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Why vending machines are so popular in Japan

By grape Japan

Japan is a vending machine paradise.

According to an article in IT Media, while their numbers are slowly dipping as a result of competition from convenience stores and a decreasing population, Japan still has the most vending machines per capita in the world.

Moreover, with the country's relatively low crime rate, there's no reason to keep machines locked indoors where they can be more easily monitored so you'll find vending machines outside in both urban and rural areas. Vending machines are a part of the quotidian landscape.

Technological innovations accelerated their acceptance. Ever since 1973 when canned coffee brand Pokka came out with the first model, vending machines selling both cold and hot beverages have become standard. Separate hot and cold machines were no longer necessary, so installing a vending machine became a more attractive proposition. Machines accepting various forms of electronic payment and other features played a similar role.

Finally, in recent years, the coronavirus pandemic has encouraged a new trend: to provide contact-less shopping, stores now offer things like meats, prepared dishes, and even bento lunches and other goods sold during their normal operating hours from vending machines, while frozen food makers selling things like ramen and gyoza dumplings use them as an alternative retail outlet as well.

A major incentive

There's another fundamental reason contributing to the popularity of vending machines in this country. Unless you live in Japan and have experience installing a vending machine, however, you may not be aware of it.

A writer at our sister site Grape gained this insight in an interview with the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association:

If you want to put a vending machine selling soft drinks, juice, or any other non-alcoholic beverage (with the exception of milk) in plastic bottles, cans, or glass bottles in front of your home or business, no permit to install or sell products is necessary.

As long as the vending machine meets basic criteria such as not getting in the way of road traffic and being installed in an earthquake-resistant manner, you're free to install it as you please.

Finally, if you go with the most conventional type of machine selling drinks, you can either buy or rent a machine or enter into a contract with a vending machine company. Assuming they consider your location viable, the company agrees on it, then handles the installation of the machine and restocking of the products. You're responsible for electricity and get a margin on sales.

It's not hard to see why many business owners find it an attractive source of additional revenue.

With so many things requiring permits in Japan, the ease with which you can install a vending machine is one of the factors that has historically contributed to their prevalence throughout the country.

Permits for some things

Of course, as you can imagine, some things DO require permits. Here's the list:

Milk: Milk vending business permit (Food Sanitation Law).

Beverages in open cups: Permit for vending machine operation with cooking function (Food Sanitation Law).

Cooked food like ramen, pizza, burgers, etc: Restaurant permit (Food Sanitation Law).

Freshly made foods requiring refrigeration like sandwiches: Business permit (Food Sanitation Law).

Alcohol: Liquor retail permit (Liquor Tax Law).

Cigarettes or other nicotine products: Tobacco retail permit (Tobacco Business Act).

Apart from that, you're free to sell whatever you'd like without needing to contact any government office for a permit or even notify someone after the machine is installed. Want to operate a lottery vending machine selling non-consumable goods? No problem. How about frozen ramen, gyoza, or other frozen foods? Go ahead. Want to sell toys, towels, or T-shirts? Go for it!

Of course, most of our readers won't be thinking about installing a vending machine but rather finding them and trying them out.

If you do, just make sure to check inside the coin slot before you insert your coin.

Read more stories from grape Japan.

-- Designer’s too clever bookmark dog-ears pages without actually doing it

-- Japanese sewing artist’s amazing toasted nori seaweed looks so real you could eat it

-- A look at the Tokyo museum just for bizarre Japanese-to-English mistranslations

© grape Japan

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Brilliant, Convenient and Good Quality! BRAVO!!!!

Only in Japan where you can even buy Ramen, socks and even Pizza! Hope to see more in future especially in areas where there are not many COMBINI or convenience stores to make it easy to grab on the go when in a hurry....

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

Far too many left on 24 hours, using electricity, with convenience stores in sight. Destroy the ambience of natural areas including urban parks, with light pollution. Encourage the constant use of plastic only a tiny proportion of which gets recycled, and discourages the carrying of a re-useable bottle which has become normalized in many countries. Ubiquitous commercialization of all public spaces.

