Obento no Hirai, colloquially known simply as “Hirai,” is a konbini (convenience store) chain based in Kumamoto City, with around 140 locations all around Kumamoto Prefecture and in Saga and Fukuoka Prefectures. So prevalent is this convenience store that locals often mistake it for a nationwide chain and are surprised when they move out of Kumamoto and can’t find a Hirai anywhere.
So what makes Hirai so beloved by all Kumamotoans? Let’s take a closer look at Obento no Hirai!
On-Site Kitchen & Dining
Almost all full-service Hirai locations have an on-site kitchen and eat-in area, meaning bentos and other foods are made fresh at each store. Dining is also done to order, with customers placing their order on a touch-screen kiosk and enjoying a made-to-order meal ready to eat in just a couple minutes. For people on the go who want something warm, tasty, and filling, Hirai makes an excellent choice.
Low, Low Prices
While offering bottled drinks, packaged candy and snacks and other stuff you’d find at a 7-11 or other convenience store at similar prices, the bentos, meals, and other food cooked on-site is really really cheap and offered in really big portions! Popular items include curry & rice topped with chicken katsu, all for ¥500 yen! Their tonkatsu bowls are also super-filling and just ¥500 each! They even have two kinds of ramen that only cost ¥400 a bowl!
Tasty Food in Big Portions
In addition to curry and ramen, Hirai offers a stunningly large menu of items, including udon, soba, donburi, and more! They are all very reasonably priced and come in big portions that can be made even bigger with extra toppings, making Hirai popular with university students and workers on their lunch break.
Local Specialties Made With Local Ingredients
One of Hirai’s most popular items is its sarada chikuwa, a fish paste chikuwa stick stuffed with potato salad, dipped in tempura batter, and fried. It’s greasy, heavy, packed with carbs, all the same color, and delicious. Hirai bento also feature other local favorites like takana (picked mustard greens).
Hirai sources a lot of its ingredients from Kumamoto, meaning that ingredients aren’t being shipped in from all over the world and that eating here means you’re helping support local farmers.
In this age of cashless payments, Hirai still only takes cash or CoGCa, a prepaid card system that I’ve only ever seen accepted at other Hirai shops. This reluctance to get with the times may turn some customers off, but a local chain acting as one of the last holdouts in an ever-digitizing world is kind of charming to me, in a David and Goliath kind of way. Sure, it would be a lot easier for everyone if they started accepting QR and NFC payments, but Hirai does stuff its own way, and I’m cool with that.
Just remember to bring cash when you’re hungry for a sarada chikuwa.
Click here to find a Hirai near you: