For Love of the Japanese Vending Machine

During my research trip to Japan last summer, I fell in love with vending machines.

No matter where you go in Japan, you’re likely to find an assortment of large, well-lit machines selling everything from beverages to toys…and I do mean everything.

We even saw one selling ladies’ underwear. On a public street. (And NOT in a questionable district.) 

It’s difficult to walk a block in Japan without passing a vending machine–or two, since they usually seem to appear in pairs–and every train or subway station platform has at least one set.

16A03 Vending Machine

The drink selection in vending machines depends on the company that owns and stocks them. Asahi–which also produces beer–is one of the most popular beverage companies in Japan, and its drink machines will normally include bottled water (sparkling as well as still, and sometimes flavored waters, too), “milk” soda (don’t ask. you don’t want to know.), lemonade, orange juice, and coffee (cold, and available black or as “latte”–normally sweetened).

15A03 Vending Machine

Vending machines normally also feature at least one soda. Most have Coca-Cola (regular–and less commonly, diet), but I was more fond of the ones that included Japanese sodas. Don’t get me wrong, I love a Coke in any weather, but when traveling, I tend to favor the options I can’t pick up any time at the corner store.

I discovered a new favorite soda in the vending machines at Tenryuji (I did say they were everywhere…): Asahi “Special Plum.”

It comes in a lightweight aluminum can with a screw-off cap, like many Japanese drinks. Unlike the U.S. market, which features pop-top cans, the Japanese generally like the ability to re-seal the beverage, so you don’t have to consume it all in a single sitting. It tastes like…well, it tastes like plum. Fruity, but not overly sweet, and clear, with nice effervescence. (Opaque aluminum cans eliminate the need for artificial colors.)

16A03 Plum Soda

Another fun vending machine, which you see almost as often as drink machines, are  “gacha” or “gashapon” machines. Gacha machines dispense a capsule containing one of a set of prizes, figures, or little toys. The entire set is normally displayed on the front of the machine, and the capsule contains a random toy or figure from the set.

You sometimes see similar machines at grocery stores in the United States, but the Japanese gacha machines are far more common and offer a much wider range of toys and prizes. Also, Japanese adults use gacha machines and collect the figures, too. In Japan, they aren’t considered just for kids.

Some gacha machines feature characters from popular anime programs or manga series, while others feature cartoon characters or characters from video games (this little guy is from Puzzles & Dragons, a popular Japanese app-based video game…which I also happen to play.)

16A03 Gashapon

Other gacha machines have random, sometimes silly items…like “drink bottle panties.” Which are precisely what they claim–panties for your water bottle to wear:

16A03 Bottle panties

And yes, I bought them from a gacha machine. I had to be able to prove they truly exist.

Whether they’re selling beverages, ice cream snacks, or bottle panties, vending machines are a way of life in Japan. Every corner, mall, and station has at least a couple. I even saw one for cheap, disposable umbrellas–useful in a place where rain is common but often doesn’t last all day.

I miss a lot of things about Japan, but I have to admit, the vending machines are high on the list. The convenience of having a drink available anywhere and any time (along with a recycle bin for the bottles) is hard to beat.

And, frankly, there isn’t any good place to buy water bottle panties when you need them.

Have you been to Japan? If so, what do you think about Japanese vending machines? If not…would you buy water bottle panties–or anything else unusual–from a machine? 

2 thoughts on “For Love of the Japanese Vending Machine

  • January 5, 2016 at 6:29 am

    bottle panties? And I thought American consumerism was bad. I would never believe it had you not posted a pic.

    • January 6, 2016 at 6:46 pm

      That’s why I posted the photo. It’s not the type of thing I’d believe, either!

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