Famima!!: What the Famima!?

by janet on September 6th, 2006

I worry for Famima!! (I am hereafter dropping the !! but please do note that it’s part of the official title). I worry that Americans just won’t get it. Here’s why:

Growing up in the streets of Tokyo, I am a native of konbini kulture (“konbini” is the Japanization of the first part of the word “convenience,” as in convenience store) and have spent hours loitering outside, loitering inside, and loitering outside again of many konbinis in my youth. I was thrilled, therefore, to hear that Famima (an abbreviation of Family Mart, which is the 7-Eleven of Japanese convenience stores) was going to invade the States to bring a little class to the grimy world of American convenience stores.

One of the first ones to open was at Westwood & Ohio, and as this is conveniently (get it?) on my normal route to and fro I stop there often. I stopped there again today and finally figured out why Famima makes me anxious. It is because I worry that it is both too authentic and too fake to succeed. For example, in terms of authenticity, they stock onigiri, which is just a fancy term for a triangle-shaped ball (is that possible? but you know what I mean) of rice with some shit inside. The shit can range from salmon (probably palatable for white people) to the somewhat exotic konbu (flavored seaweed; less accessible to white people) to the soooo-nonexotic-it’s-actually-exotic/gross tuna with mayo (here most white people I know are like “ewwww!”). I love it all. Onigiri is like the mac & cheese of Japanese kids, so I was so happy and nostalgic to see them on the shelf. But I was like, “Does ANYONE buy these?” and indeed I have never, ever seen anyone buying them.

In fact, I’ve never, ever seen anyone buying ANYTHING at Famima, and this is what makes me nervous. As for the “too fake” bit I mentioned above, it seems like Famima is trying too hard to set itself apart from the normal convenience stores, and ends up being simply unshoppable. This is because (and they are probably taking a hint from Trader Joe’s) everything there is weird shit. Want popcorn? Oh, sorry, Famima only stocks Popcornopolis. You can get shampoo there, but it’s weird European organic crap. In fact, fully three out of the seven sections in the store sold non-food items like cute Japanese stationery or (again) weird European sunscreen. Who buys these items? It makes the store cute to look at but is totally impractical, and I think that’s why Famima has tons of browsers but no buyers. It’s totally inaccessible to the average American dude/dudette. A person might buy a pink Hello Kitty pencil out of novelty the first time they venture in, but novel tchotchkis are not the kind of inventory that bring repeat customers. As noted above, the food, which may be Famima’s saving grace for repeat business, is good/bad in that it’s too authentic at times. And no matter how good their panini is (they grill it in front of you!), having only one big seller out of the billion crazy items they sell will not a successful business make.

But for your sake, Famima!! (and the rice balls and melon-pan and HK strawberry marshmallows and Apollo and Tomato Pretz and other yummy treats of my childhood & adolescence), I hope you do succeed, and I hope non-Asian Americans will quell their “ewwww” instinct and get adventurous.

*update* The Famima!!! on Westwood and Ohio is boarded up…Did I totally call that OR WHAT!?

 

 

Tutorial Time: Triangular rice balls are cleverly wrapped in a double-chambered plastic wrap, so that the moistness of the rice doesn’t make the surrounding seaweed soggy. Great idea but it makes them terribly difficult to open and consume without getting it all messed up. The correct way to open an onigiri is as follows:

1. Famima onigiris are weird because they have an additional little piece of scotch tape on the back, so the first thing you want to do is peel it off and discard it.

 

 

2. Grasp the top plastic strip (labeled #1 so you won’t miss it) and peel it (like you’re unzipping someone’s hoodie) down and around all the way to the back.

 

 

3. Carefully grip the very, very outer piece of the plastic on either the right or left corner. You may tear the seaweed if you grasp too close to the center of the onigiri.

 

 

4. Slowly pull the plastic off, and wrap the resulting flaps of seaweed around the rice. It should adhere instantly.

 

 

5. Enjoy your rice ball. Use a mirror to check your teeth afterwards, as seaweed is black and looks really icky when stuck on your lips and teeth (which it will invariably do).

