From Bags to Bee Larva - 10 Off-the-Wall Vending Machines You Can Find in Japan!
When you're in Japan, one of the first things you’ll notice are the rows of vending machines almost everywhere you go. Recently, many of these familiar machines have introduced high-tech features like digital screens and cashless transactions. Purchasing an item from a vending machine becomes an experience in and of itself - and they are not limited to just drinks and snacks! Pillars of convenience, you can buy a variety of useful things...but there are some that will definitely make you stop and stare. Let's take a dive into the world of Japanese vending machines and explore some of the extraordinary items you can grab on the go!
Dec 13 2018 (Sep 09 2020)
1. Name Stamp Vending Machines [At All Don Quijote Stores]
It's standard in Japan for an individual to own hanko (personal seal) that bears their family name to sign official documents and complete other day-to-day transactions. Those with common names can hop over to the nearest 100 yen shop and pick a pre-made one out for cheap, but those with more complicated names need to have them specially made to order. Well, not anymore! Just hop over to your nearest Don Quijote store and look for the Hanko Jihanki (a jihanki is a short term for jido-hanbaiki, the Japanese word for vending machine). The machine will walk you through a few simple steps to choose the material of the stamp, the characters to use, and the font type, and voila! You’ll have your very own personal seal in less than 10 minutes!
2. Bizarre Vending Machines Galore [Akihabara, Tokyo]
Get ready for a vending machine overload at this curious location tucked away in a busy corner of Akihabara. This section is installed with rows of jihanki that sell the usual lineup of drinks and snacks, but if you look closely, you may find very peculiar items that'll make you say, "What?! Why?!"
The longer you look at these pictures, the more oddities you’ll find. There’s a few toy trains, some beetle figurines... Okay, so your niece or nephew might like the toys as a souvenir. Fine. But that container of jingle bells? For 1,690 yen!? What on earth could you need those desperately for? Needless to say, the selection of products available in this little corner is and adventure in and of itself, so if you're ever in the neighborhood, do stop by.
3. Vending Machine with Canned Bee Larva and Locusts [Kichijoji, Tokyo]
If you've been to the Shinshu area (present-day Nagano Prefecture), you're probably aware that insects have long since been a traditional source of protein for the people there. But did you know that you can buy cans of the delicacies at Inokashira Park (Inokashira Onshi Koen) in Kichijoji? Look for the small vending machine sitting outside the cafe, Sublime, located along the Inokashira Pond (Inokashira Ike) and you'll see the cans of bee larva and locusts that have been seasoned with sugar and soy sauce.
These may not be visually appealing, but they are actually very popular! Though admittedly, it’s an acquired taste. Think...sticky and sweet, with a hint of the roasted aroma of soy sauce. If that sounds like a treat to you, give it a try!
4. Dashi Douraku Fish Broth Vending Machine [Hiroshima, Osaka, etc.]
Don't you hate it when you're trying to make a quick bowl of soba (buckwheat noodles) only to find that you've run out of dashi (broth)? No worries, Dashi Douraku has a solution! They've installed vending machines in various cities throughout Japan from which you can purchase bottles of quality dashi around the clock.
Dashi by Dashi Douraku is an all-purpose seasoning containing a whole charcoal-grilled ago (flying fish) inside each bottle to infuse the savory flavor of the fish in a mixture of soy sauce, sweetener, and othe ringredients. The vending machines offer their most basic ago dashi as well as the premium dashi which contains soda-bushi (dried bullet tuna) and konbu (kelp) in addition to the cooked ago. Any of these would be a perfect broth base for Japanese noodles, hot-pots, stewed dishes - and just about anything else!
5. Sake Tasting Machine [Ryogoku, Tokyo]
Inside the newly opened Ryogoku Edo Noren, a shopping and restaurant complex located in the Ryogoku Station building, is a store by the name of Tokyo Shouten which specializes in Tokyo-made alcohol and foods. At the back of the store are vending machines with a collection of alcohol samples from local breweries which you can purchase by the cup at 300 yen each. The system is very easy. Just grab a sake cup at the front, place your cup in the vending machine, insert your coins, press the button of the sake brand you'd like to taste, and enjoy! There’s also a selection of snacks - also all made in Tokyo - available for you to enhance your kiki-zake (sake tasting) experience. All of the alcohol and food offered can be purchased at the store. Who knew Tokyo produced such a wide selection of sake? You just might discover your new favorite!
