Vending machines in Japan

Vending machines in Japan are a work of art…

Only the Japanese could take something so boring and mundane and turn it into something wonderful, modernistic, innovative and perverse all at the same time.

If I think about vending machines in my own country – the UK, with their tired choice of Kit-Kats, Toffee-Crisps, a lonely banana or even worse – the stuff that passes for hot drinks. Those kind of vending machine usually found in the corners of cafeterias in factories or company workplaces, spewing out a kind of sickly-sweet black gunk that is supposed to be coffee yet looks like ground soil. Yep, in the UK, vending machines are surely depressing things. But not so in Japan. Vending machines in Japan are a work of art.

Smart-Vending Machines

The picture above shows a new hybrid form of vending machine. It  has sensors that analyses the features and body-type of a customer when they stand in front of the  machine and then makes a recommendation for that person. I don’t know what kind of criteria the machine uses. In my case, the machine’s recommendation was not my particular choice, but then again, I appreciate the sentiment.  It makes me feel cared for.   I suppose its like a smart Barista or barman who remembers your choice of drink when you come in. Perhaps if I stayed longer, the machine and I could even have become friends.

I certainly can’t think of any human-friends that said to me – ‘hey, you know, looking at you, I think this drink would suit you’. Well, come to think of it, there was this one occasion with my friend Miro and a bottle of Jägermeister.

Hot and cold drinks

You’ll notice on the picture above, some of the drinks have red lights above them and some have blue lights. The red signifies it’s a hot drink. The cold means it’s a chilled drink. This is one of the greatest things about vending machines in Japan.

Personally, I prefer hot or warm drinks. It’s also supposed to be better for your stomach than chilled drinks. So this choice is great in Japan. You can get hot coffee, hot green tea, milk tea or black tea. These choices also come as cold drinks also.

The only negative about Japanese vending machine drinks is that they are too sugary for my taste and there is no choice of a non-sugar option, except for green tea. Unfortunately, this is enough to put me off drinking them. But still, on a cold day, or if you’ve missed your morning tea or coffee, having this option is good.

Vending machines in Japan are everywhere

Japanese vending machines are in all train stations – even small local ones. The ones in small town areas won’t be as sophisticated as the electronic version in the picture above, but they do the job just fine. Vending machines in Japan are cared for. They are regularly stocked up and maintained – even the ones outside, along paths or by the side of roads.

Alcohol  and cigarettes too

You can also buy alcohol and cigarettes too in vending machines in Japan. I think with cigarettes, you need to get a special card to purchase them, perhaps to prove you are over-age, but with alcohol basically anyone can buy it. And if you weren’t aware – Japanese beer is great!

This is really handy. Imagine you’re living out in the countryside or a small town and you’re having a bit of a party but you’re about to run dry. Well the option to nip outside to the local vending machine to stock up and keep the party going is invaluable. The other thing is that the prices are more-or-less the same as if you bought the beer in a convenience store. There is no mark-up. However, it is much cheaper to buy beers in bulk from supermarkets.

This could never work in the UK

I can’t imagine this kind of vending machine working in the UK. We have a serious drinking problem in the UK with lots of underage and even adults drinking excessively. Without a doubt, kids would be buying and drinking beer in the UK if they could get easy access to it. They’d probably be drinking during school-time. Yet in Japan, this just doesn’t happen. Clearly young people have a maturer attitude as regards drinking over there. The other thing that is guaranteed to happen in the UK is that the prices of the vending machine contents would quite likely be marked up in price.

Graffiti and damage – UK versus Japan

Also, as I mentioned before, these machines in Japan are often outside on the streets or by the side of roads, even in rural area. If they had the same thing in the UK, they would soon be covered in graffiti or broken into. To give an example. I spent my teenage years living in a small rural village in the midlands. It was a place surrounded by fields full of cows or crops and no street-lighting (except for the shine of the moon) and an abundance of silence.

Fortunately we had a phone box a little down the road, yet even that had its glass smashed-in by some antisocial passer-bys for absolutely no reason and no gain. So  if an isolated phone box in the middle of nowhere can get worked over, what chance does a vending machine full of beer and cigarettes have? None.

However, there are some questionable things about vending machines in Japan. For example:

School-girl Panties

I have heard of the famous panty vending machines where apparently you can buy Japanese schoolgirl panties. Whether they really belonged to a Japanese school girl or instead her grandmother – who knows? I never came across any of these vending machines in Japan and I doubt I would have been tempted to buy any, even as part of the novelty. However, I did come across something equally as interesting:

Porn Vending machines in Japan

Close to Ebara Nakanobu station, I came across a hidden vending machine area. It was discreetly tucked away inside a little side corner some walking distance away along a narrow footpath. It was the sort of place, you could easily walk past. However, I noticed the discrete and oddly suspicious entrance and decided to investigate. Cue Indiana Jones music.

Indiana John and the Temple of Porn

Inside this little enclave, I found 3 or 4 machines selling a variety of porn videos and other sex related objects. It truly was a gold-find, because it’s the sort of bizarre thing you hear about in Japan, but never really come across. So finding it completely by accident was really fun. No, I didn’t buy anything, but I took some pictures with an old phone. Unfortunately, its an old docomo phone and I haven’t gotten around to extracting any of my pictures from it, otherwise I would have included them here.

Vending machines in Japan

I’m sure there are many more interesting vending machines in Japan that I haven’t mentioned. This is just a taste of what I experienced and I think that if you are going to visit Japan or if you’ve been before, than you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

Oh, and just in case you don’t actually want to buy beer, cigarettes, school-girl panties or porn DVD’s – well don’t worry, you can still just buy a normal bottle of water from these machines too, which is pretty welcome on a hot summers day.

N.B. Please don’t email me to ask where the temple of porn is. This was a few years ago and I can’t recall the exact spot, even with Google maps. Unless you want to pay my flight over there. Then I may be able to recall…