Japan gears up for foreign visitors with new interactive vending machine

By Oona McGee, RocketNews24

Have you ever looked at a vending machine in Japan and had no idea what the strange, kanji-labelled drinks were? Now there’s a new interactive service that will explain everything for you!

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics fast approaching, Japan is gearing up for an influx of overseas tourists with a number of innovative projects designed to assist foreigners as they make their way through the largely Japanese-speaking metropolis. The latest concept to catch everyone’s attention is the “interactive vending machine”, which uses voice-recognition technology to provide detailed information about Japanese beverages.

The service, a joint venture between leading beverage manufacturer, Asahi Group Holdings, and Nomura Research Institute, the largest Japanese consulting and IT consulting firm, will set up its first trial machine from Jan 6 until February next year in Tokyo’s busy Asakusa district.

The machine will be located close to Senso-ji’s famous Kaminarimona, a popular site with foreign tourists.

After investigating consumption activity by foreign buyers, Asahi Group Holdings found that tourists hesitate to buy drinks from vending machines when faced with a lineup of unfamiliar beverages. The new service aims to help visitors make informed purchases, by providing information regarding a selection’s sugar content, calories, and carbonation. It will also be able to make recommendations based on a drink’s popularity in Japan and provide good choices to match the current season.

To use the new system, customers speak into a tablet located by the side of an existing vending machine. Through voice recognition technology, a vocal response is then generated from the terminal, creating a real-time conversation between machine and consumer. Customers start by choosing from ‘type’, ‘product’ or ‘recommendation’. If choosing ‘type’, the next voice prompt will ask you to say the type from an on-screen selection.

Customers need to tap the microphone icon when registering their voice commands. Information about different selections will then be given in English, providing the consumer with a fun purchasing experience.

The planned service will only be offered in English and unfortunately, there are no plans to incorporate other languages at this stage. While there’s no mention of how well the software will handle different English accents, the month-long trial run is being used to collect and analyse consumer data with the aim to address user needs before developing the final product.

If you’d like to try the machine during the month of January, it’s located at: Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Asakusa 1-2-3/東京都台東区浅草1-2-3

Source: Asahi Group Holdings

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An unnecessary gimmick. Most products have some English, and/or it's easy to tell what they are. In order to make a profit, the installation of this system would have to increase sales enough to at least pay for itself, multiplied by the number of machines using it.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

An ingenious way to avoid actual human interaction.

It'll be medicine-dispensers, next, in place of flesh-and-blood doctors or nurses.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I also never felt like I didn't know what I was getting on these vending machines. Even though I couldn't read it. I knew by the picture on it or some of then even had English on it. Now the soup vending machines was like playing Russian roulette.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Olympics Express 999 model. Replace all volunteers with vending machines. Kinda not what the Olympics are all about

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I made it a rule never to buy anything with an anime octopus on the package. ;)

4 ( +4 / -0 )

It seems too mendokusai and takes too much time to just get a drink. I only use vending machines when in a hurry.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Maybe I'm missing something, but why are they making such huge costly gestures like this for the sake of around two weeks of Olympic events? Japan will be the same afterwards as it was before. As a Londoner during 2012, I know this to be true.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I agree with @Fouxdefa. You go to a vending machine to buy a drink quickly. I don't want to stand in front of a vending machine for 5-10 minutes hearing about which drinks have which ingredients, and what's popular in Japan (especially since things popular in Japan probably won't suit a foreign palate). Also, it can be pretty easy to figure out what a drink is from the packaging and sometimes the English on the drink. The only benefit would be for people with severe allergies, and in this case it'd be best to just have a sign or brochure in English that lists the ingredients.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

****Does this mean I can buy ビール in English?Will it actually taste like beer now?

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

And the confirmation dialog says, "Are you okay?" -- Welcome to Japanese software

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Why not just have a couple of buttons to push so some of the displayed info comes out in English/Chinese/Korean for example, that would help more than this overly complicated idea......

But I applaud them for making it easier for tourists

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Great more noise on the streets, just what we need.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"Thank you for choosing Asahi vending machines, for your tasty beverage, it was a pleasure to serve you. Have a nice day."

I think this will lead to another speight of torched vending machines.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

There have been talking vending machines for years, who greet you depending day, thank you, etc.

Or how about the big screen machines at stations that display different selection based on sec, etc.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Hello customer, I hope you nderstand my English, and I hope you understand English. How may I help you?

Hello machine. My name is Stratolopotist and I want to know what drink number 47 is.

Hello Surlatoropotis not going very I think!

It is exploding jelly balls with corn tasting like octopus. Favorite of little Taro and Michiko.

Try it please. Yokoso

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Putting aside the fact that a lot of drinks are fairly easy to identify due to the images on their packaging (ie: lemons, oranges), I think part of the fun of vending machines in Japan when you are not 100% literate is the fact that it's a roll of the dice. Sometimes you wind up with a new surprise favorite you may not have otherwise chosen if you could read the kanji.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

tbh it's half the fun not knowing what some drinks are....once in a while i will sway away from my usual taste and try something random.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why not just writing in English in the label the basic infos: gas or not, juice or soda, flavor, alcohol or not, etc...?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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