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Vending Machines in Japan

It is very difficult to find a building without at least a few vending machines in it in Japan. They are everywhere. Prices seemed to be standardized everywhere we went, except in Universal Studios Japan, but then I hate that place anyway.

I don’t think anyone on the tour encountered a single faulty vending machine. They all seem to operate perfectly. Pushing coins in rapidly immediately after you get one drink doesn’t seem to work either. The coins just get rejected. I don’t think you can not use the machines in a proper manner, even if you’re rushing.

Almost all the vending machines I considered were reassuringly clean. The only exception was the one I found at a park, but then again sand in the drink drop is almost inevitable when the machine is in a park in summer and there are children at play.

I got almost all my tea and coffee from vending machines while in Japan. Unlike canned or bottled tea and coffee in Singapore, in Japan they don’t see the need to over-sweeten everything. You can quite clearly taste the tea or coffee, which was a welcome change from always tasting just milk, chocolate and sugar. Kirin Royal English Milk Tea made quite an impression on me. (Also on the percussion section, as I later found. They liked their teh ping bo ping too. I didn’t come up with the name.) The tea actually seemed to have flavour. The same goes for the coffee. I don’t remember any particular brand, but they all seemed good. Not overly sweet or milky. And there were none of those short, thin cans we get in school either. There was even decent canned black coffee.

Canned Coke in Japan also tastes better. Supposedly. But then I wouldn’t bet against the people who claim it; they’ve been Coke fans all of their long lives. Perhaps it has something to do with the water, or the fact that the people who service the machines are very particular about having the drinks in the machines for no more than three months.

Almost all bins in Japan are for a specific variety of trash, and there is always a bin specifically for emptied drink containers next to a vending machine. The openings for the containers are circular, which only allows you to put the container in head- or bottom-first. Often, there are separate bins for PET bottles, cans and a general-purpose one, although ‘general’ here still means ‘empty drink container’. Sometimes, the caps from plastic bottles have to be removed first and disposed separately. This all seems quite bothersome at first, especially when you don’t know Japanese and have to interpret the symbols, which isn’t as easy as it sounds since a PET bottle is not exactly easily differentiable from a regular one. But then there’s a sort of satisfaction from identifying the type of trash you have and matching it to the exact opening it’s supposed to go into. There’s actually a right answer! But now that I think about it, I remember my young cousins playing with toys that involve matching shapes to openings or indentations. I suppose the feeling is similar.

The prospect of buying a drink from a vending machine in Japan is a worry-free one. The machine is clean, and it will work perfectly. There’s nothing to think about from the time your money goes in and the time the drink is in your hand, with the exception of your choice of drink. And after you finish your drink, the procedure for disposing the emptied container presents itself. Perhaps you could call this the vending machine experience. Even as I say it I am somewhat incredulous at the impression Japanese vending machines seemed to have made on me. Vending machines the world over are pretty much the same, but maybe the little things really do make the difference. Or maybe everything about the concept and the way the machines are operated and maintained just seems Japanese in my mind.

I have been referring only to vending machines for bottled or canned drinks, but naturally in Japan there are vending machines for loads of other things. The ice cream vending machine at our accommodation in Fukui was quite popular. There’s usually a wall of a few vending machines in a row at a typical convenience store, selling drinks or noodles or hot meals or other things I don’t remember.

Categories: Writing Tags: , , ,
  1. melbatoast
    21 June 2008 at 12:42 am

    haha! interesting!

  2. rapsa
    24 June 2008 at 9:37 pm

    i was really amazed with ticket machines not just for train tickets but also for ordering ramen. in that way, the food attendant won’t be touching money since they are touching your food also. more convenient for them plus less chances of getting germs on your food.

  3. Cuthbert
    24 June 2008 at 11:19 pm

    Hm I managed to have lunch at a ramen bar. No machines or anything, but from where we were sitting at the bar we could watch them preparing our food. It was interesting to watch, and also no hygiene worries from what we saw.

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