Article by Michael Colwill, Link

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.

(image credit: Stefano)

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

(image credit: Sanchome)

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.

Photo by Mac Kane

Photo by Mac Kane

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.

Photo by Mac Kane

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.

Photo by Ry Tweedie-Cullen

Photo by Mac Kane

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.

Photo by Mac Kane

Google offices in Japan have plenty of those:

(image credit: Loren Baker)

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.

Photo by Mac Kane

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.

Photo by Paul Vlar

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.

Photo by Mac Kane

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.

Photo by Doug Mann

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.

Photo by Doug Mann

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.

Photo by Doug Mann

Porno vending machine:

(image credit: SweetThaiThai)

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

(image credit: François Rejeté)

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.

Photo by Doug Mann

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.

Photo by Doug Mann

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

Photo by Doug Mann

(image credit: Isodacafe)

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.

Photo by Doug Mann

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.

Photo by Doug Mann

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

Photo by Doug Mann

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.

Photo by Doug Mann

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.

(image credit: Sally Kernick)

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

Photographer: Tetsuya Tanaka

The two photos above are taken by my father-in-law, Tetsuya Tanaka. He is an amateur photographer who has an eye for the beauty of Japan. You can find more pictures by him on my website.

For some other great collections of Japanese Vending Machine pictures please check out the websites of all the photographers included (by permission) in this article.
- Vending Machines of Japan, by PhotoMann
- Polar Interia, journal of nomadic and popular culture, by Mac Kane
- DutchAngle by Paul Vlar.
Also check out "Japanese Vending Machines" Pool, and this wonderful set on Flickr.

Article by Michael Colwill, Kanteker's Craft for Dark Roasted Blend.

Also Read:
Japanese Shinkansen Bullet Trains ->

Japanese Incredible Neon Signs ->
Autumn in Japan (Spectacular) ->

Permanent Link...
Category: Technology,Travel


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Blogger Sue Ling said...

Awesome post!! I've only ever stepped foot into Japan's airport for transit and never got out to see the vending machines and thus have been curious about them ever since!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Worth it just to read the graffiti of "neck face."

Anonymous Anonymous said...

don't forget condom vender!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i heard that you can even get a free drink from vending machine in japan

if you care to spend less then 1 minute to hear some ads first

Anonymous April said...

There's an iPod/small electronics vending machine in George H.W. Bush Airport in Houston, Texas. i was amazed, but didn't have an opportunity to take any pictures.

Anonymous el dorado said...

Dont forget Internet Kiosks:)

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know how they have disposable cellphones in the US? In Japan there's that too. Vending machines sell cellphones, and other small electronics... I heard that there's some that even sell winniers! XD

Blogger HealthyFoods said...

recent laws on cigarette vending machines have changed, and a 'taspo' identification card is now required at all times to purchase cigarettes from a vending machine.

all cig vending machines ive seen in tokyo over the last several months now have the card readers installed, so it's no longer very easy to obtain cigarettes as a minor.

alcohol is a different matter. but nobody really cares anyway.

one more interesting quirk about japanese vending machines, which you didnt mention, is that it is very common to see soda cans of varying size, where the larger can costs the same ammount as the smaller can. supposedly the idea is that customers will select their can based on their thirst, but I've always thought this was pretty crazy.

Blogger Brian Duddy said...

What about the vending machine costume ?

Anonymous Tracy said...

That egg vending machine was something else!

Anonymous proop said...

designed to bring enjoyment, yet these monstrosities are just another blip in the sterile and souless modern japan.

Blogger Zaq said...

I would like to expand on Healthyfood's comment. As of May 2008, all public cigarette vending machines are required to have a Taspo (Tabaco Passport) card reader installed. While that renders machines useless to those who do not hold Taspo, it is my observation that it is still easy enough to get cigarettes as a minor through convience stores such as Lawson and 7&i(7-Eleven), as they rarely check for age verification. Same goes for liquor.

Blogger Kenshi said...

Should probably be mentioned that public buildings and almost every company is now completely non-smoking, restaurants are required to have clearly separated smoking/non-smoking areas and that some areas of Tokyo even ban smoking in the street.

Some big changes in the last 4 years!

Blogger Jocelyn Testes-Harder said...

Did I miss the machine selling soiled panties? That's always the money shot for Japanese vending machine rundowns like this one.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heh, I thought it was crazy the number of vending machines when I went to Japan until the 3rd day. Then it was vending machine = water. A god send during a very hot 2007 Summer. He he Pokari Sweat was really polular when I was there. Once found one that had 500ml cans of coke for 120 yen. Cheap!!

Oh, one problem was there are very few bins around to deposit your empty drink into. And the recycle bins next to a machine was always full. ¬.¬

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm currently living in Tokyo, and have recently traveled to Osaka and Kyoto, and some of the info given is very exaggerated. For example, alcohol vending machines are really not nearly as common as cigarette vending machines, which by the way, as other people have pointed out, mostly all use taspo. And you say that the lingerie vending machines are "quite common in large cities," but I've maybe seen one in the 8 months I've been here. Maybe I'm not going down the same shady alleyways you are, but I'm pretty sure they're still very rare.

But still, good article. I'm still fascinated by the car park elevators, those things are just crazy.

Anonymous japaninmotion said...

