Japanese vending machines have built up almost a cult-like following overseas. People from far and wide have all heard about the magic that is the vending machine experience in Japan.
Once you step foot into this country, you’ll realise that you won’t be able to walk down the street without coming across at least one vending machine. Traditionally, the bright red and blue will give away its location immediately. These days, however, vending machine operators are getting creative and they come in all sorts of colours and sizes!
Some of the biggest reasons why vending machines in Japan have become so popular with visitors is because of its sale items. Need a coffee? A soft drink? Milk? Ramen? Maybe you’re craving a burger?
You won’t come across a vending machine selling the latter everywhere, but they definitely do exist!
They say your first vending machine experience is a special one.
Perusing past the warm glows of all the options available; holding onto that 100-yen coin until you’ve made your decision; hearing the beeps as you select your item; and the surprise you feel when you realise it’s actually warm is indescribable!
There are so many fun facts about vending machines in Japan. Below we’ve listed 10 facts about Japanese vending machines you probably didn’t know about.
1. Hot coffee? Tick!
People usually associate vending machines with thirst-quenching cold drinks such as water, Coke, and fruit juices.
Japanese vending machines are in a completely different ballpark.
Yes, they do offer the aforementioned drinks in abundance, but just as popular are the vending machines that sell hot coffee! You read that right.
Their advanced technology allows them to store both hot and cold beverages in the same machine. You will be able to tell whether the beverage is hot or cold by the red or blue price label of the item.
On top of hot coffee, if you’re feeling a bit peckish, many vending machines also sell savoury soup items as well. The most popular items to try would be the hot sweet corn soup, onion soup, and even clam chowder!
2. Pay In Almost Any Form In Japanese Vending Machines!
In most western countries, you’ll find that vending machines only accept cash or credit cards.
Not in Japan!
If you have a loaded commuter pass, chances are you’d be able to tap that to pay as well. In Tokyo, these would be either the Suica or Pasmo cards. Other regions will have different names for their cards but you get the picture.
If you’re visiting Japan, you will almost definitely need to purchase and load up one of these cards to get around. It’s not only convenient to collate all your payment options into the one card, but the novelty of using it is quite exciting as well!
As a bonus, many convenience stores, restaurants and even parking lots accept these cards too!
3. How Many Vending Machines In Japan: More Than 5 MILLION Vending Machines!
That is A LOT of vending machines.
In a country where the population is upwards of 125 million, that equates to almost one vending machine for every 25 people!
Sometimes you’ll see lone vending machines, and sometimes you’ll see a few bunched together. Due to the population density of the country, the latter is more popular.
4. Fresh Fruits and Vegetables? No problem!
Most people accept that drink items will stay in a vending machine for a few weeks, maybe even a few months. On that note, the idea that a fresh food item can be sold via a vending machine may seem preposterous.
Not in Japan!
In fact, fresh fruit and vegetable vending machines are becoming more and more popular outside of the main cities. This is because farmers are becoming more tech-savvy and are finding ways to reach out to their markets in innovative ways.
Major cities like Tokyo and Osaka are most likely too dense with grocery stores and supermarkets for these types of vending machines to work. However, you will still come across the occasional machine which sells fresh fruits like bananas or apples.
5. Touch Screen Vending machines
Majority of the vending machines in Japan are still the traditional pop-a-coin and press-a-button for your item type.
However, in many of the major cities, you’ll start coming across bigger, brighter, more colourful vending machines that are touchscreen!
The most notable thing about these machines is the display. Because the screen is actually bigger, it makes it easier for you to view your selections. The LED display also makes it easier to advertise certain items and brands in the background. It also hides any sold-out items so there is no ugly ‘sold out’ sticker across it.
During certain times of the year, you might even notice traces of the season embedded in the display, such as cherry blossoms.
These brightly lit vending machines can usually be found at stations or along busy streets. Like traditional vending machines, it takes most forms of payment.
