Vending Machines in Japan

Discovering Vending Machines in Japan

Perfect Days, the movie, inspired me to check out vending machines in Japan. In the movie, the protagonist leaves his Tokyo home each morning and buys himself a can of coffee from a vending machine. I often drink from a can, some bought from vending machines. But I’ve drunk coffee from a can. I wondered what the coffee was like. And was it hot?

What can you buy in vending machines in Japan?

Vending machines are a thing in Japan. By inserting a coin and pressing a button or pulling a lever, you can buy almost anything from fresh bananas to bunches of flowers, hot meals and cool beer.

Vending Machines in Japan
Animation characters
Vending Machines in Japan
Flavoured Rice Crackers

Always on the lookout for weird or different things when I travel, I sought out vending machines when in Japan recently. My first encounter with a vending machine was outside Aoyama Cemetery.

Aoyama Cemetery

Cemeteries aren’t only cities of the dead. They offer a quiet space for meditation and other recreational activities. In Aoyama Cemetery I watched as a man practiced his golf swing. A young woman chatted animatedly on her phone while her little dog sniffed and scratched around the gravestones. Another man sat on a bench trying his hand at watercolour painting.

Aoyama Cemetery
Practicing Golf in Aoyama Cemetery
Aoyama Cemetery
There’s a cat in that shelter

The cat sitting on a blanket under an upturned plastic box, sheltered by an open blue umbrella, pulled at my heartstrings. Someone had placed a bowl of water and another of food nearby. A handwritten sign instructed people how to secure the blanket, so that the crows did not remove it.

My first experience of a vending machine in Japan

Leaving the cemetery, I came across a vending machine that offered soft drinks, and cans of coffee, probably much like the ones the chap in Perfect Days bought each morning. The colour of the price tickets told me what I wanted to know. Blue meant cold and red, hot. At little more than AU$1, the cans were surprisingly inexpensive.

Leaving the cemetery, I came across a vending machine that offered soft drinks, and cans of coffee, probably much like the ones the chap in Perfect Days bought each morning. The colour of the price tickets told me what I wanted to know. Blue meant cold and red, hot. At little more than AU$1, the cans were surprisingly inexpensive.

A drink Vending Machine in Japan
Buying Coffee from a Vending Machine in Japan
Coffee from a Vending Machine in Japan
Coffee in a Can or a Plastic Bottle

Keen to try them out, my partner and I each bought a different brand. Mine was hot, black and overly strong. I poured it out under a nearby tree. His was white and very sweet and ended up in the gutter. We are obviously Aussie coffee snobs.

Other Vending Machines

Besides coffee, I found vending machines selling hot meals (they may have been frozen), sweet potato and frozen miso potato, and even kimchi. It was “Best stored in a fridge and consumed within a week,” according to the instructions.

Vending Machines in Akihabara

Having read about an area variously called the “creepy vending machine corner” or the “weird vending machine corner,” I set out to find it in the Tokyo suburb of Akihabara.

Vending Machine outside Akihabara Station
Akihabara Stand
Crepes from a Vending Machine
Crepes Anyone?

Just outside the metro station, I found an interesting row of vending machines called the Akihabara Stand.

Buying a crepe from a vending machine

The collection of vending machines in Akihabara Stand included The King’s Treasure Box (according to the camera feature of Google Translate). It sold lucky dips, mostly cheap toys and gadgets. As they didn’t appeal, I bought a strawberry cream filled crepe from the machine next to it instead.

Buying a crepe from a Vending Machine in Japan
Frozen Crepe

I eagerly opened the slot to retrieve my crepe, only to be disappointed. The crepe, sealed in a plastic wrapper, was frozen solid.

For the next half hour, as we explored Akihabara, I held the crepe ‘log’ in my hand, trying to defrost it with the warmth of my hand. The excitement – I’m a bit strange, I know – of buying a crepe from a vending machine quickly abated. I gave up and opened the plastic wrapper to be faced with a bland looking cold crepe filled with an icy creamy strawberry filling.

Oh well, next time, I’ll know. But there’s not likely to be a next time.

The Creepy Vending Machine Corner

On the ground floor corner of a rather dilapidated looking block of flats, around fifteen vending machines made up what has been described as the weird or creepy vending machine corner. Some of the machines were sparkling white, others grimy with age. Padlocked metal chains encircled the machines. Dust balls gathered in dark corners.

Vending Machine Corner in Akihabara
Vending Machine Corner

The machines offered all sorts of weird and wonderful products. Key rings, plastic bugs, yellow rubber balls the size of tennis balls and a zippo lighter. White paper covered in Japanese characters wrapped ‘Lucky dip’ boxes. Translated, the words read like a political rant about anything and everything from climate change to what’s happening in Ukraine and Gaza.  

While we’re there, a man checked the change slots with a stick. He was out of luck.

Popcorn and a can of bread from a vending machine

Not interested in the tat, I decided to try the popcorn machine. A handwritten sign on the non-functioning popcorn machine streetside directed me inside. That meant squeezing between 2 machines into a narrow passage at the end of which was a newer popcorn machine. The area looked abandoned.  

Weird vending machine corner in Tokyo
Vending Machine Corner in Akihabara
Weird vending Machine corner in Tokyo
Arrow points to the working Popcorn Machine

Putting my coins into the machine, I was sure that I was wasting my time and money. Then, surprise, surprise, the facade lit up and a buttery smell permeated the air. Then a familiar popping sound filled the small dingy space. I retrieved a rather small cup of hot popcorn from the tray.

Spooky vending machine corner in Tokyo
Cans of Bread and lucky dips wrapped in white paper
What you can get from a vending machine
A Can of ‘Bread’

Not able to help myself, I also bought what was described as a can of bread. Back at our hotel, I opened the can to reveal something a bit like a stale chocolate chip muffin. The use by date: 2028.

Finding an Insect Vending Machine

Having eaten crickets and tarantulas in Cambodia, I was excited to read that a vending machine in Tokyo sold edible insects. It was supposed to be in the basement of an department store in Shibuya.

With some difficulty (Google maps gets confused when surrounded by multiple high rise buildings), I found the department store and took the lift down to the basement. There people lined up for lunch at popular restaurants or sat at counters eating tempura or ramen.

After walking around the maze-like passageways between the many eateries, I finally found the capsule vending machine selling insects. I put my money in, pulled the lever and was rewarded with a black plastic capsule.

Insect vending machine in Tokyo
I finally opened the capsule
Bugs from a vending machine
Fried Crickets are Tasty

There’s a technique to opening capsules. It took me some time to figure the technique out. Finally I popped the capsule open and a packet of about five fried crickets fell out. I tried one. It was crunchy and salty. I finished the packet.

Discovering vending machines

Looking for various vending machines in Tokyo was a fun way to explore Japan. I walked through areas that I may not have visited and found all sorts of weird and wonderful products sold in vending machines.

Vending machines selling bunches of flowers
Flowers anyone?
Sandwiches from a vending machine in Tokyo
Sandwich, cookie or onigiri?

Comments

  1. I love your blog posts – and your writing. So I’m in the “keep on blogging” camp. However, I get that you may feel like a change- perhaps reverting to a newsletter? Whatever you decide I still want to read what you have written!

    1. Author

      Thanks Erica. It’s comments like yours that make me keep going!

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