Anthropologists share an appreciation for how events, “usually trivial, sometimes dramatic,” are never without significance. In studying the konbini, this perspective has been especially nourishing. While serving as a clerk, I observed and took part in dozens, sometimes even hundreds of commercial transactions on a given shift. Customer purchases tended to be small—a can of coffee and a newspaper, a few of onigiri, a magazine and pack of cigarettes. Most sales barely exceed 600 yen. Yet when assisting the manager to place orders the following day, I saw how these miniscule purchases amounted to millions of yen in store sales over a 24-hour period. I calculated that just one minute’s worth of sales across all of Japan’s 56,000 konbini franchises was greater than the annual salary I once received as full-time English teacher. Seemingly trivial purchases made these small stores a massive global industry.
anthropologist 人類学者 / appreciation 評価、理解 / event 出来事、事象 / trivial 取るに足らない、平凡な / be never without ～が備わっていないことは決してない、必ず～が備わっている / significance 意義、重要性 / perspective 見方、視点 / nourishing 滋味に富んだ、成長の糧となるような / clerk 店員 / observe ～を観察する / take part in ～に参加する、関与する / dozens 数ダース、数十 / commercial transaction 商取引 / purchase 購入、購入品 / tend to be ～でありがちである / barely かろうじて、やっとで / exceed ～を超える / place an order 発注する / miniscule 非常に小さい / amount to 合計～になる / calculate that ～であると計算する / ～'s worth of ～分の、～相当の / annual salary 年収、年俸 / seemingly 見たところ / massive 巨大な、壮大な
However, some of the more meaningful and eye-opening transactions I observed were hardly memorable to those with whom I worked. Take, for example, one lazy weekend morning when the store’s automatic doors mysteriously opened, paused, then closed. No one entered, or at least that was how it appeared from the counter where I stood counting change in the cash register. But a customer did come in and a short while later she appeared in front of me with a purchase in hand. She was not more than four years old and so small she couldn’t see over the counter. The konbini manager broke from the standard chain store greeting and spoke to the child in a warm, gentle way. She showered the little girl with praise while coaxing the package of sliced bread out of her hands and retrieving a crumpled note from the child’s clenched fist. I rang up the bread, turning over in my mind whether this toddler’s parents realized where their daughter was right now. The manager took charge of the change and carefully tied the loose coins and receipt in a small plastic bag, which she placed in a larger bag along with the loaf of bread and a few complimentary dorayaki that she surreptitiously plucked from a basket behind the counter.
meaningful 意味のある、有意義な / eye-opening 目を見張るような / hardly ほとんど～ない / memorable 記憶に残る、忘れられない / take ～を例として挙げる / lazy のんびりした、気だるい / mysteriously 不思議に、謎めいて / pause 停止する / appear ～のように見える / count change お釣りを数える / not more than せいぜい～、多くて～ / break from ～をしない、やめる / greeting 挨拶 / shower A with B AにBを浴びせる、たっぷり与える / praise 称賛、褒め言葉 / coax A out of B AをBからうまく手に入れる / retrieve ～を回収する / crumpled くしゃくしゃの / clenched fist 握り拳 / ring up ～をレジに打つ / turn over in one's mind whether ～かどうかについて考えを巡らせる / toddler 幼児、よちよち歩きの子ども / take charge of ～の担当を引き受ける / tie ～を結ぶ、一緒にする / loose coins 小銭 / place A in B AをBに入れる / along with ～と一緒に、～と共に / loaf of 一塊の / complimentary 無料提供の、おまけの / surreptitiously こっそりと / pluck A from B AをBから抜き取る、つかみ取る
A lone child shopping at a konbini might not strike a Japanese person as unusual or worrisome. Clearly for the store manager, the preschooler and her parents waiting at home, this event was natural, even routine. For me, it was initially disconcerting, but on reflection, significant. It revealed how konbini are not reducible to merely franchise contracts, product turnover, and profit margins. Managers can create their own manuals, parents come to trust businesses with their children, and young consumers learn to recognize konbini as part of an expanding social landscape. It wouldn’t surprise me if, as a teenager, that same girl may have taken my place at the register, working alongside the konbini manager and learning how this local business serves its neighborhood, one customer and one purchase at a time.
strike A as B AにBという印象を与える、Bだと思わせる / worrisome 心配すべき、気がかりな / preschooler 未就学児、幼稚園児 / routine 日課になった、いつもの / initially 初めは / disconcerting 当惑させるような、不安になるような / on reflection よく考えると / significant 重要な、意義深い / reveal ～を明らかにする、暴露する / reducible to ～に単純化できる、還元可能な / merely ただ単に / contract 契約 / turnover 取引高、売上高 / profit margin 利幅、利益率 / come to do ～するようになる / trust A with B Aを信じてBを委ねる、任せる / as part of ～の一部として、一環として / expanding 広がっている、拡張中の / social landscape 社会的風景 / alongside ～と一緒に、並んで / neighborhood 近隣、近隣住民