Thursday, January 20, 2011

SpyShopper--Vending Machines for Vices




When I arrived in Japan (many moons ago now), I was astounded, just astounded, to see vending machines...with cigarettes in them.  Not that I thought that cigarette machines didn't exist--no, I'm old enough to remember them in America (and as for how long ago *that* was, I haven't sufficient fingers and toes to work that out).

Be that as it may, I certainly recall those old, dark brown, somewhat squat, rectangular machines with the single row of pull-handles.  My parents still smoked (as did everybody else back in the late Cretaceous), and I'm pretty sure the reason I remember the pull-handles is because I was allowed to pull them after my dad had put the money in.  Of course, by the time I arrived in Japan in 1997, these sorts of machines had gone extinct in America--so I was surprised to discover a residual population of them in Japan.  The populations appear to have interbred at some point--note the Marlboros and the Winstons;-))

Vendingium japonica

...And then there are these unusual specimens, which are (to the best of my knowledge) endemic to Japan.  I've certainly never seen a vending machine with beer in it--not even in Germany, though the cup sake on the right immediately pegs this one as a Japanese cultivar...

The Age of Adulthood in Japan is 20--in fact every January (around the 15th) is the Coming of Age ceremony for all young adults who will turn 20 during that year.  These secular ceremonies are held all over Japan, and are a fairly big deal.  Girls get *really* dressed up in elaborate silk kimono (no photo--if they still have some in the kimono shop in Daiei, I'l  take a picture today and post it) with long sleeves for unmarried women, fur stoles and muffs, hand-stitched bags, and such.  They get up at 3 or 4 in the morning to go get their hair specially done for this (at least, according to my daughter's kindergarten teacher they do.  That's what time *she* got up).  Upon attaining the age of 20, the new adults may legally vote, and purchase alcohol and tobacco.  I knew that 20 was the drinking and smoking age even before I knew about the Coming of Age ceremonies, because all cigarette and alcohol vending machines come helpfully labeled with these:

Ooooh--the sign says we can't buy these until we're twenty!  Right, guess we'll just have to wait then....

Seriously?  "Underage smoking is prohibited by law", according to the helpful sticker there, plastered importantly across the bottom of the machine.  I was, and am, mystified by the existence of these machines.  In supermarkets, the situation is even more bizarre (if that's possible).

Every time I go to Daiei (the closest supermarket, around the corner), I am struck anew by the fact that there are cigarettes for sale in locked plexiglass cases in front of several of the registers, and a cigarette vending machine less than ten feet away on the other side of the registers....

Honestly--anyone else reading this who has spent time in Japan, if you know the reason for this, *do* let me know.  This sort of thing keeps me awake at night--and lord knows that sleeping in a room on futons with three kids rolling over me all night, I get little enough of that.  I'd be much obliged to anyone who could put this particular conundrum to rest:-))

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