You Can Get WHAT in a Vending Machine in Japan??

vendingVending 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.

Parenting: A Journey

Marc, Aimee, Bailey and Sydney at New Year's

I’ve learned quite a bit about parenting this week.  Maybe it doesn’t have a lot to do with writing, but frankly, anything that has to do with me has to do with writing.

This week, my husband, my daughter and I are off skiing.  Where is my son, you might ask?  Well, he’s with his classmates doing work on a project and skiing elsewhere.  Bailey has been away from us many times in the past – heck, he goes to sleepaway camp for a few weeks every summer. But this is the first time we are taking a family vacation with ¼ of our family missing.

Bailey is going to have an excellent time!  He’s with his 5 best friends in his principal’s ski house in Nagano.  They have papers to write ahead of their big trip to New York to the United Nations in April and the teachers and principal thought this would be the best use of the 4-day weekend.  They will work and ski and work and ski.  Bailey was wildly excited to go.

So what I learned this week is that the hardest part of parenting is doing what’s best for the child when all you want to do really is to hold on tight.  This is his time; he is growing his wings.  I’m so proud of him.  A bit sad for me, but still very proud and excited for him.  This is just the beginning of the process for all of us, but we’ll take it one step at a time and like I’ve said before, enjoy the journey.