If you have lived in Japan for a long time, you may suddenly find yourself in trouble when you go abroad. You’re thirsty, and you’re looking around for a cold drink, but you can’t find a shop. What should you do? Well, in Japan, vending machines are a great help in such situations. If you look around for a while, you can find a vending machine in most places where people live. There are about 2.4 million vending machines, and that’s just for drinks. So you don’t have to worry too much about getting a drink when you are out of home in Japan.

If you include vending machines that sell other goods and services, there are about 4.1 million vending machines in Japan (JVMA, end of 2019). The United States is the world’s largest country in terms of the number of vending machines, with an estimated 7 million. However, when the population is taken into account, Japan has one vending machine for every 31 people, while the US has one for about every 47 people, giving Japan the highest penetration rate per capita in the world.

Vending machines are so widespread that they have become an integral part of people’s daily lives. Some of them even sell amazing and unique things. Here is a look at the vending machines in Japan.

What are vending machines in Japan?

In the Japanese industry, a vending machine is defined as “a device that automatically sells goods or provides services by inserting currency or using alternative forms of currency (*1).” Alternatives to currency mean electronic money and credit cards etc. Recently, more and more vending machines allow you to buy things without cash in Japan.

“Goods” for sale include beverages, foods, cigarettes and household goods, as well as passenger tickets and meal tickets. “Services” include those that provide places, such as lockers, as well as rental machines, such as golf ball lenders, and also currency exchange and payment machines. Bank ATMs, arcade entertainment machines and station ticket gates are not included in the definition.

The total sales from vending machines in Japan amounted to 4.7 trillion yen in 2016 (JVMA). (about RM180 billion, RM1=JPY26)

What is the history?

The world’s first vending machine was in Alexandria, ancient Egypt, in the 3rd century BC, selling holy water.

In Japan, Syuzo ONO invented and patented the first vending machine in 1890. Six months later, Takashichi TAWARAYA also got a patent for a vending machine that sold tobacco and other products. The oldest surviving vending machine is the one made by TAWARAYA in 1904 to sell stamps and postcards.

Vending machines began to develop in this way. After the turmoil of the war, one of the things that triggered the development of vending machines was the issuance of the new 10 yen bronze coin in 1953. The introduction of railway ticket vending machines to accept this coin, and those that offered to buy cold juice in a paper cup for 10 yen, became very popular.

In the 1960s, the Coca-Cola Company and other companies began selling soft drinks in glass bottles, and the 1970s saw the introduction of prevailing vending machines for canned beverages. Further development came in 1976 when a vending machine appeared capable of handling both cold and warm drinks in one device. This vending machine contributed significantly to the spread of vending machines in Japan, where there is a large difference in temperature between the four seasons. Vending machines continued to develop and enjoyed steady growth throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

During this period, of course, the vending machine industry had to face various problems and dealt with them.

In addition, with the growing interest in environmental issues, efforts have been made to improve ref rigerants and promote energy and resource conservation. To further harmonise with society, efforts are also being made to provide free drinks in the event of a disaster, adopt the universal design, and make vending machines more landscape- friendly etc. The story of today’s vending machines is the result of these efforts.

References and Sources:
*1 “Introduction to Vending Machines” by Takashi KUROSAKI, 2016, THE JAPAN FOOD JOURNAL Co., LTD.

*2 “Cultural History of Vending Machines” by Tsutomu WASHIZU, 2003, SHUEISHA SHINSHO

Why in Japan?

What are the reasons why vending machines have become so popular in Japan? There are many factors, as follows.

– Security (many vending machines can be located outside)
– Peoplelikeconvenience(24-hourshopping)
– Mass circulation of coins (cooperation between the currency-issuing authorities and the vending machine industry)
– The introduction of ticket vending machines on the railways (the public’s familiarity with vending machines)
– Industrial capacity (the development of hot and cold vending machines, energy- saving vending machines etc.)
– Unique management and operation forms (such as beverage manufacturers renting out vending machines to shops)
– The influence of American culture
– People’s love of machines and their comfort with robots (possibly due to the influence of robot animation?)

The vending machine of the future

The Japanese vending machine industry has been developing steadily for some time, but the situation has gradually changed over the past decade or so. One of the main reasons for this has been increased competition from convenience stores. It led to a sharp decline in the use of cigarette vending machines in 2008 when age verification cards became required to purchase cigarettes to prevent underage smoking. The shift of cigarette buyers to 24- hourconveniencestores,wheretheybecame buying beverages with it, has also impacted the loss of vending machine customers.

What will the future of vending machines look like? Surely they will not only be convenient, but they will also be more in harmony with society, the environment and the local community than ever before.

Here are some pictures of vending machines found in train stations, airports, and the city. Of course, you will find many more vending machines selling a wide variety of things. Some items require permission, but you can sell anything that fits in the machine and lasts for days.

Cigarette vending machine with age verification function. You can only buy cigarettes if you have a pre- registered card.

Coffee vending machines are popular for both cups and cans. For a cup of coffee, you can choose hot or cold, the amount of sugar and milk, with or without a lid.

③ This vending machine sells coronavirus antigen test kits and face masks.

④ Selling a variety of handmade models.

⑤ Here they sell engagement rings. You can get engaged 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

⑥ This is not a shrine. But if you put money in, a doll will bring you a fortune slip.

Lockers are available at most railway stations.

⑧ Some budget restaurants and chain restaurants have vending machines that sell meal tickets.

ID photo machines are very convenient.

⑩ Yaki-onigiri (grilled rice balls), takoyaki (fried octopus balls), fried chicken and potatoes…, hot snacks for the hungry.

⑪ Various ice creams.

⑫ Vending machines selling a variety of specialities from all over Japan. Almost anything can be for sales as long as it fits in this machine and has some shelf life.

Parking ticket vending machine familiar to many Malaysians too.

⑭ Vending machines not only serve as an advertising medium, but also help to illustrate the company’s philosophy and attitude.

⑮ An umbrella vending machine found at the station. It sells folding umbrellas as well as regular sized ones.

⑯ In this machine are local instant noodles from all over Japan.

⑰ Reasonably priced snacks and chocolates for when you get a bit hungry.

⑱ I would like to print out the really important photos.



Worked as a bridge engineer,
then stayed 5.5 years in Malaysia while working for a Japanese public institution. After early retirement, trying to write an English Sci-Fi novel using AI translators. Will complete it in June under the name “Rin Ato”. Maybe