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Konbini Life

Konbini Life is a blog that describes limited-edition Kit-Kats as potential after-dinner treats for French restaurants and speculates that Mousse Pocky might be “as good as a garnish on a fancy dessert.” Blogger Brent Warner has been writing witty, detailed posts on the never-ending parade of snack food found in Japan’s convenience stores since June 2006. He talks of Webzines, blogs and how the Japanese try-it-and-trash-it approach to consumerism has produced a superior style of convenience store.

What prompted you to start a blog?

I used to run a fairly popular Webzine in my college days. I had all these dreams of expanding it into an SNS (social networking)-type site before I knew what an SNS was. Then Friendster came out and I realized I didn’t have the means to do something like that. Through the zine, I got work at a promotions company in San Diego and did a “handmade” tour diary for (Seattle pop group) Death Cab for Cutie, where they would mail me from the road and I would cut, paste and format the thing every day. Total pain in the ass. At the time I don’t think there was any instant blogging material available, but a few months later I found out about Blogger (a blog host), then Movable Type (a blogging platform).

What inspired the blog’s convenience-store theme?

I had a friend who was a konbini fiend. He always knew everything about every product. I told him he should start a Web site, but he couldn’t be bothered. I really liked the idea of having a total niche Web site that nobody else was doing, so I stole my own idea and started up Konbini Life. I really like how many changes the convenience stores in Japan go through. I could probably go home to the States 10 years from now and navigate my way through a convenience store blindfolded. Nothing changes there. Here it’s always a new adventure. You never know what you’re going to get from week to week.

Besides a constant rotation of snacks, you can also pay all of your utility bills, buy tickets for concerts, movies, sporting events, etc. Not to mention banking. Their food is top quality — uh . . . comparatively — and I’ve actually had people refuse to sell me something because it’s three minutes past the “expiration time.” Also, the erotic magazines aren’t in bags, so you can look at them while you wait for your girlfriend to come out of the bathroom.

Why do you think Japanese convenience stores are so good?

As long as you’re not talking about paperwork and bureaucracy, the Japanese really are amazingly efficient. They are a service-oriented people. I think this translates pretty well into the idea of a “convenience store.” As for product rotation, the Japanese are notorious for only liking and accepting the newest, brightest, shiniest things. Where Westerners might like something tried and true, the Japanese seem to like to try it, trash it, and try something new.

Who are your readers?

Most of my readers are international. I can’t speak on their behalf, but there seem to be a lot of people who are interested in either trying out some stuff when they come here for vacation, or waxing nostalgic for the days when they lived here. I write with the idea that someone might hopefully see the product and have a small idea of what they’re in for.

Is Konbini Life a service or a form of entertainment?

Even though I just said I want people to know what they’re getting, realistically it’s entertainment. I don’t expect people to go out and buy products on my recommendation, especially as I’m fueled by sugar, and not everybody has a sweet tooth like mine. Thinking of it as a service or as entertainment are both happy choices for me.

Is there a certain type of post that gets the most reaction?

The most popular seem to be the ones people can make a connection with — be it a drink that’s also released in the States, or a snack that there’s a similar variation of in Europe. People seem to like what they know.

Do you ever buy hideous-looking products out of obligation to the blog?

Occasionally. Look up “Homo Sausage” or “Tabi no Sasakamaboko.” I always tell myself I’m going to do more stuff that I don’t really want to try, but my mental blocks are pretty strong at times. I’ll be sitting there debating what to buy, and it’s like, “Yeah, I could get another nasty fish paste-based snack . . . or I could get chocolate!”

Brent Warner also runs a photographic blog at www.chopsticksensei.com and contributes to Japanprobe.com.



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