Vending machines. Often seen in movies, animes, manga and even snapshots online. You know they’re all over Japan but nothing can quite prepare you for just how deep their penetration is and how literally on a city block, you can see more vending machines selling more than just drinks. The drinks themselves are varied and seasonal meaning that depending on what time of the year you travel to Japan, determines what you find in the machine. Example being, when my wife and I went last year in March and it was still quite chilly, the vending machines sold cold drinks, as one would imagine, but they also served up hot beverages ranging from coffees and lattes to a hot lemon drink which I assure you is extremely tasty. As opposed to when we went back in September when it was quite hot, around 35 degrees Celsius, there wasn’t a hot drink to be seen in any vending machines we checked out. And also, a nice touch is, often there’ll be two of the same drinks and you might be thinking which is hot or cold? The price tags are either blue or red, blue for cold and red for hot. It’s a simple touch but effective.
The way it works is that there’s one machine for every 23 people, that’s quite astounding when you think of it. In Melbourne, you only see them in shopping centres, outside a milk bar and maybe along a strip of shops but you don’t really seem them standing there by themselves in the middle of nowhere. In Japan, this is exactly where you’ll find them, on street corners, in little alleys, outside train stations and even at temples. There’s even a photo I saw where I’d have to say I didn’t expect to see vending machines – at the top of Mt. Fuji! The machines themselves are privately owned so anyone owning a little piece of land can place one there and as long as they keep it well stocked, a tidy profit can be made. Also these same land owners will sometimes choose to rent out these spots and someone with a vending machine can place it there.
As for the conditions of the machines themselves, they are always impeccably clean and I can honestly say I didn’t see one out of order. The machines don’t just sell beverages, I’ve heard of some machines selling girls’ underwear, never saw those, maybe in a seedy part of town? They sell Ramen, mobile phone toy straps, iPhones and iPods and even instant spaghetti, in fact, if you can think about it, chances are there’s a machine for it. Another interesting side note is, we never saw one vandalised. Ever.
Just recently I ran across a video of the latest in vending machine technology, a machine with a transparent LCD screen that displays content in full HD with a camera that can detect if you’re male or female, old or young and will display ads on the screen that fits your general demographic. Even when it isn’t being used, it’ll display images and animations to capture your attention and turn you into a customer. There’s a video of this below as well as some personal pics of mine and some YouTube clips that I think perfectly sums up just what it is about vending machines that makes them uniquely Japanese.
Amazing technology that will be emerging out of Japan in the coming years