You might be already aware of the phrases, Irasshaimase (“Welcome”), arigatou gozaimazu (“Thank you very much”), and moushi wake gozaimasen (“I’m terribly sorry”), but have you ever wondered about the other phrases that convenience store staff say? Master this list of 10 phrases, and you’re on your way to becoming a convenience store connoisseur. A bonus list of response phrases follows at the end of this column.
Known as “konbini” in Japanese, convenience stores are an integral part of Japanese life. As of summer 2017, there are more than 56,000 convenience stores in Japan and that number is steadily growing.
To say that convenience stores are “convenient” is an understatement that does not even begin to encompass all the services that facilitate life in Japan. From buying concert tickets to offering all-in-one copy/fax/print machines (that can also print photos), to being able to pay your utilities, sending and picking up parcels, not to mention being able to shop late night or early morning, your local convenience store has you covered.
Convenience stores are also unique in that staff interaction with customers is extremely simplified, allowing for an expedited shopping experience. However, there are times when staff may talk to you, which may lead to confusion if you are not familiar with the Japanese language.
At the Convenience Store
You’ve walked around the store in awe of all the limited edition goodies and unique drinks and snacks. After much debate, you pick up a can of beer, a bento, a salad and a dessert featuring seasonal ingredients. Now it’s time to head to the register.
Convenience stores can get pretty crowded during peak hours, so many stores have stickers on the floor indicating where to stand. As you wait in line, your eyes wander around, searching the brightly-lit shelves for something to add in your basket when you hear:
1. お次の方どうぞ！Otsugi no kata douzo! - Next in line please!
Alternatively, you may hear 次でお待ちの方 (Tsugi de omachi no kata), but the meaning remains the same. The clerk calling to you will have their arm raised so that you can easily identify them and the appropriate register.
2. ポイントカードはお持ちですか? Pointo ka-do wa omochi desuka? - Do you have a point card?
Before the staff scans your items, they will ask if you have a point card. What is a point card, you ask? It is a way for customers to be rewarded for their loyalty by receiving points per every 100 or 200 yen spent. If you don’t have one, and intend to be in Japan for a while, consider signing up—if you go to the same convenient store chain regularly, you’ll easily amass points, which you can use for future purchases.
3. ボタンを押してください. Botan wo oshite kudasai. - Please press the button.
You will hear this phrase if you’ve come to the convenience store to pick up a pack of cigarettes or a can of beer. It is very rare that staff ask for photo ID when you are purchasing alcohol or tobacco products. Instead, they require that you confirm your age by using the touch screen monitor. Keep in mind that the age from which one may buy alcohol and tobacco products in Japan is 20. Alternatively, you may hear: 年齢確認ボタンを押してください / nen rei kakunin botan wo oshite kudasai - Please press the age confirmation button on the screen.
4. お弁当温めますか？Obento atatamemasu ka? - Would you like for your food to be warmed?
For certain bento boxes, soups, or snack items, staff will ask if you would like your food to be heated. You might think that microwaving your meal will take time, but remember, the Japanese convenience store is all about, well, convenience. The high-powered microwaves can fully warm your meal in under 20 seconds. As you wait for your meal to be warmed, please move to the side so that the next customer can be served. You may notice that your warmed meal comes in a brown colored plastic bag: brown bags are used exclusively for warmed products as they are more heat-resistant.
5. 少々お待ちください. Sho sho omachi kudasai. - Please wait.
You will hear this phrase if you order a hot snack, tobacco products, to get your meal warmed up, or any action which causes staff to temporarily step away from the register.
6. お待たせいたしました. Omatase itashimasita. - Thank you for waiting
Once the staff has returned to the register, they will use this phrase to show appreciation for your patience.
7. スプーン／フォーク／箸はお使いになりますか? Supu-n/fo-ku/ohashi ha otsukai ni narimasu ka? - Would you like a spoon/fork/chopsticks?
Now that you’ve got your bento, what type of utensil will you use? Do not be alarmed or offended if staff ask you if you would like a fork or spoon with your rice-based meal. Staff ask this question of all customers, regardless of appearance. For some convenience stores, it is customary to attach the disposable utensils to the bento lid with tape; other convenience stores simply place them in the bottom of your bag.
8. 袋はお分けしますか? Fukuro wo owake shimasu ka? - Would you like these items bagged separately?
As a general rule, hot and cold food items are automatically separated at Japanese convenience stores. However, if you have, say a cold bottle of tea and a magazine, staff may ask if you would like your items separated so that condensation does not ruin your items. Likewise, people who purchase drinks and snacks along with household goods may not feel comfortable with chemicals being in the same bag as their food.
9. 袋にお入れしますか? Fukuro ni oiresimasu ka? - Would you like a bag?
For single items like a canned drink or pack of gum that may not appear to need a bag, a convenience store clerk may ask you if you need a bag. Japan is making great strides in cutting down waste, so using a sticker is an efficient way to keep plastic from entering landfills and bodies of water.
10. シールでよろしいでしょうか? Shi-ru de yoroshii deshou ka? - May I affix this sticker to show that you have purchased this item?
If you have opted not to put your items in a bag, staff will ask if it is OK to place a sticker on your items so that you are not mistaken for a shoplifter. Don’t get your hopes up that your “sticker” will be a kawaii anime character—it’s simply a small piece of tape with the store’s logo on it.
Bonus: How to Respond to Convenience Store Staff
Now that you know these phrases, check out all the different ways to say “yes,” “no,” and “thank you” in Japanese, just like a local!
・ はい hai
・ お願いします onegai shimasu
Note 大丈夫です (daijyoubu desu) may be translated as “It’s fine” or “OK”, but it can be interpreted as, “no thanks.” Keep this in mind when staff asks if you'd like a fork with your spaghetti—otherwise, you’ll be figuring out how to eat it with your hands!
・ いいえ iie
・ 大丈夫です daijoubu desu
・ 結構です kekkou desu
No bag, thank you
Often, convenience and other stores will automatically bundle items into a plastic bag for takeaway. If you do not want a bag for your purchase, it’s easy enough to request staff for no bag (they will likely affix a sticker instead) with the phrase: そのままでください. / sonomama de kudasai.)
Arigatou gozaimasu is standard for “thank you,” but some Japanese think that it feels awkwardly formal in the setting of a convenience store. Do as the locals and casually reply どうも (domo/Thanks) or simply nod your head before heading out.
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