Photo:Erik on Flickr

Japanese Vending Machines

Japan is famous for its futuristic technology, entertainment such as manga and anime, and unique culture. The island attracts millions of tourists a year. For visitors, it can seem as if Japan is a completely different universe to western countries. So many things there, such as the food, convenience stores and even toilets are new, unique and exciting for foreigners from all over the world. This article will take a look at Japanese vending machines, or jidōhanbaiki, whereabouts you can find them, how to use them and what they offer.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons


Photo : Kevin Dooley on Flickr

Vending machines in Japan mostly offer drinks, both hot and cold, depending on the season. These machines are everywhere, especially in big cities such as Tokyo - every street corner, sometimes three or four grouped together selling different kinds of drinks, with a small garbage can beside it to dump your can or bottle. Whether you're looking for a refreshing soda or a hot coffee, you'll quickly find a machine that sells it.

Common cold drinks you'll find in Japanese vending machines include:

  • Pocari sweat (flavoured drink containing electrolytes)
  • Sodas (cola, pepsi, fanta, lemonade)
  • Water, including flavoured water
  • Fruit juice (pineapple is very popular)
  • Bottled cold green tea or jasmine tea
  • Cold black tea mixed with milk and sugar

Common hot drinks you'll find in a vending machine are:

  • Hot coffee
  • Hot black tea
  • Drinking chocolate

Quite often, a vending machine will have a selection of both hot and cold drinks, marked with red or blue underneath them, as seen in the picture. In the hotter months, cold versions of hot drinks such as coffee and cocoa will sometimes be offered. Most drinks cost between 80 and 150 yen (0.80 - $1.50 US dollars).

Food and Snacks

Photo : Karl Baron on Flickr

Like in western countries, there are also plenty of vending machines that sell snacks, such as chocolate, candy and crisps, which you'll usually find in subway stations and various types of waiting rooms. There are also machines that sell frozen foods, such as:

  • Takoyaki (fried dough with octopus)
  • Fries
  • Fish
  • Onigiri (balls of rice with a stuffed filling)
  • Corn dogs
  • Fried chicken
  • Taiyaki (a fish-shaped dessert dough with a sweet filling such as red bean, chocolate or custard)

These machines can often be found in rest stops on the motorway, small cafes and train stations.

Food Tickets

Photo : Jeremy Clarke on Flickr

You will also see machines in some restaurants that take your food order instead of the waiting staff, and produce a ticket for you to give to the waiter. These machines are very common in cheaper restaurants such as a Matsuya or Sukiya.

To use these machines, you select the food you want and enter your money in the slit provided. Most of the time, the menu will also have a picture of the food, so if you don't speak Japanese, you can still see what you're buying. You can order multiple foods this way, including sides and sometimes drinks and desserts.

These are a good way to order food because it means that the restaurant doesn't have to print menus, and you can take your time choosing. It also allows you to pay for your food before you eat, rather than building up a tab and paying at the end. Most places in Japan prefer to perform transactions with cash, or don't accept cards at all, so being able to pay beforehand avoids you realising later that you don't have enough cash!

Other types of machines

Photo : David Pursehouse on Flickr

In Japan, there are also machines that sell other things. Some sell cigarettes, beer, books and magazines.

To pay a vending machine, you can either use money (no 10,000 yen notes), or your Suica or Pasmo card, which you can buy to add credit to ride the train and the subway in Tokyo.

The vending machine culture in Japan cuts down on storage and shopkeeping costs, so in some ways, it makes sense. Being able to access a drink pretty much anywhere in a city, especially in the drier winter months, is incredibly useful. These vending machines in Japan are great, and it's guaranteed you'll use one at least some point in Japan.

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