It is not uncommon to see rows of several vending machines when walking around Japan. Vending machines may be considered proof of good public safety in Japan, because they operate 24/7 without anyone ever trying to steal their products or the cash inside. The most popular machines are the ones which sells drinks, but vending machines also sell food, tickets, bathroom tissue, etc. You might think this is strange if vending machines are uncommon in your country. For Japanese people, it is bothersome to go all the way to a store to get just one drink, especially when they are in hurry. Moreover, vending machines are good for companies because they can sell their products directly, saving costs when you consider that stores and their employees act as middlemen.
Here are the 4 most popular types of vending machines.
Beverages: The “Vending Machines”
You see beverage vending machines everywhere in Japan. They have several kinds of canned and bottled beverages: coffee, tea, soda, juice, etc. However, these products are set based on sales data and the season, so the lineup is occasionally updated. But don’t worry, the dummy cans/bottles are displayed in front of the machine, so you can compare and choose your drinks easily.
Meanwhile, you might be surprised at the picture above because cold beverages and hot beverages are set in the same vending machine, which means a vending machine can serve both hot and cold drinks (coffee, in particular). This hot and cold vending machine contains thermal insulation material to store multiple beverages with different temperatures. Many vending machines sell only cold drinks in the summer, but hot ones start to be sold at the end of summer (this period depends on the proprietor of the machine). The machine is basically placed where people often gather: stations, in front of supermarkets, bus stops, etc. However some are also set in the country side, where you can find only a small number of supermarkets or convenience stores, so that people living there can access food and drinks anytime. Also, some machines serve their products for free when natural disasters hit the area.
Non-essentials: Can you Believe It?
It might be hard to believe for non-Japanese people, but alcohol and cigarettes are also sold at vending machines. These machines are set in front of supermarkets, liquor shops, etc., and they are also freely accessible 24/7.
This has led to the concern that children and the under aged might also try to buy these products. In fact, children used to go out and pick up alcoholic drinks for their parents (the writer used to do it as well). Though many of these vending machines are self-regulating and stop operating from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., it is not enough to prevent underage purchase and use. As a result, many people think that this machine should be completely removed from streets.
In order to improve the situation, recently existing machines are being replaced with new ones called age-verification vending machines. In particular, a separate age-verification card called “typo” has been invented for cigarette purchasing from these vending machines. Buyers can also use the card as electronic money while purchasing. However, this special card is only for cigarette purchasing. There still isn’t any designated card for alcohol machines. Also, the card is just an age verification tool; you cannot use it as ID.
Check out this page for more detail: www.taspo.jp/english/index.html.
Snacks: Grab a Light Meal at the Vending Machine
You might think that Japanese people don’t like to communicate with other people because we can just get some snacks at these vending machines! You can see them at service areas on the expressway, in the ferry, etc., replacing cafeterias and serving people who want to have a meal quickly. They usually sell light meals like musubi, noodles, hotdogs, hamburgers, etc. However the machines set in long-distance ferries also serve miso soup, rice, and some entrees such as frozen food if there is no dining area available on the boat. Therefore, there are some special restaurants nationwide, referred to as “auto restaurant” or “coin snack”, which are operated by vending machines alone, and, are of course open for 24 hours a day. These restaurants are located on national driving routes and are frequently used by long-distance truck drivers. The lineup contains noodles, curry, rice, gum, etc., and amazingly, the foods are made automatically. Unfortunately, due to the increase of CVS, fast food restaurants, etc., the number of these restaurant has been decreasing sharply lately, so if you have the chance, try it soon!
Another popular type of snack vending machine is the ones that sell ice cream. The products displayed here are varieties developed specifically to be sold at vending machines. Because they come on the stick, you can eat the products without a spoon, and it is good for dessert while you are out and about and craving for something sweet.
Newspapers: A Must for Japanese Businessmen
Have you seen all the businessmen reading newspapers on the train? Japanese people even get newspapers at the vending machine. This one is not as uncommon because you can also see newspaper vending machines outside of Japan. These foreign machines are placed by each newspaper company, so you can see several different newspaper vending machines on the road. In Japan, however, they are operated by newspaper distributors, which means that several newspapers are sold in the same machine, and you have options ranging from the general news to a sports paper, whichever suits your fancy. The machines are often set at train stations.
Because sports papers are issued every day (except January 2nd of each year), you can read sports papers even when it is a general newspaper holiday. It is called the special edition and is issued mainly for businessmen.
You might find it odd because businessmen often subscribe to newspapers from home that they finish before leaving or take with them. However, these newspapers at the vending machines are different from those to which they or their office normally subscribe (especially sport or financial papers). Even though the news is also available at the CVS or in its electronic edition, the demand for physical newspapers is still very strong in Japan. Perhaps some of them need sports papers to check the game results of the team they like, or perhaps they just want to secretly buy some betting tickets for horse racing, etc.