Vending machines are very convenient for getting some snacks or something to drink, but Japanese vending machines take them to the next level. Today, they are undergoing a remarkable evolution.
Vending machines in Japan offer more than just drinks, cold and hot, toys and unique items, and some of them are even selling fresh ingredients!
Let’s take a look into the mysterious world of Japanese vending machines.
Instant noodles and ramen
Instant noodle vending machines are produced by Nissin, which is famous for its Cup Noodles. You can often find it at the office, university and highway rest area. It also pours hot water into the instant noodles so you can get a quick meal from this vending machine.
Another unique ramen vending machine is the newly invented Noodle Tours. It started in March 2021, and immediately became popular among people who can’t go to their favorite ramen restaurant due to the pandemic. It sells 24/7, you can enjoy popular restaurant’s ramen anytime from this vending machine. Put the money and select your choice of ramen, then frozen ramen will come out. You just need to warm the soup and noodles in the hot water at home and it will be ready to eat!
It can be found at several locations throughout Japan, find the nearby location from their website here.
If you like cooking Japanese meals, dashi is absolutely essential. Dashi, which is a soup stock full of umami components, is often used in Japanese soup meals such as oden and udon. There are some different ways to make dashi, but the easiest and quickest way is to get the ready-made dashi. And surprisingly, there is a soup stock vending machine! There are two types of dashi bottles available for 700 yen each: one with grilled flying fish dashi and the other with katsuobushi, dried bonito flakes dashi. Buy a bottle of dash at the vending machines and complete your Japanese cuisine.
How about some ice creams from a vending machine to help you get through the hot Japanese summer? Ezaki Glico, a famous Japanese sweets maker, has set up ice cream vending machines called “Seventeen Ice Cream” that sells both cone and stick type ice creams, and always has 17 to 18 different kinds of ice creams on sale. Don’t underestimate the taste of ice cream from a vending machine! There are many flavors for you to select from vanilla ice cream, strawberry ice cream, and chocolate ice cream to grape sherbet, rum raisin, and caramel ribbon etc. This is the perfect vending machine to buy an ice cream for your children or to eat during the hot summer days.
Oden is one of the warm foods that Japanese people like to eat in winter. With a glass of sake in one hand and a hot bowl of oden in the other, the fatigue of the day will be gone soon. Oden is now readily available at convenience stores, but you can buy a can of oden from a vending machine. There are two types of oden cans available, one with Ganmodoki (fried bean curd) and the other with stewed beef tendon. Moreover, they come out hot when you buy them. The cans are filled with plenty of ingredients such as daikon (Japanese white radish) and konnyaku (konjac), which are soaked in the soup stock inside an oden can. The amount is enough to satisfy your taste buds. If you’re looking for a quick way to try oden, head over to this vending machine!
Finally, a vending machine has appeared that completely overturns our common sense, “vending machine = a mechanical box selling drinks or food”. In Akihabara, the holy land of manga and anime, there are many vending machines that sell anime figurines and it’s surely reflected on your eyes as a scene that is very typical of Akihabara. If you are a fan of Japanese anime and manga, why not visit?
Also, you can sometimes find these toy vending machines at JR stations in Tokyo. They sell unique and funny animal figurines, popular characters and so on.
Vending machines selling toys have increased, and at the airport, you can find specialty items from a specific area, for example, Akita Inu plush from Akita prefecture.
One thing that might give you a bit of a fright is a vending machine that sells edible insects. They sell cans filled with crickets, giant water bugs, tarantulas, and scorpions. Seems that most of them are fried, but they would still take courage from you to buy and eat them.
It’s not really common to eat insects as a snack even for Japanese, so the majority of people would react the same as you do. But if you come to Japan and come across an insect food vending machine, it’s fun to try them if you are curious and have enough courage!
In Japan, drinking alcohol is allowed in public places, and there are large parties on the streets with people drinking while looking at the cherry blossoms in the park during the cherry blossom viewing season. Japan, a paradise for drinking, is also famous for its alcohol vending machines. You can find anything from beer cans to sake bottles there. But of course, you can’t buy alcohol from the vending machines without your driver’s license or ID card. Scanning ID card is required before you purchase and this is a system in order to prevent minors from easily buying alcohol.
