It is estimated there is a vending machine of some variety for every 20 people in Japan. With Japan’s population in excess of 127 million people, there must be some 5 million vending machines in the country.
This figure might be hard to believe, until you step foot in Japan. There are vending machines for virtually everything, from the expected soft drink, ticket and food machines to the unusual machines which sell underwear or stuffed toy animals. Many of the drink machines provide both hot and cold beverages, and they are fairly cheap in contrast to drink prices around the world with as little as 100 to 150 yen being required to purchase most drinks. Ice tea, fruit juice and flavoured water are just as popular as soft drinks like Coke in Japan.
Something you would never see in most countries is a vending machine that sells liquor or cigarettes in main streets and lane ways. In Japan, it is relatively easy to put a few yen in a coin slot and grab a tasty cold beer or a packet of smokes. There doesn’t seem to be any at least visible problems associated with unrestricted access, you never see young people in the street using the machine (although an id card system has been introduced, there still are many machines about without id readers).
Strangely there are remarkably few ATMs and virtually no chocolate machines, but there are lots of ice cream vending machines.
Small electrical items like disposable cameras, memory sticks and music are relatively plentiful, as are the plastic bubbles with small toys in them. Dozens of these machines are usually grouped together with all the favourite Japanese characters from Hello Kitty to Magna characters. Most vending machines accept both coins and smaller notes.
Even the temples have got in on the act, you can buy Omikuki, which is a fortune telling slip of paper from a vending machines in many shrines.
Some restaurant chains have even taken vending machines to a new level with an innovative ordering system. Out the front of the store stands a vending machine, where you select your meal and pay with coins. The machine spits out a ticket which you give to the waiter who prepares your food. These restaurants (known as a gyudon cafe) are quite popular, cheap and usually offer tasty food.
The claw crane vending machines are also extremely popular. Here, mobile phones, watches or toys can be won. There is even a claw machine which give the players a chance to catch a live crayfish in the northern towns of Sapporo.