I was getting excited at the thought of coffee, standing in front of a Tokyo vending machine. I turned some 100 Yen coins in my palm, considering my options. The brown one, or the white one? Maybe the rainbow can? All the descriptions were in Japanese, but I was intrigued by one particular can because Tommy Lee Jones was advertising it. I loved the Japanese vending machine experience, and here are 6 reasons why!
1. They’re everywhere!
The best part – there are 5 million of them, countrywide. That’s one machine per 23 people. To put that into perspective, 5 million is twice the population of Osaka! I tried to process that fact. What would a city look like if all its people were replaced by vending machines? So from the biggest shopping avenues to the smallest alleys, in tiny traditional villages and even on shinkansen trains, they’re simply everywhere.
2. They stock pretty much anything
The majority of them sell drinks and snacks, but there’s also machines for ice creams, cigarettes, train tickets, bowls of hot noodles, beers and sake (for those with an 18+ card), umbrellas and phone chargers. There’s one in Shinjuku with fresh bananas, and another in Osaka that dispenses roast chickens. Of course, everyone’s heard the urban legend of vending machines stocked with underwear.
3. It’s a good excuse to buy toys
Then there’s the gachapon, which are found all over shopping areas and train stations. Though not technically vending machines, these dispense little plastic capsules with a collectible mystery toy inside (everything from Harry Potter keychains to zombie pineapples). Japanese people of all ages are crazy for them.
4. Hot and cold (in the same machine)
I finally made a decision. The big can of Boss black (the strong bitter one, and sugarfree, too). Bingo! I took a Royal hot milk tea for Cindy, with a bottle designed to look like a warm tartan blanket. All of them were cans – and the vending machine was heated so the cans were piping hot. And here comes the genius – In the exact same machine, all those same drinks exist in the chilled section for an ice-cold option. Inspired!
** Handy Japanese trick – put a hot can of coffee in your jacket pocket to warm up on a cold winter’s day!**
5. Restaurants use them, too
Greeting us at the entrance of more than a few restaurants we visited was a machine, with pictures of noodles on a list of buttons. We pushed the button, paid, and the vending machine spat out a receipt. Just give that token to the chef and Voila! Ordering done, and no translation confusion!
6. The products and cheap, and decent!
The average coffee is great value at 130 Yen. Thats AU$1.70, or 1 Euro. And because of their popularity, the stock is constantly refreshed. Taking my early morning walk down the street and around the corner, in the middle of Japanese winter, became one of my most treasured daily rituals during our visit there.