Vending Machines Craze in Japan

Instant Gratification to the Nth Degree

Welcome our contributing writer Michael I. Colwill of Kanteker's Craft. After living in Japan for some time, he became enchanted with the Japanese culture and technology, as this article clearly demonstrates.

Vending machines in Japan are as commonplace as temples, bicycles, and karaoke booths. It's not uncommon to see a street lined with a dozen or more machines selling products ranging from cold and hot drinks to flowers or rice. And almost none of these vending machines are vandalized or non-functional. According to the Vending Machine Manufacturers Association, Japan has one vending machine for every 23 people.

A Coke vending machine robot walks around Shibuya Station in Tokyo:

According to Tracy Jones in a web article titled "Jidoohanbaiki - Japanese Vending Machines, "the real surge in interest in jidoohanbaiki began during the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 with the need to supply large numbers
of people with a number of goods and a severe lack of space and staff."

On the UCLA Asia Institute’s "Two Minute Japan" website you can find a picture of the first official vending machine in Japan. This wooden machine, built in 1904, sold postage stamps and postcards:

Here is a collection of interesting vending machines that you will find scattered throughout Japan’s cities, towns, and even countryside.

Get Your Drink, Coffee & Cigarettes Anytime, Anywhere

These are some of your standard drink vending machines. You’ll find them on practically every street corner. They usually sell a standard variety of sodas, complemented with all kinds of teas, hot and cold coffee, and energy drinks.

Most drinks around the size of a regular can of soda sell for around 120 yen. This is roughly around $1.05 in American currency. Smaller cans, usually of coffee, can sell for less than that.

Notice the different color bands below the drink displays. This is standard on all drink machines and indicates the temperature of the drink, blue for cold and red for hot.

It’s actually more common to see several vending machines together, than an individual vending machine on its own. These random conglomerations of vending machines can be found anywhere from a Tokyo street corner to the side of a remote country road.

Google offices in Japan have plenty of those:

Most vending machines will have a recycling container nearby, or even built into the machine. This encourages people to obey the recycling laws, which are enforced in Japan.

Here are some pictures of the cigarette vending machines. These machines will generally carry a wide variety of cigarettes, many of which are American brands, both popular and obscure. You will also come across some brands you probably never knew existed. This particular batch of cigarette vending machines has a girl outside promoting some of the products.

During my time in Japan I was amazed at the number of smokers. The World Health Organization has some great statistics on smoking in Japan and many other countries. According to their website, 51% of adult men smoke in Japan, which is down from the number of male smokers in the 1980s. Smoking among women was once considered taboo, but has now risen to nearly 10% in the last decade.

A survey in the early 1990s indicated that 44% of Japanese physicians were smokers. And with 500,000 cigarette vending machines the young can easily purchase cigarettes. Smoking is legally prohibited until 20 years of age. The only method of prevention related to cigarette vending machines is that they are turned off between 11:00 P.M. and 6:00 A.M. Japan has some of the weakest anti-tobacco laws. There are very few public areas that are smoke-free.

Better ask what they DON'T sell in these machines...

Soft drinks and cigarettes are only a fraction of vast multitude of goods sold from such machines. Rice being a major staple for the Japanese it is no surprise that large bags of rice can be purchased from vending machines. This particular set of machines sells rice in ten kilogram bags. There are some rice vending machines today that sell rice in the same plastic bottles that soda is sold in.

Though I've never encountered one of these, the flower machine seems to be a good idea, especially in Japan. Most businessmen are expected to work late, and then socialize with co-workers at a nearby bar; so the 24-hour availability of flowers seems to be promoted as a way for these men to "make it up" to their spouses. I wonder how well it works.

Lingerie vending machine (quite common in large cities, actually):

The number of alcohol vending machines probably matches the number of cigarette machines in Japan. Drinking, like smoking, is prohibited until age 20. And, like cigarette vending machines, the preventative method to keep youth from purchasing alcohol is to turn the machines off between the hours of 11 P.M. and 6 A.M.

Many travelers to Japan wonder why most alcohol dispensing machines are located just outside the door of a liquor store. There may be a small convenience factor. But both store and machine would be closed during the night. Note the bottle of whiskey on the bottom shelf.

With all the electronics in stores everywhere, is it any wonder that battery vending machines would be available?

Most Japanese households use kerosene heaters to keep out the cold of winter. Because of this you will often hear vehicles driving around towns in the evenings or at night warning people over a loudspeaker to turn off their heaters before they go to sleep.

The various parking ingenuities in Japan would take another article to describe in detail. This one appears to be an automated parking elevator where you park your vehicle and receive a card or ticket. When you’re ready to depart you would insert your card, pay your fee, and the elevator would bring your vehicle down to the entry level, often times facing outward so you don’t have to back out. I never figured out how they did that part in some of these elevators.

All your bare necessities can be purchased from a vending machine... not the least of them is toilet paper:

How many times have you left home only to be caught in a rainstorm later that day? How many times did you remember to carry an umbrella with you? Now it’s nothing to worry about, as long as an umbrella vending machine is nearby.

You can buy eggs in a vending machine? Don’t they break when they fall off the shelf? This particular machine seems to have a separate door for every product shelf. However, some vending machines (not necessarily egg-dispensing ones) will move the entire shelf down, until it's on one level with the dispensing window. Then your product will be carefully deposited onto takeout tray, safe and sound.

 Frogs are perhaps the only thing these machines do not sell:


Drink Vending Machines for Sale | November 9, 2016 at 10:49 PM

If you’re hungry, instead of going to the pantry and fixing yourself something.

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