Friday, April 27, 2012

Japanese Vending Machines

My cousin, Sandra, told me that the Japanese loved vending machines. She said they were everywhere, on sidewalks and down tiny alleys. Well, she was right. My kids are still hoping that in a fog of jetlag, I'll land at a U.S. airport, walk up to a Best Buy vending machine, swipe my credit card and declare, "You were so good on that flight, I'm going to buy you a Nintendo DSi." In the meantime, they got to enjoy the numerous vending machines we encountered in Japan.

Most of the machines served beverages. If you got thirsty walking down the street or standing on a train station platform, there'd surely be a machine nearby so you could quench your thirst. The one in the hallways of the Hilton Tokyo Narita Airport hotel even dispensed beer. No I.D. required.

Cigarette vending machines were also popular.  I haven't seen those in America since I was a kid. Back then, you had to pull out the lever to get it to come out. Or so I thought. I never actually bought any. In Japan, there were public smoking areas with rows of cigarette machines all along the back.

Was it coincidence that this cigarette machine
was next to an Automated External Difibrillator (AED)?

You could buy small toys in plastic bubbles, too. However, machines dispensing Nintendo DSi's were no where to be found.

She had a yen for LEGO minifigures.

But the best machines gave you food. At the Kyoto International Manga Museum Cafe, we came across a Ticket Vender. After perusing the numbered menu, you used the machine to place your order. Just insert the appropriate amount of money and push the button for the food item you want. The machine gives you back both change and a printed ticket with your order. Hand the ticket to the person at the counter and find a table. When the food is cooked and ready, a waitress brings it out to you. For drinks, entrees and side dishes for the five of us, we handed over 12 tickets.

The menu is the red-bordered page at the top right of the machine.
Push the button corresponding to the menu item you want.

The most amazing vending machine is the one that gave you HOT food. No kitchen or cook required at this one! My younger boy was feeling a bit peckish one afternoon when we came across it. Other people crowded around eager to watch, but we were the only ones willing to actually pay money to see it in action.

Come and get it while it's hot!

The menu was in Japanese, so I was glad there were pictures. It offered both Western foods like hot dogs or french fries as well as Asian foods such as fried rice or noodles. Everything was priced at 350 yen, or US$4.30. Insert your money and make your selection. A timer lights up, telling you how long to wait to have your hunger sated. My boy chose french fries which took about 90 seconds to cook. As we waited, I joked about Wallace and Gromit-worthy contraptions housed inside the machine that would peel and slice potatoes, heat the oil, fry everything up, drain it, and plate the food. Ding! The machine was done.

Yum, yum! French fries from a vending machine.

He peeled open the box to find a pile of steamy, soft, microwaved french fries. It turns out that a packet of salt was included, but we didn't discover that until the fries were consumed. Were they good? Not in my opinion. Did my boy eat it? Yes, and even had to be strong armed to part with some to share with his siblings.


  1. Regarding the cigarette vending machine: the Japanese government actually owns a 50% stake in a tobacco company, so it kind of makes sense.

  2. I particularly liked the beer vending machines, with cans ranging from really tiny to gigantic. Sometimes you just feel like a mouthful - or sometimes you have a lot of thirsty mouths and nothing less than a mini-keg will do. Either way, your local vending machine is the answer. Of course, a local store can supply the same, but putting in the money, and hearing that clanging sound as it is dispensed is just so satisfying.

  3. Love the idea of ordering fast food via machine. Maybe microwaved food would work better than soft fried. yikes :)

    1. The noodles or fried rice probably would have been better since they're supposed to be soft.


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