Japan is the pinnacle of convenience and there’s no better symbol of this than the venerable Japanese vending machine. From the mundane to the magnificent, Japan offers something for nearly everyone with just a couple coins and the push of a button. If you’re looking for a truly Japanese experience, we’ve got 13 vending machines worthy of your next Instagram post.
Here is a helpful map that summarizes most of the spots in one go!
Lucky for us, Brazil’s favorite digital influencer/cosplayer Isis Vasconcellos has taken up the task of tracking down most of the machines on this list, so keep scrolling to check out her experience.
*This article/Challenge is supported by Sakura Mobile, a dedicated Wi-Fi provider for traveler and resident of Japan.
Why Does Japan Love Vending Machines?
The Japan Vending Machine Association (JVMA) reports that there are 2.9 Million vending machines in Japan — a machine for every 50 Japanese residents, which is absolutely nuts!
But what machine is the most popular
|Vending Machines||What’s Inside|
|2,120,000||PET bottles & cans|
|230,300||Cards accessories, sanitary items, newspaper, toys|
|154,000||Freshly prepared coffee and cocoa|
|126,900||Juice boxes and milk|
Source: 2018 data from the Japan Vending Machine Association
So, what could possibly be the secret to Japan’s obsession with these automatic dispensing contraptions. From one Kotaku writer’s point of view, it’s the simplicity of transactions and distribution that fuel their numbers.
That could be an oversimplification, but the other perspective I see is Japanese society’s love of accessibility and user-friendliness — a consumer nation built on the concept that customers are gods. With that in mind, service levels are stratospherically high, convenience is the norm, and automation is the rule not the exception. Personally, I also love ditching my coins into these machines to help my wallet with its weight-loss program.
Akihabara: The Kingdom of Vending Machines
For anyone who knows Akihabara, fondly known as ‘Akiba’ by the locals, it’s a geek’s ultimate playground. The same could be said for the amount of wildly mental vending machines that populate the area. So let’s find out what’s available in this poindexter paradise.
1. The Vending Machine Corner
Photo source: Timeout Tokyo
This is a suspiciously shady and dark corner of random machines. It’s so bizarre, it doesn’t even have an official name. However, it has adopted the mysterious title of ‘Vending Machine Corner.’
Wander through this maze of automated tech and you’ll be greeted by a welcome selection of treats and toys. Some of the notable highlights include:
- Toy shinkansen (bullet trains)
- Toy ‘Kabuto Mushi’ (rhinoceros beetles)
- Scented candles
- Popcorn vending machine
- Suppon (soft-shelled turtle) drink
- Canned bread
- Mystery packages (with short stories featured on the label)
Plus, you’ll probably also notice the plethora of ominous signage randomly scattered around the aisles, too. One that is especially hidden, in the furthermost corner of this jungle of automation (pictured below), was particularly disturbing.
Photo Source: Wander Tokyo
It translates into ‘Warning: This is a not a toilet. If you urinate or defecate here, man or woman, I will photograph and videotape your face and nether regions and put it on the internet forever.’ I really hope this signwriter just has a warped sense of humour.
2. The Infamous Treasure Vending Machine
Photo source: Timeout Tokyo
In front of Akiba’s KFC, you’ll find every pirate’s lifelong fantasy. We’re talking about the Treasure Vending Machine, and for only ¥1,000 you’ll be able to earn yourself some mysterious booty. So what exactly is inside? Well, that’s the catch; your reward is left to the gods of probability. That is, there’s remotely thin odds that you could ‘win’ a Nintendo DS or smartphone, but there’s also a high chance you could win a torch or coin purse. On the bright side, you could just designate it as lucky souvenir, or not.
3. Action Figure Vending Machines
Perhaps the most desired prize in this chaos of dispensing frenzy are the action figures and associated key chains from Animate. Animate is a well-known anime store among anime-loving otakus, and the vending machines here are about the most sought after. You can find them on platform 5 and 6 of JR Akihabara Station, or within the Animate chain’s retail outlets. Small figurines and key holders start from a measly ¥200.
4. Idol Photograph Vending Machines
Photo source: Timeout Tokyo
Idols are another subculture that has millions of diehard fans, particularly idol pop groups. We’re talking the likes of the absolutely adored AKB48, but also famous rival bands like Nogizaka46 and Keyakizaka46. These vending machines hold packs of your favourite idols photos, randomly sorted merch. Of course, to complete the set you’ll need to purchase multiple packs, and deal with the unwanted copies. Hopefully, you can exchange any duplicates with your idol loving pals and then everyone will be happy!
5. Self-Serve Hanko Vending Machine
If you’re a resident of Japan, you may need a ‘Hanko’ for any number of reasons. A Hanko is an official personal seal or stamp that Japanese people and even companies use to sign-off on all kinds of documents, including bank account and credit card application forms, rental agreements, and other legal paperwork. While their relevance is gradually being phased out, there are still a number of institutions that require this over a personal signature.
