If you’ve never been to Japan, you may have a hard time comprehending just how ubiquitous vending machines are in the country. Ever since the end of World War II, they have been the go-to choice for businesses trying to expand their market share. At first it was just beverages, but now Japanese vending machines cater to every consumer, from those looking for some ramen, to those in need of a quick puppy. In total, there are over 5.5 million vending machines, about one for every 33 citizens, generating nearly $50 billion USD each year. Let’s take a look at some of them.
1) Umbrellas. Okay, so maybe selling umbrellas out of a vending machine isn’t all that strange. Really, this is more brilliant than anything else. But these aren’t a common sight in most parts of the world. Whether a storm is coming or you want to enjoy some sun protection while sipping on a self-freezing Coke Slushie you bought at a vending machine, Japan has you covered.
2) Flying Fish Soup. Fine, fine you’re so hard to please. How about flying fish soup in a jar from the vending machine by the subway? Great, now we’re talking your language. Each jar contains a flying fish, pre-grilled, in addition to some algae. While the soup is ready to eat, most people grab a jar to use as seasoning for a slow cooking meal or udon noodles.
3) Ramen. These are among the fastest growing vending machines in the entire country. If you’re cold, or fighting one, tuck into these convenient noodle dishes. Many of the ramen vending machines allow you to mix and match up to 30 flavor combinations.
4) Surgical Masks. China may have worse air quality, but Japan is no slouch. If your looking for some quick lung protection, these vending machines are ready to serve. Even more convenient, the machines dispense both adult and child sizes. With declining birth rates in the country, protecting the next generation is especially important (and encouraging them to do it).
5) Selfies. One of the newest vending machine types combines two things the Japanese love: easily dispensed items and selfie photos. Vendorphoto, the company behind the machine, allows consumers three free selfies per purchased item. Backgrounds similar to those offered in the purikura photo booths are available. The same vending machines display warnings during earthquakes and other natural disasters.
6) Marketing research. It sounds strange, but vast amounts of data are collected by Japanese vending machines. this is most apparent in the 500 PanelDirector vending machines spread through Tokyo’s subway and Japan Rail (JR) stations. When users make contact with the touchscreen, the machine analyzes the person’s age, gender, facial shape, body temperature, and clothing. Comparing this data with over 10,000 profiles, the machine dispenses the beverage market research suggests is most popular for people with a similar age and gender. For instance, the vending machine would dispense a sweeter tasting soda to a woman in her early 20s than a woman in her late 30s. The vending machine also knows the weather and temperature in each station to adjust its recommendations accordingly.
7) Good times. All that market research also suggests that men are interested in a little extra kick late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. Not so much for work, but for some extra curricular activities with the OL (office lady). As a result, some vending machines provide for the purchase of condoms and energy drinks all in one package. These machines are turned on only from 8pm to 4am.
8) Eggs. But what if you want a killer omelette after being out at the club or karaoke bar all night with that OL? Thankfully there’s a vending machine to solve that crisis. Egg vending machines are becoming increasingly popular in Kyoto and Osaka. Stop by, grab a dozen, and save the day at your next brunch.
9) Sushi…socks. Sushi vending machines are old news. They have been around for almost forty years. However, there are times you want to be thinking about sushi without eating some. Sure, you could rock a sushi phone case but you’re a fashion trendsetter. What better way to demonstrate this than by running to the vending machine to purchase some socks that look like sushi rolls? These are usually purchased by tourists in need of foot covering before they enter a restaurant or hotel. You can never have enough pairs of clean socks when visiting Japan!
10) Puppies. The Roppongi district in Tokyo is well known for its nightlife and wealthy residents. For those upper class parents who forgot their child’s birthday or cheated on their spouse, there is a vending machine available to help. What says ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m sorry’ better than a puppy? Lots of things, but when you have a puppy vending machine in the subway station near your condo, you make the best of it. Most of these vending machines have been shut down due to the health and safety concerns of the dogs, but a few remain operational.
Bonus: Used school girl panties. The urban myths about these vending machines have circulated the globe since the 1960s. While there are certainly vending machines that sell packaged girls’ underwear in bags stating ‘used’, they’re no longer actually used. Ever since the country was selected as host for the 2020 Olympic Games, law enforcement officials have cracked down. Now, if school girls want to sell their used panties, or bodily fluids, they need to provide an ID showing they’re older than 18 and no longer enrolled in high school. Sex shops discretely sell the panties under the counter, but most underwear entrepreneurs now sell online.