The World of Vending Machines in Japan
Currently, Japan is in the middle of a vending machine renaissance and it looks like no nation will ever be able to catch up! Currently Japan has the highest per capita rate of vending machines in the world.
According to Japan National Tourism Organization there are 5.52 million vending machines across the country. These vending machines serve a very important economic purpose, both in tourism heavy areas and rural areas- round the clock retail. You can buy just about anything at a vending machine in Japan. Examples include:
- Flying Fish soup used to flavor udon
- Self-freezing Coca-cola (slushie anyone?)
- Bananas, apples, oranges, eggs and other pantry items
- Traditional Seals
- Sushi socks
- Surgical masks
One reason vending machines are so popular is the relatively low crime rate across the country. Many vending machines are outside and they are seldom broken or stolen.
The History of Vending Machines in Japan
Vending machines have been serving the Japanese since 1888 when the first vending machine selling cigarettes was introduced.
In the 1950s more and more vending machines started being introduced across the country, mainly as we know them here in the U.S., selling drinks and snacks. But since then vending machines have seen an explosion of interest across the country.
However, vending machines have also been subject to the technological boom. In the last decade, Japanese companies have introduced the next-generation of vending machines. Some vending machines in Tokyo not only suggest products you may also like during your purchase, but change the products display based on the time of day, season and the users age and gender. Vending machines are becoming more high tech and customized to the tourists and residents of the country.
The Economic Effects of the Vending Machine Culture
Annual sales from vending machines reach almost 6.95 Trillion Yen (~60 billion USD)
To make sure vending machines are ready for the increased demand during the 2020 Olympics, many are undergoing upgrades to make sure they are accessible to everyone.
The latest concept that is being developed are "interactive vending machines" which use voice recognition to provide detailed information about Japanese beverages with Kanji labels.
Unfortunately, the service is only being rolled out in English, but they are currently piloting one of these vending machines in the Asakusa District, so we can all be a part of testing different American accents and help refine the technology!