Big in Japan: In Japan, Vending Machine Vends You

When I first moved to Japan a few years back, I remember reading some crazy statistic that that there was something like one vending machine in Japan for every three people. I might not have been a math major, but in a country numbering 120 million, I figured that there must be around 40 million vending machines strewn about.

However, having lived in Japan for several years now, I wouldn’t be surprised if 40 million vending machines was something of an underestimate. Truth be told, I’ve been hiking in the middle of the jungles of Okinawa, only to find a vending machine in the absolute middle of nowhere that was seemingly powered by nothing more than a diesel generator.

Indeed, spending hundreds of your hard-earned yen every day in the vending machine is something of a national obsession here in Japan. Not surprisingly, vending machine technology is light years ahead of the States, and there’s no shortage of cool products for sale ranging from the convenient and the refreshing to the astonishing and the all-together perverted.

For starters, you have your normal variety of drink and food vending machines, though I can assure that they’re nothing like those you find in North America. On a warm summer’s day, vending machines here will dispense ice cold beverages (normal enough). In the wintertime however, you can actually get a hot can of coffee, a steaming cup of ramen noodles or even a lukewarm soda to get the blood flowing.

It gets better.

Short of cash? Don’t want to break a big bill? Most vending machines in Japan are equipped with a sensor that can read your subway pass, so you can just swipe your wallet and not have to deal with change. This is of course great on a winter’s day when you taking off your gloves to dig for change in your pockets is a real nuisance.

It gets even better.

Now that most cell phones in Japan can store spending money on a digital chip, you can simply swipe your phone in front of the vending machine, and find yourself one step closer to liquid refreshment.

Now it gets weirder.

The internet is full of stories describing all the weird, wacky and wonderful things you can get in vending machines. Most are in fact true, though suffice it to say, things have gotten a bit more conservative here in recent years.

Yes, you can still buy cigarettes on the street, and cans of beer at any hour of the day or night.

And yes, strangely enough, you can actually buy a new outfit, complete with a button-down shirt, dress pants, T-shirt, underwear and socks.

Sadly no, you can no longer buy magic mushrooms in vending machines as the government closed this bizarre loophole a few years back. With that said, resident foreigners here in Japan still fondly recall the days when you could walk outside the clubs in Osaka, slip $20 into the vending machine, and detour your night in a matter of moments.

And no, you can’t buy used school girls’ panties in the vending machines in the Red Light District, though whether or not this actually ever happened is debatable.

Although I myself have never actually seen these for sale, the rumors continue to circulate about their supposed existence, so please do comment and correct me if I’m wrong.

(Of course, I’m not interested in buying them or anything, but it’d be nice to put this internet rumor to rest!)