Japan has more vending machines per capita than any other country in the world! There are all sorts of vending machines in Japan, and they can be found anywhere.
In this article, we will take a look at what makes them so popular. We will also discuss how to use Japanese vending machines and what you can buy from them.
Where To Find Vending Machines in Japan?
According to the Japanese Vending Machine Manufacturers Association, there were over 4 million vending machines nationwide in 2020. Japan’s population is about 126 million, so there is approximately one machine for 31 Japanese citizens!
Vending machines are everywhere in Japan. These are usually found close to metro stations, bus stops, inside office buildings and shopping centers, and on the side of many streets, even if those are not particularly busy. Surprisingly, they are also present in the countryside, although fewer in number than in the cities. The most common ones would be beverage and snacks vending machines.
Sometimes, you will find ticket vending machines at the entrance of local restaurants such as curry or ramen shops. Clients pay for their meal ticket via machine and hand it directly to the kitchen. This way, they can leave as soon as they are done eating, and restaurant owners don’t have to take orders.
If you are looking for cool retro vending machines selling old-fashioned snacks and hot food, we recommend you head to the Sagamihara tire store in Kanagawa prefecture. However, if you are curious to see more unusual or even weird vending machines, you might want to take a look at the Akihabara vending machines corner.
What Can You Buy from a Japanese Vending Machine
The most common type would be beverage vending machines. These offer a variety of cold and hot drinks such as water, sodas, tea, coffee, sports drinks, and juices. You can also find more peculiar items like hot corn soup and oshiruko (Japanese sweet red bean soup).
The next most common type would be the food vending machines. They sell many sweet and savory snacks such as potato chips, cookies, chocolates, candies, energy bars, etc. Other popular food items include ice creams, cup noodles, rice balls, and even full hot meals.
Another sought-after vending machine is called Gashapon. They are small and colorful machines dispensing various capsule toys. They usually contain little plastic toys representing cute characters from famous Japanese manga and animation such as Pokemon. Japanese fans spend a lot of money trying to get an entire collection. You can find hundreds of them in the Akihabara Gashapon Hall in Tokyo.
Curiously, you can also find many cigarette vending machines. They are banned in many countries like France, Greece, and Singapore. People can only use those over 20 years old, and you would need a special ID card to prove you are of legal age to smoke. The same goes for alcohol vending machines.
Why Are Vending Machines So Popular in Japan?
First of all, they are very convenient. Japanese people tend to be quite busy and appreciate anything that makes their life easier. When you are out of time and need some quick drink or snack, vending machines save you from having to find a store or risk a long waiting line.
Moreover, where basic shops need a minimum of human interaction, vending machines work perfectly independently and are therefore available 24/hours a day. Not to mention the fact that they are easily accessible wherever you are. For example, people in Japan love to buy their morning coffee from vending machines located on train platforms. During the cold season, they use their drink to warm their hands while waiting for their train. Cold drinks and ice creams help them fight the heat in summer.
In addition, many vending machines offer reasonable prices. You can buy a drink for as little as 100 yen (less than $0.90). This is cheaper than what you would find in most convenience stores or restaurants.
We also saw earlier that they offer a great variety of products, which means you will undoubtedly find your heart’s desire in a vending machine, especially regarding beverages.
They are so popular that vending machine companies allow ordinary citizens to own one! Depending on the spot they pick to install it, vending machine owners can make a lot of money.
Finally, a lot of people simply enjoy the experience of using vending machines. The companies in charge make sure they are restocked regularly and are overall clean and operational. Vandalism is sporadic in Japan, meaning it is unlikely you will ever encounter a vending machine not working correctly.
How To Use Vending Machines in Japan
Using a vending machine in Japan is very easy. Once you find the item you want, you generally have two ways of paying:
Using basic cash. Japanese vending machines usually accept 10, 50, 100, and 500 yen coins and 1000 yen bills. Just insert your money into the coin or bill slot and select the product you wish to buy.
Using an IC card. In Japan, IC cards are rechargeable prepaid cards primarily used to pay for public transportation. However, they can also be used to purchase items from vending machines. You just have to scan your card on the IC panel and select the item of your choice.
If the machine doesn’t react after you push the button to select your item, it probably means the product is out of stock. You can buy something else or get your money back by pushing down the change lever.
While beverages vending machines only dispense cold drinks during summer, they will also start offering hot drinks once the temperatures drop down at the end of fall. You can easily identify cold drinks by their blue label and hot beverages by their red label.
Most Unusual Japanese Vending Machines – Top 9
There are too many vending machines in Japan to list all of them. Nonetheless, we compiled a list of some of the most unexpected ones!
Japanese Dashi Vending Machine
If you don’t know, dashi is a typical fish stock used in Japanese cuisine. In Japan, vending machines offer bottles of dashi soup stock with a whole grilled flying fish inside! It will cost you 700 yen (around $6) to get your hands on one bottle.
Eggs Vending Machine
You can find egg Vending Machines close to local farms in the Japanese countryside. It is an ingenious way to provide people with fresh eggs, especially since rural parts of the country don’t have as many 24-hour convenience stores as the big cities do.
Flowers Vending Machine
They put them at strategic points such as hospitals. This way, people can buy flowers to cheer up their sick friends and relatives, which is a pretty nice idea. While a floral arrangement costs you 2000 yen (about $18), a bouquet of dry flowers only costs 1000 yen (less than $10).
Umbrella Vending Machine
Rain is standard in Japan, particularly in June and July because of the monsoon season. Indeed, umbrella vending machines in the right place at the right time can be a life savior and spare you from a bad cold.
Banana Vending Machines
Although it is rare, there are vending machines dedicated to one product. The banana vending machine is one of them and only sells fresh bananas. You can find apples vending machines as well. Since the Japanese buy only 2 to 3 days’ worth of fresh food at a time, it is not surprising that they would think fresh fruit vending machines very convenient.
Masks Vending Machine
Since the COVID 19 pandemic started in 2020, the Japanese have made it a habit to wear masks outside or on public transport. It explains the recent increase in the number of medical mask vending machines.
Japanese Seal Vending Machine
When most countries use a written signature to sign an official document, Japan uses ¨hanko¨. It is a small seal engraved with the name of its owner. Japanese seal vending machines are great when you want to create an excellent and customized personal hanko.
Necktie Vending Machine
Japanese businessmen value their professional attire a lot. This vending machine can help you immensely when you stained your necktie during lunch break and need a new one. Besides, one necktie costs 1000 yen (around $9), which is not a bad deal.
Used Pantie Vending Machine
While a necktie vending machine can make sense, this one is disturbing, not to say highly unhygienic. It clearly shows that although Japan has a vibrant culture, the country also has a kind of dark side to it.
Vending machines are a popular choice for those looking to grab a quick bite or drink on the go. They have taken this one step further in Japan and created vending machines that will dispense just about anything you can think of. From cup noodles to ice creams and umbrellas, they offer a wide range of products right at your fingertips.
If you plan on visiting Japan, be sure to give them a try. Exploring the city streets in search of unique vending machines is fun!
Frequently Asked Questions about Vending Machines in Japan:
You can find the usual vending machines in other countries and some interesting vending machines such as hot dogs and hamburgers or flower vending machines.
Vending machines in Japan are called “jidouhanbaiki” (自動販売機)