9 Responses to “Famima!!: What the Famima!?”

  1. Brian says:

    Came to consumer machine after a search for The Hamburger Haven. Chalk it up to curiosity (“Almost everyday…”). Anyway, I browsed around a bit and lo and behold, an article on Famima!! This place is the shit. First, it makes Japanese candy easily accessible. Easily the greatest candy on Earth. Give me Hi-Chew over anything except Haribo Golden Bears any day of the week. Second, it’s clean and modern. And third and best, their steamed pork buns rule. I live in Westwood so it’s right down the street and I also go to 3rd street all the time so that one’s right there. I really hope they do well. They’re only building Famimas in neighborhoods with really high per-capita incomes so maybe they can make a go of it.

    Great blog. Good job Consumer Machine team.

  2. janet says:

    Dude, I agree 100%! Grape Hi-Chew is my favorite. So are char siu buns. And I agree on the Haribo, except my candy of choice is Haribo Peaches. If you microwave them for about 10 seconds, the inside gets gooey but the outside stays sugary-crunchy. Delectable!

  3. Brian says:

    Janet, the fact that you ever even put Haribo Peaches in a microwave, let alone experimented with the perfect amount of time to do so, puts you in my cool book.

    Get this, my friend only likes his Haribo slightly old. That isn’t to say that he wants them lying around on his counter or anything, he just likes them to be slightly hardened from age, but still sealed in the package. And I think I agree. Sure they LOOK better when they’re fresh, but they have a really great chew factor when they’re a little bit older. We’ve tried throwing them in the fridge for a bit, but it’s not quite the same.

    Grape Hi-Chew. mmmmmm. Oh, and I hope you frequent Nijiya (?) market in either Little Tokyo (east or west). Good times.

  4. janet says:

    Shit well now that you called me out on it, I think it’s more like 6 seconds in the microwave. 10 is too long.

    There are definitely some things that get better as they stale-ify. I mean, isn’t that the whole theory behind cheese, booze, etc.? Some things that I like stale are Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Snaps (they get chewy and soft…delish) and Kashi Go Lean Crunch (the cereal congeals into chewy clusters, yum).

    Yes, Nijiya in the HOUSE! I love it (the Sawtelle one). Hmmm. Methinks a post is needed on yummy Japanese candy. Stay tuned.

  5. [...] I am on a quest for perfect teeth. Not that my teeth are majorly jacked, but what I want is the perfect I-got-braces-in-middle-school smile. As I have mentioned before, I grew up in Japan where they are not so into dentistry. Anyone who has seen Lost in Translation will know that already. OK, I already feel myself veering off topic, but so many people were shocked when they saw LiT because the people in it were super fugly. But that’s how Japan is. It’s not all “>cute/deadly schoolgirls who love hanging out with Gwen Stefani. It’s mostly normal-looking people, and in our beauty-obsessed culture, normal = fugly, so that’s why that movie shocked people. [...]

  6. Anthony says:

    Man Oh Man i just looooooooove Famima!! well i came across this website ’cause i was looking for the location of the other Famima!! on Hollywood Blvd… i saw it once but anyways…
    So i went back to Seattle (where i’m from) and i told my friend Katsuya that i had seen a Famima!! in LA, he was thrilled =)
    He asked me to bring him their onigiri balls, cause i told him that i had tried then and i thought they wqere better than the Nijiya’s ones (kinda dry and too little fish =() BUT i’ll try ‘em again maybe it was just that one batch…
    BUT the Famima!! ones are the BEST…hmmmmm i like to leave them out until they are at room temperature…. to tell you that i drive all the way from SFV to get ‘em… well when i drop my bf at UCLA =)
    In seattle we have Wajimaya, kinda like Marukai here, and their onigiri balls are great too! made fresh daily…*drools*
    I’m a chocoholic too and i know my shit… I can tell you that Meiji’s Milk chocolate is the best chocolate that i’ve had, they really know what they are doing! their “Black” chocolate is good too… mmmmmm japanese candies are geeeeeewd =)
    I always have a stach of “Gummy Choco, muscat flavor”… I’m staring at it right now ^^
    Enjoy it, and
    Good Luck!

  7. [...] Anyone play Wario on the Wii? Well, in it, they have this level where pork buns feature prominently, and James has been jonesing for these mysterious Japanesey pork buns. I kept telling him he could get them at Famima!!! but he never followed through. Lucky for him they had them here, albeit a bastardized version with suspicious green flecks in the buns, but he was happy. We also got a packet of Famima!!! tissues. [...]

  8. [...] has been jonesing for these mysterious Japanesey pork buns. I kept telling him he could get them at Famima!!! but he never followed through. Lucky for him they had them here, albeit a bastardized version with [...]

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