6. JR East Water Business’s “Acure” Vending Machine – Next Level Touch Screen Vending Machines
If you were impressed with the above, wait until you hear about this!
In the latest in touchscreen vending machines, JR East Water Business released their “Acure” vending machines. These vending machines are a first in vending machine customer targeting.
When standing in front of the vending machine, there is an obscure camera right above the customer. It will determine the general age and gender of the customer. Using this info, the machine will make subtle suggestions to the customer on the touchscreen display panel.
How crazy is that! You may think you’re making your own decisions but in fact, the vending machine could be the one making the choice for you.
7. Specialty Item Vending Machines
The majority of vending machines in Japan usually sell hot and cold drinks. Occasionally you will come across the specialty item vending machines. These items can quite literally range from anything you can imagine.
Clothing is one such category of specialty item vending machines. There are Uniqlo vending machines selling heat-tech shirts. There are also machines selling brand new ties in case you randomly decided you needed one.
If you needed a flower gift and didn’t have time for the supermarkets, there are in fact machines that stock freshly made bouquets that you can just slip some coins in and run off with.
Cooking up a storm but forgot one of the most important base-level ingredients in Japanese cooking, the dashi stock? Say no more!
There exist vending machines in Japan that actually sell freshly made dashi stock in bottles for you to take home and use straight away. Just don’t confuse them for tea because they look exactly alike!
There are many, many, many more specialty item vending machines; so much so that we couldn’t possibly name them all. If you do come across one, snap a pic for memories!
8. Japanese Vending Machine Etiquette
If you’ve travelled to Japan before, you’ll know that there are no trash cans on the streets. This is one of the reasons why the country is so clean – people dispose of it in very specific areas or they take it with them.
You will also notice that people in Japan do not usually eat whilst walking on the streets. When they purchase food, they usually eat nearby (or inside convenient stores), dispose of the rubbish and then move on.
You will notice that most vending machines will have small trash cans nearby. The openings of these cans are usually small enough just to fit drink bottles into them.
Most Japanese people will purchase a drink, drink the entire bottle/can in one go, and throw it away before moving on. They will almost never carry the drink with them to consume whilst walking away.
This might seem like a lot for a regular 375ml bottle of Coke, but the sizes of the bottles and cans in Japan are relatively smaller.
9. Disaster Relief Settings
One of the things that Japan experiences quite regularly is natural disasters. This is because of where it is located on earth.
Because of this, some vending machines have actually been designed to acknowledge when a natural disaster has happened and changes its settings. It will provide free refreshments during times of emergency such as if the country is experiencing a major earthquake or tsunami.
There are even backup power generators installed so that they don’t completely shut down during emergencies. Whilst it is a small gesture, these may be well-worth it for desperate situations.
10. Tommy Lee Jones for BOSS coffee!
Did you know that Tommy Lee Jones, aka the other half of the famous MIB duo, is a spokesperson for Suntory’s BOSS Coffee Brands?
BOSS Coffee is only like one of the most popular coffee brands across the country!
His affiliation with the brand means that you’ll see his face randomly plastered along the sides and tops of many Japanese vending machines. You may even see him promoting Suntory’s BOSS brand across massive billboards in the cities and within train stations as well!
When you’re feeling tired, grab a BOSS coffee from a vending machine and know that Tommy Lee Jones is silent cheering: Ganbatte!
Honestly, some people might find the thought of vending machines trivial. But that is probably because they haven’t experienced Japan’s ones yet!
The thought of purchasing a warm can of coffee or soup, which is the norm in Japan and almost nowhere else in the world, is thrilling! Even if you’ve visited multiple times and have bought it time and time again, the excitement will never get old.
When you come across any interesting vending machines, we highly recommend that you snap a pic and let your friends know back home! They’ll be thankful you exposed them to the wonderful world of Japanese vending machines.
To continue to learn more interesting facts about Japan, feel fee to also read these blog posts: Japanese Culture.