"In modern Japan, the convenience store is taken to be the spiritual home of the boys in hip-hop shorts and the girls with shocking yellow hair and artificial tans, who try with their every move -- eating in the street, squatting on the sidewalk -- to show that they take their cues from 50 Cent and not Mrs. Suzuki.

The door of my local Lawson has badges to denote police surveillance, and where the great 20th-century novelist Junichiro Tanizaki praised shadows (nuance, ambiguity, the lure of the half-seen) as the essence of the Japan he loved, Lawson speaks for a new fluorescent, posthuman -- even anti-Japanese -- future.

And yet, in the 12 years I've lived on and off in my mock-California suburb, the one person who has come to embody for me all the care for detail and solicitude I love in Japan is, in fact, the lady at the cash register in Lawson. Small, short-haired and perpetually harried, Hirata-san races to the back of the store to fetch coupons for me that will give me 10 cents off my ''Moisture Dessert.'' She bows to the local gangster who leaves his Bentley running and comes in the store with his high-heeled moll to claim some litchi-flavored strangeness. When occasionally I don't show up for six or seven hours, she sends, through my housemates, a bag of French fries to revive me."

~ Our Lady of Lawson by Pico Iyer.