I must put a disclaimer on this post. First, I apologize for teasing the people in the 86 countries hitting the blog who don't have a Famima in their country. Second, I don't think I lost my mind - I probably wouldn't know if I did - but I am a bit lonely with too much time on my hands on a Saturday with my wife and son of towns. Times like this make things we would otherwise take for granted seem significant. Today I stopped by Famima.
In most of the world, "convenience store" refers to a place where you should not buy food. Sure the stuff is there, and if you are in some sort of altered state, even the things spinning on the stainless steel rollers at 2 in the morning can meet a certain need. But in Japan, the convenience store is a genuine option for eating. In fact, for many, it is a primary option. Japanese convenience stores realize food is a function, not a production. You can make food a production, in the company of friends or family, but it should be a choice, not a requirement. So it's great to be able to walk in, look at fresh food, grab it, and go. Famima is bringing the concept to the States.
Famima is entering the US market with 30 stores in Sourthern California and will be growing to 220 by the end of 2009. They are already operating FamilyMart across Asia. I love Famima. In fact, I would live inside a Famima if I could. It has everything I need, from capsule toys to pasta, and a friendly counter people who ask if you want you sandwich grilled or dim sum heated. Along with fresh sushi, sandwiches and desserts, the store is stocked with Calpis, Pocari Sweat, Pocky, Boss Coffee in small cans, and all the other stuff only available in Japan or your cities Little Tokyo. It is all organized in perfect sections, in perfect rows and perfectly immaculate. Once I move in, I would be able to start writing letters from the stationary section with a wide range of paper and pens to choose from.
The selection affords variety on each visit but the Onigori is a must have. A lot of people know them as the triangle things you roll over with your Katamari, but anyone whose been to a Japanese C store knows how satisfying these sea weed wrapped rice things really are. In Japan, eating these things is actually a sport - Onigori roulette. Tucked inside each triangle's package of rice is a nugget of something. Sometimes fish, sometimes pickled roots, sometimes cream cheese. Non Japanese readers have no clue of what's inside these things, and the colors indicating the things inside change from store to store. As my son says, "nothing in Japan tastes like it looks," so the roulette is very exciting. Even without the sport, the Onigori is the worth the trip because Famima imported a masterpiece of engineering.
Pre-made food has always been plagued by the separation problem. If you put a hot thing on a cold thing, they will both get luke warm. If you put a moist thing on a crisp thing, it will wilt. McDonald's tried to attack the problem with the McDlt - hot side hot, cold side cold. It was good in concept, but not elegant. It was kind of a Windows 3x approach to the issue, and it failed. Famima's Onigori packaging is an example of mankind's greatest engineering. Sure the pyramids in Egypt are really cool, but no one knows what they do. Onigori packaging is purpose built and so elegantly simplistic, you would swear it came from Apple.
The package has two layers of wrapper. There is an inner rapper separating the crisp sea weed from the rice, and an outer wrapper to keep everything fresh. While an American approach would involve opening the wrappers, setting the sea weed aside and rewrapping, or worse yet, no inner wrapper, the Japanese solution takes care of everything in one step. As you open the outer wrapper and pull it apart, the inner wrapper is removed from between the sea weed and rice and the sea weed seals itself on to the rice. Every time I do it I am amazed at the brilliance. I made a little movie so you can see too.
If you are in Southern California, forget Disneyland, go to Famima. You'll enjoy it more.