Tobacco is also sold from vending machines, and there are always dozens of different types of tobacco. Tobacco is often sold at convenience stores, but if you have a tobacco vending machine nearby, you can easily buy it there too. To buy a tobacco box from a vending machine, you need a “Taspo” identification card. After submitting your photo and age verification documents at a convenience store or on the official Taspo website, your Taspo card will be sent to your home by mail. This is a safe and secure system, as minors are not allowed to buy tobacco in Japan.
Even bread is sold in vending machines. Mostly sweet breads are on sale, for example, melonpan and donuts, as the main products. They are popular among students and parents with children, and it’s a good ally for people who get a little hungry.
Would you like to try a sweet treat easily from a vending machine? In Japan, crepes, a French-born sweet, are quite popular and you can buy them at a vending machine. Only the names of the main ingredients and toppings are written on the display of the vending machine and when you buy it, you can get a well-wrapped crepe. The flavors vary from the standard chocolate banana to rare cheese and caramel etc. They are also inexpensive, ranging from 150 yen to 300 yen.
Souvenirs for Tokyo Olympics
Did you watch the Tokyo Olympics 2020 on TV this year? It was a sporting event filled with joy and chagrin, as some athletes from your country won medals, and others came very close to not winning. Unfortunately, this year’s event was held without spectators due to rampant COVID-19, but surely the athletes’ performances impressed everyone.
The vending machines that sold souvenirs of the Tokyo Olympics seem to be particularly popular with foreign sports journalists. A common problem when buying souvenirs overseas is that you don’t know what the product is because of the language barrier. However, with this vending machine, you can select an English or Japanese description and buy the product you want with just a few taps of a button. The local press seemed to like it because it was not dense around the vending machine and easy to operate. It is unclear whether this vending machine will continue to be installed after the Tokyo Olympics.
Powder tea (Chabako)
From Shizuoka, the center of tea production, Chabako, the tea powder in a tobacco box spreads throughout Japan and there are over 60 locations where you can buy it. From far, it looks like a tobacco vending machine, but when you take a close look at it, they are cute tea boxes! Some places offer the local original designs, so it will make a great souvenir to bring back home too.
Monjayaki is a local specialty that is popular in Tokyo, which is similar to Okonomiyaki but rather runny and looks like melting cheese. Usually it can be enjoyed at the restaurant or at home, but recently a vending machine that sells ingredients of monjayaki newly opened at Tsukishima Monja Street. The machine runs 24/7, so you can get the ingredients anytime and make some delicious monjayaki which tastes just like the restaurant’s. It comes out frozen, but not to worry, there’s even a Youtube video to explain how to cook it properly. (watch Youtube) The price range is about 1,300 to 1,500 yen.
It’s a great set of ingredients for beginners as well.
Tsukiji is a famous fish market in Tokyo which is the center of culinary culture of Tokyo, where wholesalers, small retails and restaurants are gathered. In Tsukiji, there’s even a vending machine selling fresh seafood that is newly opened this year! These seafood will come out frozen like the other prepared food we introduced above, and you just have to microwave them before you eat. This vending machine can be found in front of the seafood restaurant named Hokkai Banya.
Lately, the weirdest of all the vending machines, let us introduce the rifle vending machine. You can find it in front of the game meat restaurant KEMONO in Osaka.
It’s actually not sold and just on the display, but it surely stands out with the rifle and bullets to get some attention from passersby.
Vending machines in Japan sell not only drinks, but also food, sweets, even figurines and goods. As Japan’s mechanical technology advances, it may be possible to sell products that could not be sold through vending machines in the future. Did you find a vending machine that you would like to try?
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Mao Goto is a Japanese freelancer who was born in Hayama, Kanagawa prefecture, and raised in Tokyo. Since 2016 she lives in the Taito Ward, home to a lot of Japanese culture hotspots such as Asakusa, Akihabara, and Ueno. She has been interested in the field of English education of Japan and got her Master’s degree in March, 2020. A lover of photography, travel, sweets, and cross-stitch. Contact her via Facebook.
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