As convenience store chains go, Family Mart is one of the nicest. The quality and cleanliness always seems to be higher than average, which perhaps explains why minimalist retail store Muji chose it as the convenience store to carry Muji products. Or maybe it’s simply because both were originally part of the Seiyu Group, a large conglomerate and operator of Japanese supermarkets.
Many Family Mart locations stock a limited selection of Muji pens, pencils, stationery, condoms, underwear and snacks – tasty old-school snacks such as yogurt-covered cranberries, caramel-flavored marshmallows and chocolate-covered clumps of peanuts. The products rotate in and out, and Muji has kept a monthly column introducing new products and listing popular items since April 2006.
One particularly addictive item is Muji’s line of baumkuchen – known to many Americans as baum cake. Muji stores carry the full line of flavors: banana, sweet potato, pumpkin, milk tea, chocolate-iced chestnut and salt chocolate. A thin cut of circular baum sells for ¥158. Smaller “stick” sizes sell for ¥105 and are available in plain, purple sweet potato and black cocoa. The two newest flavors are lemon and strawberry, both of which are topped with icing and thus are noticeably sweeter than the others.
Family Marts usually offer one or two varieties, and recently the Family Mart near me has been selling the lemon flavor. It’s been two weeks since I discovered this, and I’m averaging 2.5 baums a week.
The non-iced flavors are all very subtly sweet, perfect for the Japanese palate. This may explain the baum-cake madness that can be witnessed outside of Nenrinya cake shops – customers regularly line up for hours in lines that extend over 1 km to buy cuts of gourmet baumkuchen for souvenirs. A single “ridge” of baum runs ¥1,239. Even if you don’t stand in line, it’s always fun to watch the baumkuchen cook on rotisseries in the windows of stores.