Vending Machines - Tokyo Intro: Experience #55 of 55


One of the interesting facets of modern Japan is the abundance of vending machines there.  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.   The common vending machines, with the plastic replica inserts of drinks have attractive displays, especially when lit at night.  The new video display versions of these machines have flashy graphics, but don’t have the charm of the originals.

Vending machine that can also release an AED to save someone's life.
Some of the cool features and facts about Japanese vending machines are:
  • There is stiff competition in the canned coffee market which is a big seller in the machines. Canned coffee is pretty tasty, but not necessarily the coffee you grew up with.  Canned coffee is great whenever there are no coffee shops open or nearby.
  • 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 (blue labels mean cold, red labels mean hot), 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, vegetables, flowers, etc.  Drink vending machines are common, while the others are rare.
  • 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.
  • Vending machines are now being utilized in emergency or disaster situations.  When they get a signal they can dispense drinks for free in a disaster, and some even have AED units in them so that a defibrillator is available in an emergency.
A more uncommon 100 yen vending machine.  Drinks are usually more expensive and if they don't take cards, you will need change.
This machine dispenses drinks and canned oden (a type of Japanese stew).  You can get the stew either hot or cold from the machine.
Closeup of the oden vending machine.
A pretty standard vending machine with the plastic inserts to show you what drinks are available.
Worker refilling the vending machine.  There are hundreds of drinks inside one of these machines and these workers are very speedy at refilling them.
Truck with drinks to be loaded into vending machines.
An ice cream vending machine.  These are very tasty ice cream bars.
Another closeup of another vending machine.  Large variety of drinks both hot and cold, and there are even a couple of varieties of hot soup / broth on the bottom row.
Automated convenience store vending machine.  You can get fresh sandwiches, rice balls, and many other tasty and nutritious foods.
Train station vending machine selling various snacks.
This is one of the new generation of touch screen machines that just don't have the same character as the old machines.

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