They were fun when I arrived in Japan for a while and are convenient from time to time. Keep a few around where needed (countryside bus stops etc) and to get the tourist 'oohs and ahs' but reduce in cities and conserve energy.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Sorry to be so negative but they are a colossal waste of energy, encourage the single use disposable culture, and create serious visual and light pollution issues - especially in the countryside.

Can't understand why they have been allowed to overpopulate every corner of Japan.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Shut them down.

Think of all the energy that could be saved!

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Sometimes they are the only friendly face I see all day. I would miss the interaction if they were removed.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

I think I saw an egg vending machine back in Wakayama once and an onion UFO catcher on Awaji Island.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I remember my first visit to Japan in 1988. I was surprised and happy to find a beer vending machine across the street behind my hotel.

1100円 for a giant can of beer was a huge bargain compared to what the hotel bar charged for a small bottle/can, not to mention the cover charge. Man, I was pissed (angry) when they hit me up with that cover charge. Cover for what? There was no band or entertainment. Just a cover charge for the privilege of sitting in their lounge and paying 1500円 for a rum and coke (in 1988)? No thanks. I'll just buy a liter of beer from the machine, and drink it in my room.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I don’t understand that criticism and complaining their energy consumption and all such. No, they are a great invention and also have an important role in emergency cases. If you’re walking long time and are exhausted, nice to have a vending machine. If you have to explain a waypoint or meeting with someone anywhere, nice to have a vending machine. And if it’s hit in summer or extremely cold in winter or there’s an earthquake and no immediate help within sight, nice to have a cool or warming or sometimes even free drink from your next nearby vending machine.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

We have a fresh oyster vending machine when in season which is now. Iced cool in boxes. 1kg ¥600. Brilliant idea.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Hot food vending machines were mostly replaced by Konbini's.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

ジョージ - Also, can't find the ones that sell the big cans and mini kegs of Asahi Super Dry anymore.

Those were my first introduction to JP vending machines 34 years ago!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

When we were kids,the vending machine,used too give us more Candy than we could eat,the more you pull the more candy we got

0 ( +0 / -0 )


I haven't been here as long as you have, but those were among the first vending machines I encountered when I came to Japan.

I haven't been here all that time. :-) That was just my first visit of many. I I only moved here 6 years or so ago.

Seem to remember them selling Suntory Whisky too. Now I rarely find a vending machine that sells alcoholic beverages.

Sadly. ;-)

It might be argued that the proliferation of convenience stores means such vending machines aren't needed, but, in that case, I would think all vending machines would be restricted to the wilderness.

I've seen vending machines directly in front of conbini!

Also, it's strange to find vending machines standing next to each other and selling the same drinks, but at different prices.

There are definitely too many machines here. I wouldn't want them totally removed, as some people commenting here seem to want. But, they could probably stand to lose a third to half of them, without causing any inconvenience to the public.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Agree everyone should try and conserve energy in light of the fact electricity/gas price are way up and the gov't is trying to deal with lack of capacity issues recommending we wear warmer clothes and in layers at home....sure let's see which officials are leading by example.

Vending machines are not only convenient but in rural areas are often a necessity so for the save energy rah rah!! folks, I would suggest you write or get in touch with local officials to have the rail companies turn down the heat in the trains because they are way to hot on high settings all day!! and look around in the City,,,,Neon and flashing lights which is part of the city charm!!! Vending machines off is not going to make a huge impact.

Don't use lights at home, use a flashlight or candles and for those who don't have homes due to a natural disaster or are stranded up north in Aomori and areas of Japan due to bad weather and snow conditions, yeah sure makes sense to get rid of vending machines so people can access food and a hot drink. Perhaps they should go ice fishing and eat snow.....More vending machines the better!!!!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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