Japanese Vending Machines

One of the interesting facets of modern Japanese culture is the abundance of vending machines there.  It is kind of like Australia having millions of sheep.  In Japan, there are over 5.6 million vending machines or 1 machine for every two dozen people or so in 2014.  Each vending machine is a simple robot, or not so simple in some cases, as they are packing more electronics into them than ever before.   I know that when I visited Japan for the first time I wanted to see their common vending machines.  Unlike the machines we have over here, the displays in the machines seem so much more dynamic.  The new video display versions of these machines do not have as much character, even if they do more and have flashy graphics.
Colourful display of machines
Japanese vending machines in their glory.
Some of the cool features and facts that can be found about Japanese vending machines:
  • The machines can be everywhere as people can ask the big beverage companies to install one on their land. They'll get a commission on each drink sold, but have to pay for rent (if it isn't on their land) and electricity.
  • The full sized machines can stock over 600 beverages.
  • If you don't want to carry an empty can, drink it near the machine and then use the recycling bins there.  Garbage cans are few and far between on the streets.
  • The machines have hot and cold beverage sections, which is a wonderful technological feat.  Who wouldn't want a hot coffee or tea or soup on a cold day!
  • Some machines can take electronic payments via PASMO, or SUICA smart cards that are also used for the train system and in many shops near train stations.
  • There is basically a vending machine for almost anything from hot food (like ramen, burgers, or fries), fresh eggs, t-shirts, underwear, umbrellas, toys, fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, etc.
  • I love the fact that you can find vending machines on hiking trails, in city parks, and even on Mt. Fuji.  In many ways a vending machine on a mountain hiking trail is so wrong, but at the same time, it is so cool.
  • There is stiff competition in the canned coffee market. Canned coffee is pretty tasty, but not necessarily the coffee you grew up with.  These machines compete against konbini offering fresh coffee, Starbucks, etc.  I just know that a vending machine selling cold canned coffee on a hot day, or hot canned coffee on a cold day is a godsend.  They are also great whenever there are no coffee shops open or nearby.  I previously blogged about canned coffee here.  UCC developed the first canned coffee for machines, and a video of their coffee museum in Kobe is below.
  • There is usually plenty of variety for the beverages in each machine.
Hot and cold drinks available in this machine.  See the red labels for hot.
Many bottled drinks in this machine.  Hot drinks too.
This machine vends cups instead of cans.
More drinks!
  • There is marketing science at work in the types of beverages stocked in many machines.  Many machines are outfitted with computers and radio antennas that allow the beverage sales to be tracked by time of day, weather, temperature, etc.  This information can be combined with geography to stock the machines with drinks that people want going to work, the beach, going home, etc.
  • The new machines with video cameras will even do facial recognition to evaluate you and even recommend a drink for you depending on age, gender, and more.
  • There are even vending machine with a personality (usually female to attract male customers), and you'll get messages from your favourite vending machine. 
  • Many of the new machines installed or evergreened since the big quake are more environmentally friendly as they cool the drinks down at night when power consumption is low (reducing peak power demand), and the drinks stay cool all day.  The machines are also way more efficient at staying cool / hot with more efficient vacuum insulation installed now.
  • Finally, some machines are able to function as disaster relief centers during emergencies.  The vending machine companies have agreements with local governments to basically flip switches to allow free drinks / water to be dispensed to disaster victims.  These machines are remotely operated and can even display emergency messages from the government.  Battery backup / solar power is available for some machines too. 
Yup, I think Japanese vending machines are pretty cool.  I haven't seen all the types of machines, but I keep my eyes open every time I visit.  I would love to see the cup noodle vending machines, some of the hot food machines, and the Evangelion themed machines in Hakone (UCC canned coffee is also featured in the Evangelion movies). I've included more machine photos for any vending machine geeks out there to look at too.  There are also links to vending machine articles at the end of this post.

Vending machines with recycling on the ends.
Hotel vending machine.  Change machine on the left, cold beer machine in the middle next the to hot water dispenser (you can use it for cup noodles or tea)
Newspaper vending machine.
Coca Cola vending machines.
Closeup of beverages in machine.
This machine sells apple slices.
More beverages available.  Hot ones are in red.
Vending machine nook
Another vending machine up close.
One of the new fangled vending machines with front cameras and the video displays.
Vending machines are even in the trains!
Nice little video about Japanese vending machines. 

Some links for you to follow up on your own reading.
Introductory guide ebook for the price of a latte at Amazon.

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