Saturday, January 15, 2011

SpyShopper--Vending Machines

Per a reader request, I'm starting a series on The Vending Machines of Japan.  I know that sounds like a coffee table book, but bear with me--I have been fascinated by vending machines here since the day arrived.  Literally.  I distinctly remember my first encounter with a vending machine at Narita.  I was exhausted, just arrived, thirsty.  Scanning the arrivals lounge, I spied a machine.  Unfamiliar cans and plastic bottles, except for the Coke, and a great many more choices than I'd ever seen in a machine.  I was thirsty, so I didn't want Coke....but what?  I couldn't read.  Anything.  For the first time since age (4? 5?), I was completely illiterate--an odd feeling.

I hadn't any idea what to choose, so I simply chose a can with the prettiest picture on it, put in some money, and picked up the can.

Which I promptly dropped.  Hot!  A hot can out of a machine.   Pulling my hand into the long sleeve of my shirt, I picked up the can again, opened it, and took a sip.  Tea.  Not black--some sort of green tea.  Good--and warm.

Looking again at the machine, I noticed what I (in my jet-lagged state) hadn't before--that some of the prices had a blue background, and some were red.  The tea I had chosen had its price listed on a red background--hot.  Cold and hot.  Now that I can read, I can see that it says right there "つめたーい" (tsumeta-i) and "あったかーい" (attaka-i), cold and hot, respectively.

L to R: pure green tea, royal milk tea, straight tea, lemon drink, soda, vitamin drink

At the time, I was astounded by the variety of drinks to be found in vending machines--machines that are *everywhere*.  Sometimes every few feet.  They contained 4 or 5 or more types of tea, an equal number of coffees, juice, sports drinks, yogurt drinks, vitamin drinks, and very little in the way of sweet carbonated drinks.

click on images to enlarge
Top row--mix juice, peach/mango soda, coffee,hot green tea, hot lemon tea, hot cocoa, hot milk and coffee.

Bottom row--hot cafe au lait, hot blend coffee, hot different blend coffee, hot another blend coffee, hot sugarless coffee, hot different milk tea.

And the next machine up the road will have a different offering.

The problem with having bounteous vending machines all around, is that when I go home, I'm *shocked* by the lack of variety in American machines. The machine above is a Coke machine--see all the tea and coffee?  You could picket Coca-Cola offices and demand that they put into US vending machines all the good tea and coffee they've developed in Japan.   "Non-carb drinks" they're called.  They're so much better for you:-))
Click on that photo up there--the tea (in a pet bottle in this case)  on the top row, all the way to the right, is So-Ken-Bi-Cha, the tea in the hot can with the pretty picture I had the day I arrived.  My goodness, I love vending machines in Japan!

Mata Asobou, ne!


  1. It's a wonder that this idea hasn't caught on here yet, and by here I mean in the arctic midwest. Having been averaging about 10 below Fahrenheit and I can't imagine icy cans of coke and Pepsi are flying out of the vending machines.

    I think one of our problems it that since we as a nation damn near refuse to walk anywhere, most sales opportunities tend to be places where cars go. When I refer to an American convenience store, it's always a gas station. There are no other types in this state. Therefore vending machines are less popular than the large aggregates of items we combine with the sale of gasoline and call a convenience store which always as a clerk.

    And of course as Americans, we must view all change as evil and resist its communist clutches. Can't be polluting our precious bodily fluids, now can we?

    I do have to wonder how they get it hot. I would think that keeping it hot the entire time would be very detrimental to the taste, heat breaking down most things. How do they do it? Is there some massive blowtorch inside heating up the can's contents quickly? When you insert your money can you hear the dull hum of the reactor core? Gnomes? Elves? Microwave emitting hobbits? Do tell!

  2. Exactly--once I could get warm stuff out of a machine, I couldn't understand why they only put cold stuff in American machines. It's not like they don't know about it--that machine in the bottom photo is a Coke machine. And the one next to it was a Pepsi machine. Coke, Japan,ltd., makes several kinds of tea and coffee for the Japanese market. I don't understand why they don't introduce those products into the US market.

    And you're right--it is partly due to most people walking or bicycling (or taking the bus, then walking). America is a car society--you can hardly get anywhere without one. I don't get why they don't make American cities more bicycle/bus friendly (to its credit--Portland, OR, is such a city!).

    How do they get it hot? Well, I know there are separate storage compartments inside the machine (hot/cold). It must use some type of electric heating element to keep the compartment at a certain temp, which then heats up the cans/pet bottles. The fluid stays warm partly because the can is warm. Of course, it's not a sublime coffee experience--but when you're out walking on a cold day, it's plenty good enough, and the can warms up your hands. Everything doesn't have to be frothy with whipped cream and sprinkles ;-)) Sometimes, after all that Starbucks stuff, a simple paper cup of Dunkin' Donughts coffee tastes pretty good. am I right?

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