From JapanINmoiton.com

I live in Japan and there is 2 ways to look at this as a "why do you have so many vending machines? Because we have a lot of drinks.
Why do you have so many drinks?
Because we have a lot of vending machines!"

Or my view that the japanese live for three things.
1. they love putting money into machines. there are a ton of crap with coin slots here. even at sit down places you have to goto a ticket machine and but a food ticket first.

2. they love standing in live that's why they love disney land a lot of standing in line and at new ramen places you get to stand in long lines waiting to put you money into a machine.

3. they love having pictures taken of themselves. not that they like taking pictures. again a great bonus because if there is a new print club machine at the game center...you can wait...in line...to put money....in to machine....and then get you picture taken of yourself over and over again

Anonymous fartcarcas said...

i saw a baby in a vending machine in kumamoto. 200 yen yen fuck that

Blogger Grant said...

"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"

This is incorrect. As of this year, Japan as issued a nation-wide mandate ordering all of the cigarette vending machines to require identification showing proof of age. You have to apply for a Taspo card, which you have to insert into the vending machine before it will dispense any cigarettes.

Blogger YokohamaGaijin said...

I was about to leave the same comment another Anonymous user left. I know of THREE, yes THREE alcohol vending machines in Yokohama (all of them in the suspected places -- near hostess bars and all night party areas). My favorite is the sake machine and for the price its pretty damn good... surprisingly.

Anonymous grah said...

@anon, regarding alcoholic vending machines:

I think that only applies to tokyo/osaka/massive metro zones. I saw MANY MORE alcoholic dispensing machines in smaller cities (what seemed to be more than cigarette machines).

Anonymous Koy said...

What about the ramen & oden vending machines???
Can't leave them out!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting that the machine craze started because of a labor shortage. Hard to imagine not having enough workers in such a congested place as Japan.

Also, I guess they predate all the 7-11s, AM/PMs and Lawsons that are on every street corner. Surely 24 hour stores will put machines out of business?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

japanese vending machine coffee is the BEST! Especially on a cold morning.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

They really shut them off from 11 PM? I stayed in Kyoto for 2 months last year, and had a habit of going for walks downtown at 2 or 3 am just to see the city with less people around (though Japanese cities are NEVER empty). I frequently grabbed a beer from a vending machine on these walks. It was great to be allowed to drink outside, I'd have gotten a ticket for that here in Canada.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

im sorry... but the grafitti above the one said "neck face." Bloody priceless. I love language barriers.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

aw, i miss japan! however, i blame my social cigarette addiction to those flashy virginia slim vending machines around the corner from the apartment i lived in there. :) and for the record, 90% of those drinks in the vending machines are SO YUMMY!!!!

Blogger Peter Parker said...

I wonder if they have Klix Vending Machines in Japan...anybody know?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is NOODLE vendin machine in AKIHABARA in TOKYO

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the must for geeks who wants to visit akihabara. Try it out on sunday. You'll be envied as a jedi geek.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

great post, experienced the same thing when I was in Tokyo =) thought it was great the days were hot and I could find cold beverages everywhere hehe.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well now for the cigarette vending machines, they have a system called Taspo, which is on the machine, and to get cigarettes from the vending machines, you have to swipe an infared card to the machine as age verification. And the card is something you have to sign up and is a form of id. However, if you look old enough, you still can go to convenience stores and buy cigarettes easily without questions ask, particularly if you are foreign.

Blogger Donald said...

I haven't been to Japan since 1965, but even then vending machines were ubiquitous.

I was surprised to find sake and beer vending machines in Yokohama's underground mall near the train station and Matsubaya, as well as in the main train station in Tokyo. As I recall the price then was 100 yen which was about 28 cents US - it sounds as if the prices in yen - haven't changed much in 45 years.

They also had video jukeboxes in many of the clubs, mostly French and Japanese music as I recall - Sylvie Vartan was very popular at the time.

The machines are a lot more gaudy and "in your face" now than they were back then as well as being a lot bigger than the older models.

Pretty interesting story, thanks for it.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

...I have seen an flower-vending-machine in a little town in the near of Leipzig xD...greetings from Germany.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some machines in hotels, etc will dispense green tea for free...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Japan, many small restaurants make you buy food tickets by vending machine so they don't need a cashier

Blogger Ummie said...

japan's technology - fantastic!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

These frogs catch flies and mosquito admiring the light of vending machines at night.

Anonymous Denise said...

Kirin beer!!! Love it!

Anonymous jpn said...



Blogger tifffany_keep_going said...

I really want to go to Japan!!

Blogger Jerome Magajes said...

That was the next fad can't tell yet!!!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not true about the cigarette machines. You need a card to use them (you can only buy when you are over 20). Kids can't get cigarettes or alcohol from vending machines because of this card. I don't know how it used to be but I live in Japan now.

Anonymous Nora Moore said...

It looks like you can get almost anything from a vending machine in Japan. I hadn't even thought about all the options this machine could give a person. Being able to get a ten kilogram bag of rice was surprising, though. I wonder if they will expand the vending machine options in the US anytime soon

Blogger Nora Moore said...

They even have a battery vending machine. That's pretty cool actually. Sometimes it would be nice to know exactly where to find batteries when you need them. I wonder if they will try some of these in the United States anytime soon. There is something fun about vending machines in general. I'd at least put the battery ones to use. http://www.vendingservices.org/vending_sales.html


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