People tell me that you can buy anything from a vending machine in Japan. I actually hear that a lot.
While I haven’t seen “everything,” I’ve seen some crazy stuff. But that’s a whole different post. Today I want to talk about drink vending machines – and before you complain about how ‘boring’ drink vending machines are, remember what country we’re talking about. This is Japan. Japan has mastered technology, turning it into a beautiful art.
Imagine what they could do to a simple vending machine.
First things first, Japan has the highest number of vending machines per capita – with around 1 machine for every 23 people. That means for the 127 million people that live in Japan, they share exactly 5557272 vending machines. As a country with limited space, busy workdays, and people always “on the go,” it makes perfect sense.
Still think vending machines are boring? Go ahead and think that, but reserve all judgment until the end of this post.
Coolest things about Japanese Drink Vending Machines:
1. The newest ones come with a 47-inch, touch-screen that “suggest” drinks to you when you stand in front of it. I’m not joking. If you’re thirsty but you don’t know exactly what you’re thirsty for, let the machine decide. It senses your presence and then highlights a suggestion.
Unveiled by the East Japan Rail Company last year, these machines have a face-recognition sensor that evaluates customers based on projected age and gender. They also take into account the current temperature, time of day, season, and sometimes limited weather forecast.
Taking all these things into account, the machine “recognizes” your wants, and highlights what you “should” have, based on whatever people who “resembled” you bought (for example if young girls tend to like non-carbonated drinks, it might recommend a sports drink or apple juice).
Ryosuke and I had a lot of fun with these things over the summer while waiting at various train stations. We would go up to the machine, let it suggest something to each of us, and then buy whatever sounded the best, claiming “the machine loves ME the most!”
The machines usually suggested the peach flavored drinks, which only goes to show that the machine really knows its stuff.
A Japanese friend of mine told me that she often buys whatever the machine suggests. For some reason, I feel like if an American machine tried to tell me what to get, I would think it was just trying to rip me off and get rid of whatever wasn’t selling well. But when a Japanese machine tells me, it somehow doesn’t seem like a trick.
I think we put too much trust in Japanese machines.
2. You can pay with your Suica, Pasmo, or other “automatic sensor” card. If you don’t live Tokyo, this might not make sense. Suica cards are these green cards with a penguin mascot that you can load money onto and then travel seamlessly throughout the Japanese train system without buying tickets. You can’t use credit cards in most restaurants and shops in Japan, so it is nice to have some sort of “electronic wallet.”
(Two types of automatic sensors for your various cards)
In any case, in the last year, people have been able to buy food, drinks, and even groceries (only at some stores) with their Suica card.
It’s huge. I can’t explain the importance of a Suica card, so let’s just leave it at that.
3. You can use the vending machine to break a 1,000 yen bill. I know this sounds horrible, but it is true. I use a private bicycle lot that I have to pay one 100 yen coin each time I take my bike out (for more information, I wrote a post a couple months back). Sometimes I get to the gate and realize that I don’t have a 100 yen coin. So I go to a vending machine and break a 1,000 yen bill.
That being said, I don’t know if you can do this with all machines, so be careful.
4. They are on every street corner. Also, I’m not joking, remember when I told you that for every 23 people that live in Japan, there is one vending machine? Now remember how cramped Japan is.
Vending machines are everywhere.
I often stop at this one if I’m biking back from the station. It’s just sitting in the middle of an abandoned parking lot.
5. They change their temperature/stock depending on the season. One of my fondest memories of math camp (back in 2005), was that they still had cans of Coca Cola in the vending machines with “Win movie tickets to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone!” advertisements printed on them. The first Harry Potter movie came out in 2001.
I was so turned off by the fact that the Coca Cola was around five years old, that I basically missed my only chance to actually DRINK Coca Cola (I was raised in a strict no-sugary-carbonated-beverages-household). Shame on me.
But Japan is completely different. They change the drinks (and the temperate of said drinks) depending on the season.
Hot drinks are labeled with あったか～い (which is the cutesy way of saying 暖かい)
Cold drinks are labeled with つめた～い(which is the cutesy way of saying 冷たい)
And the funny thing is, I didn’t even that they had changed the temperature of the drinks until I was talking to a friend in between classes today.
“Remember during the summer how we used to crowd around the vending machines getting those really cold drinks because they wouldn’t turn on the A/C?” She said, while drinking a hot coffee. “Now it’s the exact same, only with the hot drinks.”
“Wait, hot drinks?”
I looked closer. Sure enough, instead of saying つめた～い they saidあったか～い. Oddly enough, the cans are the same type. Just some are served scalding hot while others are close to frozen. It’s the exact same can.
6. They all look different. Not only are there several companies that produce vending machines, it is common to see themed vending machines.
For example, this one is “tea” themed (the kanji for tea is written all over it).
7. What’s the coolest thing about Japanese vending machines?
Hands down, the coolest thing about Japanese vending machines is that they will be completely different in five years. Last year, being able to pay for your drinks with a Suica card was revolutionary. Six months ago, letting a machine pick the drink for you was (even more) revolutionary.
I’m going to be studying in Japan for 9 more months. I can’t wait to see what else will be developed.
You got to just love Japan and all the fun things they do with technology.
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