When I first learned of the 廃墟コンビニ [haikyo konbini] (i.e. abandoned konbini / convenience store) in Saitama Prefecture, I knew I had to see it for myself. Actually, calling it “abandoned” or a “convenience store” may both be a bit of a misnomer, but we’ll get to that later.
The abandoned konbini of Saitama
Located on the corner of a small intersection in the quiet suburbs of Iruma, Saitama Prefecture, a deserted store has attracted attention on Japanese social media for its Ghibli-like vibes. And for good reason.
Having made the trek to see if for myself now, I was not disappointed. It looks exactly like all the photos floating around on the internet. The nature-overrun clutter is what really gives it that surreal, Ghibli feel. I was relieved it hadn’t been torn down or cleaned up yet.
In fact, I rather think the entire city of Iruma feels like an anime.
I crossed this little bridge located about 5 minutes from the station while on the way to the abandoned konbini. I immediately took out my phone to snap the scene before me. The fluffy clouds amid a peaceful suburban setting made me feel like I was in a high school anime.
Another 10 minutes walk, I saw my destination rising up before me and drawing me deeper into my self-perpetuated fantasy.
But my fantasy was shattered when I discovered somebody actually lives in the rickety structure above the store. I heard, and glimpsed, an old man moving about on the deck outside. So not abandoned after all.
At what I assume used to be the front of the store, there is a sign on the door saying “no entry”. Forgotten junk is crammed in all corners inside, as far as the eye can see. Hoarders would have a field day.
Seeing as entry is not allowed, I returned to the side of the store to check out the main point of interest: the strange lockers and vending machines.
The lockers contain an assortment of random objects and figurines, including Ultraman and Mari Illustrious Makinami from the new Evangelion movies.
While one vending machine looks pretty normal and modern, I was more curious about the other relic of a vending machine. It advertises its contents for 70 yen each, but there were many “mystery” drinks inside with question marks over them. There was also an aluminium can form of Pocari Sweat — rare nowadays.
Sorry, but I wasn’t game enough to put my money in.
Next to that is a “ramen corner” which also offers udon and soba. The products are inside a cupboard-like container with its door bolted…I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you can’t get noodles here anymore. And next to that is a modern cigarette vending machine, which probably still works.
In the corner is more junk, including numerous umbrellas, a kettle, rusted tools, and who knows what.
What did this abandoned konbini used to be?
According to Japanese haikyo enthusiasts and Twitter netizen sleuths, until 2001 this now cluttered and foliage-overrun building was open for business as a Yamazaki Y Shop — a chain store operated by the famous bread company. It’s worth noting that these little stores are different to the Daily Yamazaki convenience stores — also operated by the same bread company — you still see around Tokyo and throughout Japan today.
Yamazaki Y Shops, which still exist but were more plentiful during a bygone era, are usually found in the countryside and small towns. Resembling a small family-run store for daily necessities, they contain more simple and homestyle products than convenience stores. Of course, being connected to a bread company, they also offer freshly baked bread and sandwiches.
While they do not operate 24 hours, franchisees are required to keep them open for at least 14 hours per day, according to this Japanese blogger. Actually, saying “franchisees” is a little inaccurate. The stores operate as a “voluntary chain” or retailers’ cooperative (working together on a non-contractual basis to achieve economies of scale), rather than as a franchise.
In any case, they possess a certain nostalgic air since they are rarely spotted in places other than inaka towns. And this one, semi-delipidated and overrun with nature, has a special magical feel not found elsewhere.
For a look into a real, and slightly creepy, haikyo site, check out my trip to the Okutama Ropeway in west Tokyo.