Anyone who lives in a town or city is used to the sight of the odd vending machine. As a convenience they have no equal – at least when they work or have not run out of the product they are supposed to sell. Yet where most countries have vending machines for a limited range of goods the Japanese have taken it to extremes. Japan truly is the country of vending machines and some of the items you can get from them might surprise you.
Who needs people to sell meat and vegetables when a machine will do just as well? Here a variety of green things are on sale to those who wish to purchase. To many people in the rest of the world this would seem like quite an odd idea – those who like to have a good squeeze of their veggies before buying them would have to break the glass first.
Eggs from a machine? It sounds like something that Wallace and Grommit might come up with, complete with cogs and gears and lots of broken eggs. Fortunately for the buyer, once the coins are inserted you are able to open the door and retrieve your eggs. How, though, do the next eggs arrive in their place? Whirr, crack, whirr, crack!
Before we go on to our next vending machines with specific items inside, the reason why these niche machines are able to flourish is because in Japan the vending machine is everywhere. Their ubiquity might disturb a little but there is a market for the goods, obviously.
Forgotten your kid's birthday? These little stuffed animals and other toys are about 5000-10000 yen apiece (that's about US$70-120, and this simply gigantic vending machine might indicate that perhaps it happens more than you would like to think. Feed in your money, open up the mini-fridge-sized compartment, and pull out your plush toy.
Even the Japanese arm of Disney gets in on the act, with some unfortunate lost in translation results. What was intended to be a hybrid of French and American consumer sophistication, this petit mall (a little mall)comes over to English speakers as more reminiscent of an absence seizure (a petit mal) tan anything to do with Winnie the Pooh.
After a hard day at the office there is often the urgent need for a drink. A strong drink. But what happens when there is no time to go to the local bar? Why, just drop your yen in to this machine and you will get a can of beer (or five) in return. Perhaps the youth of Japan are to be more trusted than that of other nations. If this were placed in the UK, it would be emptied by hordes of under-aged drinkers in no time at all. Now, that gives me an idea….
That very same evening, the weather turns horrible and you realize that you have left your umbrella at home! In most places there would be no option – just get wet on your way back home. In Japan, head for the vending machines! Here, even umbrellas can be purchased from static ‘shops’ with no shopkeepers! No more rain-soaked journeys, then!
If you are peckish and want something hot and (possibly) substantial to eat than there is no faster food in the world than that which can be found in Japan. Some great flavors too… the taiyaki (the fish shaped cake) looks particularly appetizing!
If you don’t fancy noodles, then you can always go for something a little more occidental. Hot dog and fries, anyone? It looks, too, as if you can choose between your fries lightly done and crispy. There are a variety of meals here which don't look like something you might get in McDonalds, However.
In the UK cigarette vending machines were banned completely in March 2012. For the smoker who has just run out of cigarettes, however, Japan still offers a full choice from vending machines. Plus you can develop large muscles (instantly) while smoking, too.
Bizarrely, you can buy mystery bags from vending machines in clothes stores in Japan. Presumably they're for people who don't know what they want or in what size, but they know they want to get the money out of their wallet as quickly as possible.
Finally, yes of course, there are many vending machines in Japan which dispense what you might call grown up items - and we will leave most of them to your imagination. Yet if you are in to dressing up as a doctor or nurse (among other things) then yes, there is a vending machine for you too.