Japan's Vendor Bender
Japan is a vending machine wonderland.
Whether you’re strolling down the streets in Tokyo or driving through a rice field in the Okinawan countryside, you will be able to find vending machines. While the majority of vending machines in Japan are for drinks and food, you just might be surprised by what you see sitting in the box for sale.
You could bump into a machine offering umbrellas, although every convenient store also sells them. Or you could stay at a hotel that has vending machines that sell T-shirts and batteries. From condoms to college exam textbooks, you can purchase almost anything from vending machines in Japan.
Basically, companies that own machines choose what kind of products to sell based on market research. So, some vending machines are rare. For example, Dole Japan Inc. has one banana vending machine. According to its website, Dole placed it in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, targeting busy businessmen. If the sales go well, you may see more banana vending machines in the future.
What you’ll never have a problem finding are vending machines selling drinks or snack foods.
According to the Japan Vending Machine Manufactures Association, in 2013 there were more than 5,000,000 vending machines throughout Japan, with sales totaling more than $50 billion. The highest vending machine sales in the world.
“One of the main reasons for all the vending machines in Japan is how safe it is here,” said Naoki Tenma, a spokeswoman for the association. “Japan has less criminal cases concerning vending machine compared to other countries. Vending machines help cut space and manpower for the company selling the products.”
Vending machine owners really hit the jackpot when a Japanese company invented a machine that offers hot and cold drinks. Many foreigners are amazed at the drinks they can purchase, whether it’s served in a hot or cold can, or steaming or over ice in a paper cup.
Even more impressive are the food vending machines found at rest areas across Japan. You have to remember that rest areas are very popular in Japan and offer a variety of food and services. Hamburgers, fried chicken, ice cream and noodles are all available at the push of a button.
Beer and cigarettes
Foreigners are amazed when they discover vending machines on streets selling alcohol. Beer, whiskey, shochu and sake readily available. I still remember walking to a nearby vending machine to buy some cold ones for my father when I was a child. It was very normal back then.
It was only 15 years ago when the government finally clamped down on the sale of adult beverages from vending machines. There are less machines selling alcohol today, and you must be age 20 or older to purchase a drink. The modern machines simply scan your driver’s license or you can make an identification card for the machine at a liquor store.
Japan also gotten tough on the sale of cigarettes. In 2003, they started changing cigarette machines to restrict folks under 20 from using them. Today, people can buy their smokes at a machine by using a “taspo” card, which includes age identification in the IC chip.
Improvements in technology are now taking vending machines to the next level. The most recent vending machine from JR East Water Business Co., Ltd has a touchscreen panel, similar to what you have on your iPhone or iPad.
It may make you feel like you are in science fiction movie because this next-generation vending machine includes a sensor that identifies you and gives you a selection of products.
“The sensor in the vending machine will estimate the user’s age and gender and give them some recommendations,” said JR East Water’s Tomohiro Kawaguchi. “For example, it will suggest a selection of tea for young women and energy drinks and coffee for males.
“It also changes the recommendation of drinks base on the time of the day,” Kawaguchi said. “It might suggest more mineral water and coffee in the morning, and more sodas and fruit juice during the afternoon.”
So far, there are only about 500 of these touchscreen vending machines in Japan, most are in train stations in the central Tokyo area. But the company said more are on the way.
What will they come up with next?
Get gacha gacha!
“Gacha gacha” are Japan’s most popular toy vending machines. They get this nickname from the noise make when the buyer turns the handle to retrieve a toy in a plastic capsule.
Gacha gacha were originally made for children. But today toy companies are producing gacha gacha that also target adults. There are various characters or funny trinkets that you can get from this machine, with prices ranging from 200 yen to 500 yen ($1.67 to $4.17). This gacha gacha boom for adults is spreading thanks to a subculture of online fans, according to Misayo Aruga, a spokeswomen for Takara Art, a toy company that produces gacha gacha products.
“Online social networking has made it easy for this subculture of fans to discuss funny characters and interesting gacha gacha,” Aruga said. “There’s lots of feedback from foreign tourists that think gacha gacha is a cool Japanese subculture. The market is getting bigger.”
Some of the popular gacha gacha items, include “Smart Pants Silicon,” which is a smartphone cover shaped like underwear, and a key holder that looks like a human nose. The nose key holder was created for people to pick it so they don’t have to pick their own nose.
You can find gacha gacha at department stores, amusement parks and game centers. But if you really want to check out the wide-range of gacha gacha, check Gachapon Kaikan in Akihabara, Tokyo. There are more than 450 gacha gacha machines available in this facility.
So head over and make your own “gatcha gatcha” sounds.
Gachapon Kaikan : www.akibagacha.com