It is estimated there is a vending machine of some variety for every 20 people in Japan.
With Japan’s population in excess of 127 million people, there must be some 5 million vending machines in the country.
This figure might be hard to believe, until you step foot in Japan.
There are vending machines for virtually everything, from the expected soft drink, ticket and food machines to the unusual machines which sell underwear or stuffed toy animals.
General vending machine
Many of the drink machines provide both hot and cold beverages, and they are fairly cheap in contrast to drink prices around the world with as little as 100 to 150 yen being required to purchase most drinks.
Ice tea, fruit juice and flavored water are just as popular as soft drinks like Coke in Japan.
With all the vending machines in Japan, you may think they are full of Coca Cola, but no you will rarely see Coke,
instead you will see an array of fascinating and sometimes unusual beverages.
Coca Cola have another popular soft drink called Qoo, it is an orange or grape flavored non carbonated beverage which is also popular throughout Asia.
A big difference with Japanese drink vending machines in the rest of the world is they usually even serve hot drinks as well as cold from the same machine.
Some of the more popular and engaging drinks include the sports drink range.
There are several which are immensely popular including the oddly named Pocari Sweat,
it has a refreshing mild taste that is a mixture between grapefruit, bubble gum and some unknown flavor.
Everyone knows ”Calpis”
Calpis is actually a milk based drink, although you would never know it.
The ingredients include water, dry milk powder and lactic acid.
It comes in several flavors including various fruits, there is even an alcoholic version called Calpis Bartime.
Calpis Water is a similar non carbonated drink, but they also produce a carbonated variety known as Calpis Soda.
CC Lemon is similar to the lemon drinks you will find outside Japan.
The packaging of CC is quite interesting, on the front there is a label saying how many lemons of vitamin C are in the can or bottle, a 500ml one says 70, but the ingredients on the back say it contains anything from 0 to 50% of vitamin C .. only in Japan.
There are several wheat grass and wheat germ based drinks plus a large assortment of soy and tea based drinks.
Canned coffee is very popular
Overly sweet coffee drinks were introduced for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964 and have become immensely popular.
In fact, Coke’s Georgia brand is Japan’s biggest selling drink behind Oi-Ocha Ito-en’s green tea and sports drink Aquarius, it is a cloudy and almost clear liquid which sometimes even has a seed or two in the bottle.
Popular coffee drinks brands include Boss, Wonda and the strangely named Fire, some served cold while others are heated by the vending machine.
Easy to buy beer
Something you would never see in most countries is a vending machine that sells liquor or cigarettes in main streets and lane ways.
In Japan, it is relatively easy to put a few yen in a coin slot and grab a tasty cold beer or a packet of cigarettes.
There doesn’t seem to be any at least visible problems associated with unrestricted access, you never see young people in the street using the machine(although an id card system has been introduced, there still are many machines about without id readers).
Strangely there are remarkably few ATMs and virtually no chocolate machines, but there are lots of ice cream vending machines.
Small electrical items like disposable cameras, memory sticks and music are relatively plentiful, as are the plastic bubbles with small toys in them.
Dozens of these machines are usually grouped together with all the favorite Japanese characters from Hello Kitty to Manga characters.
Most vending machines accept both coins and smaller notes.
Even the temples have got in on the act, you can buy Omikuji, which is a fortune telling slip of paper from a vending machines in many shrines.
Some restaurant chains have even taken vending machines to a new level with an innovative ordering system.
Out the front of the store stands a vending machine, where you select your meal and pay with coins.
The machine spits out a ticket which you give to the waiter who prepares your food.
These restaurants (known as a gyudon cafe) are quite popular, cheap and usually offer tasty food.
The claw crane vending machines are also extremely popular.
Here, mobile phones, watches or toys can be won.
There is even a claw machine which give the players a chance to catch a live crayfish in the northern towns of Sapporo.
Only a handful can survive
It is estimated that over 300 new soft drink brands are released onto the Japanese consumer every year, the ones that fail can survive less than a month but some of the biggest sellers can produce over half a billion cans or bottles a year.