6. Train-Shaped Vending Machine [On the Keikyu Yokohama Station Platform, Kanagawa]
Are you a fan of Japanese trains? If so, here's an unusual one you might want to check out. Situated on the Shinagawa side of the nobori (Tokyo-bound) platform of the Keikyu Line in Yokohama Station - yes, the location is very specific - is a vending machine in the shape of the new Keikyu 1000-1800 series train. The bright red presence is hard to miss on the otherwise gray and mundane platform. Keikyu first created this installation to celebrate "Tetsudo no Hi (Railroad Day)" on October 14, 2016, with the accompanying "Yellow Happy Train" and "Keikyu Blue Sky Train" on either side. Let out the kid in you and enjoy this unique and detailed "replica" of the popular Keikyu train!
7. Japanese Crepe Vending Machine [Kagoshima, Miyazaki, Nara]
Move over, Harajuku! Now is the age when we can get chilled crepes out of vending machines! Well, at least in southern Kyushu and Nara. The vending machines offer a wide variety of flavors - including some that feature the local specialties or seasonal foods. The affordability and the convenience are just perfect for when you suddenly have a craving for a special sweet treat. Let's just hope that there'll be more of these machines popping up in other areas throughout Japan in the future.
8. Bag Vending Machine [Toyooka City, Hyogo]
Toyooka City (Toyooka-shi) in Hyogo Prefecture is one of Japan's leading producers of bags, with its own branded label, Toyooka Kaban, which is given only to the bags that meet the quality standards as defined by the local union. There is a street dedicated to the artisanal craft called Caban Street (Bag Street), where a unique bag vending machine has been installed to help promote the industry. For 1,500 yen, you can purchase a small Toyooka-branded tote bag, which come in a myriad of designs and prints. The bags are the perfect size to carry your personal items when traveling, and they also make for great souvenirs! You'll be contributing to the local businesses, making it a win-win purchase for everyone.
9. Yakiniku Sauce Vending Machine [Kobe, Hyogo]
Who doesn’t love a good yakiniku (Japanese BBQ) dinner? This vending machine consists entirely of yakiniku sauce and is operated by none other than the local butcher shop, Hiranuma Shoten. It's a brilliant idea, don't you think? The sauce is available in three different flavors: regular, sweet, and spicy. They are best used as marinades, to turn your ordinary store-bought beef into a mouth-watering yakiniku feast! The savory mixture of soy sauce, garlic, and spices is also great for dipping and can be used to season a variety of other dishes such as stir-fries, hotpots, and noodles.
Adjacent to the meat shop is their very own yakiniku and horumon (offal) restaurant. They recently reopened after renovations in July 2017 because - and we quote - "horumon isn’t sold in vending machines." How about enjoying some freshly cut meat seasoned with their highly coveted yakiniku sauce?
10. Udon Vending Machine [Akita, Akita]
This retro vending machine has been around since the 1970s, serving instant hot soba and udon (thick noodles) to the locals of Akita. It originally stood outside Sahara Shoten, a little corner store near Akita Port (Akita-ko), and was due to retire with the closing of the store. However, the local community grieved over its retirement, and it was decided that the vending machine would be relocated to Selion, a roadside station near Akita Port, in April 2017, ensuring oodles of noodles for decades to come!
The operation of this vintage vending machine still remains simple and old-fashioned - something we all should appreciate, even more so with the rapid advancement of technology in these modern times.
These were just a handful of quirky vending machines, and Japan still has a lot more to offer! It seems you can get pretty much anything from the vending machines in Japan, which it speaks a lot about how unique and interesting this country is. Next time you're out and about, keep an eye out for any fascinating vending machines you may come across.
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Title Image: noina / Shutterstock
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.