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  • Writer's pictureHusky & Onigunsô

Myths and truths of Japanese vending machines - Part 1

Updated: Jun 28, 2021

An introduction to the history of Japanese vending machines

Japanese vending machines

We also have a Japanese version of this article about Japanese vending machines.

Introducing ideas & myths of vending machines

Japanese vending machines have fascinated travelers from all corners of the world. The sheer numbers of machines are as baffling as the selection of items you can find. For many years - amongst backpackers and online influencers alike - strange items in Japanese vending machines have been an especially hot topic.

As intriguing as the idea is, of finding alcohol and kinky toys on every corner, the reality is a bit different. You will indeed find vending machines pretty much everywhere you go in Japan. Weird products, however, are not as common as certain sources might indicate. The rumors instead make for a tilted view of the vending ways in Tokyo.

Japanese vending machines selling ramen, beer, umbrellas and sigarettes
Seek and you shall find: Ramen, beer, umbrellas and tobacco!

Part 1: The dawn of the Japanese vending machine

Japan, and especially Tokyo, is one of the busiest places on Earth. Convenience and efficiency in all aspects of life, is a way to keep your head above water. And what is more convenient than fully automated feeding stations on every corner?

And yes, some rumors are true, sort of. Vending machines can be found in any corner of Tokyo. Somehow they seem strangely absent when you need them the most, but the shining light of beverages is never far away. If hankering for something other than coffee, water or soft drinks, the search usually takes a little longer.

Tobacco-machines for instance, are not so common, even though the first Japanese vending machine was a tobacco-vendor. It was manufactured and patented by Koshichi Tawaraya in 1888. Not until the 1950s did vending machines really start to boom, due to the huge success of an automated, juice-dispensing fountain.

This led to bigger companies getting wind of the vending machines’ potential, which in turn led to explosive vending-growth in the latter half of the 1960s. The number of vending machines passed 1 million in 1970. Fifteen years later, the streets of Japan was inhabited by more than 5 million of these fully automated sales clerks.

Part two in this blog series about Japanese vending machines tells the story of the used panty vending machines. Part three dives into the moral aspect of keeping Japanese vending machines on the streets of Japan.


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