The Japanese Convenience Store and Tattoo Preparation

Being tattooed can be a strenuous undertaking. It has nothing to do with being tough, resilient, or any of that nonsense. Pain can be relative, and some will find the process more or less painful depending on the location of their piece and their relative pain tolerance. That being said, needles repeatedly piercing your skin over the span of hours do more than inflict pain.  It does damage. The inflammation and injury done will eventually wear down even the strongest person.  How does the Japanese convenience store help when it comes to being prepared?

Perhaps the best way to mitigate the damage is being as physically prepared as possible. That doesn’t mean hitting the gym (although that would help as well…) it means being hydrated and fed, and then staying hydrated and fed. And it just so happens that one of the benefits of being tattooed in Japan is the plethora of actually convenient convenience stores.

They are everywhere… and I do in fact mean ‘everywhere’, this is not hyperbole. The Japanese convenience store is pervasive not just throughout urban centers but anywhere there are people in Japan. Travel plans are not necessary.  It would be quite difficult to find yourself without being within walking distance of one. 7-11, Lawson, Sunkus, AM/PM, Daily Yamazaki, and my personal favourite, FamilyMart. In fact the list could go on, but outside of the name and branding they are generally quite similar: clean, organized, and full of wonderful treats.

A Japanese convenience store shown from the front. A backlit blue, white, and red sign with the name Lawson written across it runs the length of the storefront above the doors and windows.

This is one of the signs you should look for! Lawson’s is one of the most widespread convenience store chains in Japan. Photo by NinosN

 Convenience Store Culture

These treats could be all kinds of hot food, sandwiches, onigiri, snacks, candy, and drinks. And unlike North America, much of it isn’t actually toxic. If you’re going to be spending a good length of time being tattooed in Japan, these places are your new best friend. I strongly recommend stopping in before any session to grab a few rice snacks of your choosing.  Or deep fried treats for those of us that stopped caring and hate ourselves.  And of course some hydration.

There are all kinds of sports drinks! So many to choose from you’d think it was a nation of sweaty athletes. And bottled tea, in green, black, oolong, lemon, and even… milk tea. It’s super sugary milk with maybe some tea in it. Plus the Japanese convenience store canned coffee! You can find it hot or cold in the winter and mostly cold in the summer. With either milk, sugar, both, or black!

But stay away from the soda. Not only because it’s not what you should be consuming before you go in for a tattoo session but also because you might not see any carbonated sugar bombs you’re familiar with. And then you take the risk of inadvertently choosing the half milk, half melon soda… there’s really no coming back from that. I would also recommend avoiding any ‘health’ or ‘vitamin’ drinks. They usually appear in small glass bottles or plastic pouches. Yeah, they have vitamins but you’ll likely find yourself twitching faster than the tattoo needles. Not something you want to drink before you have to sit still for a couple hours.

Three shelves of onigiri rice balls packaged and labeled at a Japanese convenience store.

Grab a few onigiri to go and you’ll be prepped for whatever the day has in store. A rice ball snack with some pickles, fish, or meat is a much healthier option than the fare you’d find in the convenience stores in any Western country.

More Reasons the Conbini is Pure Magic

I could go on…. I could mention that most of these ‘conbini’ are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or that you can buy movie or concert tickets there, pay your bills, take out cash, read a library’s worth of super unusual magazines, send that mail nobody uses anymore, print those photos no one prints anymore… did I mention the clean bathrooms? You don’t even need to buy anything to use them.

There are temples, there are shrines, and parks, and monuments, and all kinds of sites a visitor might want to see. And I certainly recommend that you do. But you will want to set aside some time to visit your local convenience store. Whether it’s to help you get prepped and then recover from getting tattooed or otherwise. It’s a treat. The downside being that you may find everyone gets sick of listening to you go on about it when you’re back home at the suddenly subpar shop.

In that case I recommend writing it down and putting it on a website.