Japan’s Streets Are Littered With These Storefronts — And They’re Not Convenience Stores

3 min readAug 22, 2023
Image Source: Japan Dental Association

Japan is a land of convenience, or convenience stores at least (let’s not mention the ongoing love of fax machines), and anywhere you look you’re likely to find a Seven-Eleven or Family Mart. A recent analysis revealed one very surprising fact when it came to the streets of Japan, however. Convenience stores are plentiful, but in Japan, dentist’s offices are even more common.

Even if you’ve spent some time exploring Japan, this realization is probably unexpected. Dental clinics in Japan go for stylish interior design and subtle signage, which means they blend into their surroundings like any other modern office building. If you’re out shopping or just scoping out the streets of Japan, you’re much more likely to be on the lookout for a convenience store, with its neon signs, cold drinks, and hot food. But if you start observing the signage along the streets of Japan, you’ll realize that dentists are everywhere. It might even seem like there are one or two on every block of busy businesses — which might even be true, considering a count in 2021 confirmed 68,024 dental facilities around Japan. Compare that with 56,919 convenience stores as of 2022, a truly huge number for Japan’s population of 125 million people — but still considerably fewer locations than dentists. Even the major Japan Post Bank only has a little over 50,000 locations.

Why all the dental facilities? Well, this oversupply of dentists is in many ways a direct result of an undersupply, decades back. In the 1960’s, a government study revealed that over 30% of Japanese citizens were actively suffering from tooth decay, and Japan simply did not have the dental industry to combat the problem. So the government took steps to actively support the establishment and development of dental schools around the country, looking to train a new generation of Japanese dentists. And they certainly succeeded, starting a boom in Japanese dentistry that lasted for decades. Entrance numbers for Japan’s dentistry schools has only just begun to wane in recent years, with the proliferation of dentists pushing students in other directions instead, and some of the many schools are now beginning to merge or join up with local universities.

Image Source: Korean Dental Association

To understand the true scope of Japan’s dental industry, it’s worth looking at the numbers found in Japan’s neighbor Korea. Dental schools in Japan have been certifying waves of new dentists for years, often at a rate of around 2,000 dentists a year. Korean dentistry schools, on the other hand, average closer to 800 new dentists a year. And despite being home to a similar number of convenience stores (around 48,000), Korea only has around 18,738 dental clinics nationwide.

Despite the absurdly high numbers, Japanese dental facilities see plenty of demand, which is likely due in large part to Japan’s unusual demographics. With a population that’s growing older every day, Japanese society is in the midst of understanding and tackling the issues of an aging population — one result of this phenomenon is that patients over the age of 65 are due to increase over the next couple decades. With so many patients trying to keep their teeth healthy (and intact) well into old age, there’s more demand for good dental care in Japan than you might otherwise suspect. Of course, with so many options to choose from, competition is fierce among Japanese dentists, and that might explain the tendency towards surprisingly stylish interior design in so many dental offices around Japan. Not that we’re complaining!

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