Vending machines are an art form in Japan. Most machines are pretty normal by Western standards, which means they sell drinks. Some sell both hot and cold drinks and you can tell because the little line below the picture of the drink is red if the can/bottle will come out hot, and blue if it will come out cold – an excellent system. I’ve seen several vending machines that sell beer and sake – no ID required. This is part and parcel of Japanese society: underage people (I’m generalizing here) don’t buy the alcoholic drinks because it’s against the rules.
There have been rumors about vending machines selling items of young girls’ clothing – both used and unused. I haven’t seen that for myself so I can neither confirm nor deny such rumor.
Most vending machines take a Passmo or Suica card – the same cards used in the subway system. The cards are pre-loaded with money, so many machines have a swipe spot on them like the subway turnstiles do, so you can use your already-filled card to buy a drink if you’re without change.
I had one visiting friend who found the machines so fascinating that he was constantly trying new things – all from vending machines – for the entire time he was visiting. Another friend who lives in Tokyo posted something the other day that showed a vending machine for toys, just in case a parent needs a bribe in a pinch. I’m sure that’s not the real reason behind the existence of the toy-vending-machine, but geez, it seems like a great idea if a parent needs an emergency bribe. And trust me, those of us who are parents know the value of an emergency bribe, as long as its used judiciously.
My husband found this particular vending machine in the ski lodge in Naeba, a ski resort town just into Nagano prefecture, where he and my son were skiing last weekend. It serves hot food to a needy skier who may want just a quick bite instead of waiting for a full-on lunch and potentially missing a minute of swoosh-time. I’m sure people who are about to hop on a bus back to Tokyo after a day on the slopes (read: 3 hours on a bus…) also avail themselves of the machine’s contents. Most of the things in it are grilled and ready to pop out.
Row 1 (L-R): Fried Potato; Fried Potato; Takoyaki (Tako-yaki is grilled octopus)
Row 2: Yaki Onigiri; Yaki Onigiri (yaki-onigiri is a grilled rice ball); Takoyaki
Row 3: Hot Dog; Hot Dog; Yakisoba (yakisoba is grilled noodles)
My favorite part of this machine is that it’s advertising that it is open 24 hours, and it’s “casual” food – as if I’d expect formal food to pop out of a vending machine. In addition, it says hot menu, but also frozen foods. I suppose that’s as opposed to freshly cooked. The food was probably made and frozen, then heated up again for purposes of vending. I wonder how often the food is checked for freshness and/or changed. However, knowing Japan and the Japanese people as I do, my guess is that the machine is managed daily.
Convenience food taken to a whole new level – that’s Japan for you.