One thing you’ll learn once you’ve arrived in Japan is that they are a very technologically advanced country, futuristic if you will. The first time you’ll notice this is in the airport bathrooms. The toilets look like normal, western toilets, but on closer inspection, there are many buttons and Japanese instructions. You’ll get used to this. The second time you’ll notice the advancements in technology is once you step outside of the bathroom. If you look to your left you’ll see a vending machine. To your right there are 2 vending machines. Across the room there are 4 more.
Japan has the highest per capita rate of vending machines in the world, even exceeding America’s extensive range. The items you can buy aren’t restricted to drinks or cigarettes, it is Japan after all. Here’s my guide to Japanese vending machines.
Being a tourist is tough, and you often get thirsty. Lucky for us tourists, Japan has solved this problem with a pretty simple concept – food & beverage vending machines.
Expect to see bottles of water, green tea, soft drink, fruit juices, milk teas, cans of iced coffee (in summer), cans of hot coffee (in winter), energy drinks, alcohol and shots of vitamins – yep, you can buy Vitamin C from a vending machine. At some stations, you will find machines that offer a variety of hot and iced drink options that make your drink to order – butterscotch mocha anyone? I ordered an iced coffee on one particularly hot day, not realising it only meant a hot coffee with some ice. Alcohol is apparently allowed to be consumed on the streets, and you will see vending machines selling alcohol and beer. You may be thinking “Can ANYONE buy alcohol!?” Technically, yes! You don’t have to show I.D., just insert coins and drink. But there’s heavy penalties if you’re caught underage drinking.
Okay, so you’re not thirsty, you’re hungry. This isn’t impossible, but may prove a little challenging. If you do spot these rare beauties, you can pick up some great tasting ready-to-eat food like noodles, hotdogs, chips, pasta and takoyaki (octopus balls). If you can’t make it to the supermarket, you can also conveniently purchase live lobsters, ice-cream, fresh bread, fresh produce like lettuce, eggs, rice, and the list goes on. If you’ve run out of the essential dashi (a cooking stock made salty by soaking fish), not to worry! You can find bottles of dashi with premium flying fish around a few car parks in Hiroshima.
In large cities like Tokyo, expect to see a collection of 2-4 vending machines every 5 metres. This is incredibly convenient if you’re like me and always thirsty. I’ve heard there’s even a vending machine on the top of Mt. Fuji (I wouldn’t know, I haven’t made it to the top yet). In remote areas, you may be lucky enough to score a 100 Yen and under vending machine – bargain!! And you’ll find them in the most unusual places, modern vending machines next to ancient temples, machines on stands at unreachable heights, and even on trains.
Themed vending machines
Theme parks like Disneyland and Universal Studios are Western with elements of Japanese culture throughout – see vending machines. With not as wide a range of drinks to choose from, they make up for it in the way they look. At Disneyland, for example, I saw Medieval themed and Alice in Wonderland tea cup themed, and at Universal Studios I saw Dinosaur themed. A very creative concept that’s fitting and make you want to buy a drink from all of them.
Vending machine restaurants
Sorry for bringing up vending machines again but they will become a huge part of your life in Japan. There are restaurants where you order out the front at a vending machine, as in press the buttons of food you want to eat and pay on the spot, receive a ‘meal ticket’, then take it inside where they prepare your meal. Sounds simple? It is, when there’s little photos to help guide you. And sometimes there’s no pictures, and are entirely in Japanese writing. But if you’re lucky, you’ll find some restaurants in Tokyo have electronic touch screens so it’s more like a poker machine than a vending machine.
Try Kamukura Ramen in Shibuya, or the only restaurant at the 5th station on Mt. Fuji.
Other notable items
Legend has it there are vending machines that stock convenient items like toilet paper, Uniqlo t-shirts, manga, illegal substances, video game piracy cartridges, cheap tickets, fishing bait, flowers, porn, toys, umbrellas… the list is never ending! You’ll just need to make Japan your next holiday destination.