Japanese sandwiches in convenience stores are definitely convenient when you’re hungry and don’t know what else to eat on the go. There are a handful of different types of sandwiches (although limited), but in my opinion, they are dry, uninspired and usually have no crust.
Personally, I don’t think they’re tasty (almost always), but I tolerate them because sometimes I want something that is at least reminiscent of Western food. Keep in mind that I’m writing this from the perspective of someone with an American palate – so if you disagree, that’s fine.
Types of Japanese Sandwiches
You can find quite a few types of Japanese sandwiches (sando in Japanese) in convenience stores like 7-11, Lawson, Family Mart, etc. – depending on what part of Japan you’re in. Here are a few of the more popular ones.
- Tuna salad – This is the only sandwich in Japan that I actually enjoy. It tastes almost like an American tuna sandwich. It actually has enough mayo in it that it’s not totally dry (which is a problem in most sandwiches in Japan).
- Egg salad – For me, this is the second best sandwich, because it tastes a lot the American egg salad sandwich that I’m used to. Unfortunately, it isn’t as tasty. It really needs more salt.
- Fruit with cream – Disgusting. This is a Japanese creation (or perhaps abomination is a better term). But do try it if you want to be adventurous. I mean, they are pretty, but I’m sorry, that’s not why I eat sandwiches – it’s ultimately about the taste.
- Katsu – Okay, this one is a really Japanese sandwich. Katsu is a Japanese style of preparing a meat (you can do it with chicken [chikinkatsu], pork [tonkatsu] or beef [gyukatsu] – and probably more if you’re creative). It’s served with a sweet and savory sauce – but, as usual, it’s still dry. This is still one of the better sandwiches in Japan – especially if you want something heavier.
- Ham – This is the most dry, disappointing and only just edible sandwiches of all. I love this article by Japan Today that implies some convenience store ham sandwiches are actually delicious (spoiler alert, they’re not). How can you make a ham sandwich with so little mayo (if any at all)? It’s mind-boggling.
- Noodles – Yeah, you can have pasta in your sandwich. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to stick to one form of carbs at a time. Why don’t we make a bread sandwich while we’re at it…
- Broccoli and Shrimp – Okay, I have to admit – this one is pretty good. It’s not that dry, and it seems healthier than a lot of the other options. I would actually recommend this one.
The Sandwich Packaging
Considering that Japan is known for packaging things so nicely, Japanese sandwiches are a total failure in the packaging department. Not because the sandwich packaging doesn’t look good – it’s that it’s just not easy to open (and don’t get me started on the “easy” onigiri [rice ball] packaging).
It’s kind of hilarious that there are numbered steps on the sandwich wrapping that show you how to open it. The problem is that if you follow the three steps, it almost always rips open in some annoying way. Then you just have to pull it out of the package and there might as well have been no steps anyway. For an example, see YouTube’s Only in Japan Go try it.
Japanese Sandwiches are Better than Western sandwiches?
No, Japanese sandwiches are not better than Western sandwiches, but I guess it prefers on your taste. In my opinion, Japanese convenience store sandwiches are boring and usually terribly dry. So yeah, you’re gonna NEED a beverage with that sandwich.
Also they almost always have no crust (which is good if you were that picky kid with that kind of parent who cut off your crusts because you “couldn’t eat them”). But I don’t mind crust.
And, the bread is almost always white! White bread is fine sometimes, but in Japan it’s like 98% of the time.
Japanese Sandwich History
So, how did sandwiches get popular in Japanese convenience stores? Where did they come from? Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (yes, they actually address sandwich history) says that “people started to eat sandwiches in Japan in the late 1800s.” In 1892, a shop in Kanagawa Prefecture started selling the first sandwiches as ekiben (a bento box for a train ride) at Ofuna Station. Before this time, Japan had been mostly closed off from trade with the rest of the world. Soon sandwiches gained popularity throughout the country.
Types of Bread for Sandwiches in Japan
Okay, the types of bread or crust you can find in Japanese sandwiches are about as limitless as the entire world. But, this article is focused on convenience store sandwiches. In the konbini (convenience store in Japanese) world – the options are much more limited. In fact, I’ve only seen a few variations.
- White Bread – This is the most common. It’s white, soft and probably lacking any significant nutritional value. Also the crusts are almost always cut off.
- Wheat Bread – Not too common to see, but it is popping up in more konbini these days. If you’re lucky, you’ll see one or two sandwiches with wheat bread.
- Bread Roll – This one is fairly common. It’s usually a long roll, cut down the middle (sort of like a hot dog bun), and filled with tuna, egg or whatever the sandwich filling is.
Japanese Sandwiches Are Beautiful
Yes, it’s true. Japanese sandwiches are prepared and presented pretty beautifully. They are cut neatly and wrapped tightly in cellophane. They are usually in perfect little shapes (except for the roll-like sandwiches). But, is beauty really enough to make up for the flavor and eating experience? Not for me it isn’t.