example. 24 hours a day stores will attract more and more people there during the night and various demands of consumers will make them diversified into specialized facilities, such as cinemas, live houses, and small theaters. This is the beginning of another attractive life in a city.
The recent development of home gadgets, such as TV, VCRs and audio equipment make more and more people stay home. People prefer staying at a cozy living room rather than strolling in the streets. As we see in the decline of cinema, so called urban sterilization ( an invented term of mine ) or gentrification thus began.
Now is the time we have to take a chance for a new kind of activities in urban area. This may sound a little exaggerating, but convenience stores can be the potential base for cultural development in the long run, because, when people are sitting up late, they are sure to get hungry and thirsty in their nocturnal behavior.
Now we have accustomed to all these things. It has been more than 20 years since these stores landed on Japan. Convenience stores have become one of the indispensable things for the urban Japanese, though cultural rennaisance hasn't taken place yet. The hardest thing is that those stores which have been left behind can no longer survive in the competitive society.
First Written in January 1986