Navigating Japanese Conversation at the Conbini | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan
a customer at the conbini

Navigating Japanese Conversation at the Conbini

By Luisa Seftel Oct 5, 2022

As an ambitious Japanese learner, I’ve found myself in situations where I’ve felt lost with my language skills trying to make Japanese conversation. I remember this certain instance as if it was yesterday. 

Half a year ago, when I came to Tokyo, packed full of self-confidence, I walked into a conbini, was just about to pay and then, out of the blue, the man behind the counter asked me: お袋をご利用ですか。(ofukuro wo goriou desu ka /= would you like a bag?) and I just froze. I had no idea what he was asking, so I stammered an “everything’s fine”, (大丈夫 です, daujoubu desu) and rushed out of the shop.

Textbook Japanese is very different from what we encounter in everyday life living or travelling in Japan. Basic rules, such as Grammar and Co., are essential, but grasping the context and answering appropriately in the beginning, is way more complicated than it may sound. Even though this article won’t turn you into a Japanese native speaker overnight, it will be helpful support for things we do in everyday life. Whether it’s ordering a coffee at Starbucks, reserving a table at a restaurant or booking a room at a Japanese inn for your next trip. This article is going to be a mini-series, so let’s start with our first target – survival phrases for Japanese conversation you can use at the conbini!

Japanese Conversation at the Conbini

Japanese conbini, 7-11Image credits: Canva

I came, I saw it, and I bought it! Conbini in Japan are indeed the temple of convenience. Whether in the idyllic countryside or the colourful big city, as soon as you enter the nearest store, you’ll hear a welcoming いらっしゃいませ!(Irashai mase) which means “welcome”.

The first rule, don’t say the same thing in response, or you may get weird side-looks from the staff. Even though you don’t respond to いらっしゃいませ, I’ve gotten into the habit of nodding at the staff when they make eye contact after I entered the store. I think it’s just friendly – but it’s not a must.

Let’s say you are looking for a specific item, like tissues, and want to ask the staff for that; then you can use the following phrase: ハンカチを探さがしているんですが… (ハンカチをさがしているんですが…, hankachi wo sagashite irundesu ga…) and sound like a true native! 

How to Say “Thank You” in Japanese Correctly?

saying thank you in Japanese conversation

Image credits: Canva

After they help you find your specific item, make sure to thank them correctly. I often hear people use the informal ありがとう (arigatou) expression quite a lot when thanking people they don’t know, but it’s only used towards close friends and family members, so careful!

If you having conversations in Japanese make sure to use this correct and polite form: ありがとうございます (arigatou gozaimasu) or ありがとうございました (arigatou gozaimashita). Do you know the difference between the two forms? The first one, ありがとうございます (arigatou gozaimasu), is the present tense and means “thank you” right after you receive kindness or, in this case, a favour from the staff for helping you out.  The second one ありがとうございました (arigatou gozaimashita) is in the past tense and is used when the action you are thanking for is 100% finished. So actually, both forms work in this case.  Don’t worry; even Japanese people mix them up, so as long as you use one of the two of them, you are all good! 

Questions and Answers, Typical Phrases in Japanese Conversation

an image of a Japanese bento

Image credits: Canva

After you browsed through the fantastic selection of conbini-goodness and found everything you were looking for, you make your way to the cashier. At the cashier, they ask you right away if you want a bag (お袋をご利用ですか。Ofukuro wo goriou desu ka?). 

If you don’t need one, say: そのままでください (Sono mama de kudasai = please let it as it is).

If you need one, you can say: お願いします (onegaishimasu = yes, please).

When purchasing one of their yummy bentos (お弁当)  (a Japanese-styled lunch set typically consisting of rice, fish, vegetables etc.) or any other item that can be heated up, the staff usually asks if you want them to heat it up with the phrase: お弁当温めますか (Obento atatamemasu ka? = Would you like your food to be warmed up?).

Behind the register, they usually have microwaves installed, so when you just say はい、お願いします (hai, onegaishimasu = yes, please), then you get a hot meal in just a few seconds.

If you’d prefer it as it is, then say 大丈夫です (daijoubu desu = It’s okay). Although 大丈夫です has loads of meanings and can be pretty confusing when you start using it. Whenever you want to answer a “soft-no” while ordering in Japanese or speaking to Japanese people in general, that is the magic sentence. A few years ago, “daijoubu desu” replaced the former favourite phrase: 結構です (kekou desu), showing that expressions do change over time. 

The Finish Line – Final Key Sentences for Japanese Conversation

Our time at the conbini is soon coming to an end. What is there left to say? Say you want specific cutlery or an extra napkin; you can use these phrases below when you are having Japanese conversation at the conbini: スプーン/フォーク/箸を下さい (Supu-n/fo-ku/ohashi wo kudasai. = Can I have a spoon/fork/chopsticks, please?). 

After you pay, they hand you the receipt (領収書 = rioushuusho) or レシート (reshiito). If you don’t need it, you can say: 領収書/レシートは要らないです (rioushuusho/reshiito ha iranaide desu) to sound like a true native. 

Especially within the first six months, I realise that repetition is the true master of learning a foreign language. Going to the conbini is a perfect example. As they often say, it takes two to tango. So especially in the beginning, finding easy everyday life situations where you can use the phrases you studied for more practice in listening and responding to Japanese questions is a fantastic way to gain more confidence.

More reads:

5 Strawberry Snacks You Should Try From The Conbini

The Ultimate Konbini Comparison Guide

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