What better way to make your own personal sign, then with an intuitive and user-friendly vending machine. The Donki Quijote in Akiba is the place you’ll find this remarkable invention. The best thing about this machine perhaps is the price which starts from a super-low ¥500. You’ll have the freedom to choose from a large range of designs, text styles, and stamps. What’s more is you can even purchase a matching case to hold your personal seal. Even if you’re not a resident or don’t need one, this would serve as an original gift or souvenir.
6. Miniature Gachapon Vending Machine
Maybe you’ve heard of the gachapon phenomenon in Japan. Each spherical capsule hides a cute toy inside and the best place to get them is at one of the 500 machines located in Akihabara’s Gachapon Kaikan.
Some of the more popular memorabilia come from anime headliners like Dragon Ball, One Piece, Evangilion, etc. Prices range from ¥100 to ¥500; simply insert the right amount of money and ‘pon,’ out falls a cool little trophy. Don’t leave Japan without at least one, but I’ve heard they breed addiction, so don’t blame me if you blow a bunch of coins on these kawaii lil’ suckers.
Shibuya: Another Venue for Vending Enthusiasts
Sure, Shibuya doesn’t have the enormous variety of vending machines compared to Akihabara. Yet, what it lacks in quantity it more than compensates for in appeal. We’re talking about the wearable and edible kinds of dispensing beauties.
1. T-Shirts and Spices and All Things Vending
The first destination you want to swing by is the fashion hub of Shibuya’s 109 building, by the entrance on the first floor. Right at the entrance are vending machines featuring both T-Shirts and spices. In each pack you’ll receive a trendy tee, plus a bottle of spice. The best of both worlds for foodies and fashionistas!
2. For the Fruit Fanatics, Banana Vending Machines?
Surprisingly, beyond spices, you can also score a banana or a bunch from machines via the metro. Specifically, we are talking nearby the Hanzoumon/Den-en-toshi ticket gates toward Exit 3. Outside the Village Vanguard you’ll find this dispenser of pure energy for those needing a fix. It’ll cost you ¥150 to enjoy the pure goodness of one fresh Dole Banana — especially enticing for those needing a boost while on the go.
Sendagaya: A Wallet-friendly Marriage Proposal Solution
Did someone say Sendagaya is the capital of love? It is for anyone proposing on a serious budget! Trust me when I say this engagement ring vending machine is ludicrously dirt cheap, because I can pretty confidently say you won’t find anything else like it in Japan. Let’s look at all the benefits of this match-making machine:
- It’s available 24 hours a day
- You get a real diamond
- It’s only ¥9,000 (+tax)
That’s a whole bundle of merits without any clear shortfalls. What’s the catch? I can hear you thinking with my psychic abilities. Just never mention the price … to anyone! Good luck with your thrifty proposal!
Shimbashi: The Vending Machine Izakaya
We already talked about vending machines being the epitome of automation, but imagine installing a bunch into an eatery. Wallah! You have an (almost) automated dining experience, because who needs staff?
Perhaps the only caveat to entering this place could be the lack of an official Japanese Driver’s Licence. This is a requirement for entrance and the freedom to buy alcohol at will. Assuming you meet these conditions though, we recommend going nuts (but not too crazy). Canned alcoholic beverages start at a super low ¥150, but we recommend diving into Japan’s signature beverage – sake!
Other Vending Machine Madness in Tokyo
Apples from Actual Automated Appliances
Perhaps bananas aren’t your thing. Then you can try the apple variety of vending appliances. Slightly pricier than our banana brother, a regular apple will set you back ¥200. Feeling a sweetness-craving coming on, then you can choose the sliced honey option for ¥240 (a honey satchel is included at the bottom of the pack).
You have two options to find these fruitful vending machines. The first is located at Kasumigaseki Station on the Marunouchi line, in front of the Hibiya Park ticket gate. Alternatively, you can find one on the Hibiya line, next to the elevators behind the ticket gate. The second is located at Yotsuya Station, close to the transfer point between the Namboku and Marunouchi Lines.
Natto Vending Machine
Another of Japan’s staple food beyond rice is the oozing fermented soybeans called ‘natto’. Actually, when I say oozing, I mean a gooey slimy and icky, yet nutritious power-packed super food. Japanese people embrace this dish, while the trend for foreigners is not so accommodating. The meal itself is thought to be an acquired taste, with a unique texture and smell to boot.
So, if you want to visit Tokyo’s natto vending machine, you’ll need to journey to Ikejiri-Ohashi Station. Take the west exit, you’ll find this vending machine in front of the natto specialty shop Natto Kobo Sendaiya. You can get three boxes for a very frugal ¥180.
Sake Vending Machine
Ryogoku in Tokyo’s eastern ward of Sumida-ku is the capital of sumo wrestling, with its impressively giant stadium. However, it’s also hosting to a simple yet attractive number of sake vending machines. In an izakaya simply called ‘Tokyo Store’ the ‘tachinomi’ (standing) style bar invites people to enjoy a range of sake while standing.
For one small cup of sake, called a ‘choco’, will cost you only ¥200. For that price, you’ll easily be able to try the entire range, and still have a change to spare. You can access the establishment via JR Ryogoku Station on the Sobu Line. It’s less than a minute walk from the west exit.