SAITAMA – Convenience stores are promoting themselves as a vital community presence amid moves by some local government officials to curb their midnight operations to help combat global warming.
While such restrictions are meant to be voluntary, the Japan Franchise Association says convenience stores that stay open 24 hours serve an essential role as a refuge for potential crime victims or simply for people in need of help.
Convenience stores provide a refuge for lost children or women seeking to escape stalkers, in addition to being places where consumers can shop at any hour, according to the association.
In one case, a young woman fled to a Seven-Eleven store in the city of Saitama late at night in June 2005 after being groped by a man while on her way home from work.
More than 13,000 cases of women finding refuge in convenience stores across the country were reported during fiscal 2007. Nearly half of them occurred after 11 p.m. and about 40 percent were due to stalkers and molesters, the association said.
In addition, there were 6,000 cases of lost children requiring assistance and 12,000 cases of elderly people found wandering the streets alone.
The 12 companies that comprise the JFA operate around 42,000 convenience stores.
Explaining the significance of convenience stores, a JFA official said they provide a “substitute for ‘koban’ (police boxes) and streetlights in the middle of the night.”
The National Police Agency says that koban and “hashutsujo” police branch offices are located at about 13,000 places across the country, but that number is down by around 1,000 from five years earlier.
Further, two convenience stores, including one run by FamilyMart Co. in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, have been equipped on a permanent basis since 2006 with automated external defibrillators, which are used to treat a person having a heart attack by administering electric shocks.
The two stores were chosen to house AEDs because they are open 24 hours, and there are plans for more stores to be equipped with such devices. In Suginami Ward, residents have organized volunteer groups called “machikado” (street corner) rescue squads that lend the AEDs.
An official of nonprofit organization AED Japan in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, said efforts to distribute AEDs more widely are ongoing but “convenience stores are the best places as residents can use them anytime.”
Convenience stores also have an important role to play in the event of major disasters. For example, Lawson Inc. has concluded agreements with 37 prefectural governments to transport goods through its distribution network in such an event.
After the 2004 Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake struck, JFA member companies provided 170,000 rice balls and 11,000 bottles of water to victims of the quake. They also shipped emergency food supplies, vinyl sheets to cover damaged rooftops and gas cookers to stores in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, after the big quake there last year.