It's quite possible that no other country on earth does vending machines like Japan. As a whole, this country has a serious love for its conveniently-located snack vendors and has nailed the art of vending machines to boot. A visit to Japan is definitely not complete without trying at least something from its world-famous vending machines, especially when cities such as Tokyo have it down to an exact science.

In other parts of the world - like the U.S., for example - vending machines are merely just automated display cases for things such as soda pop and chips. In Japan, vending machines carry all manner of things from full meals to convenience items. With that being said, one can find some pretty unique snacks without ever leaving the street they're staying on - here's how.

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How Vending Machines Became So Successful In Japan

For those hoping to come face to face with a vending machine in Japan, there's good news: They're found practically everywhere. While the most abundant source of vending machines will be found in heavily-populated areas like Tokyo, they can be found scattered throughout the country. According to Matcha, vending machines took off in Japan due to their low crime rates which made the machines incredibly successful. Additionally, the overhead costs of vending machines are very low, making them one of the most cost-efficient options for people in busy cities. The fact that they're 'open' 24/7 also doesn't hurt any, allowing many modern conveniences to be purchased easily and for cheap at any hour of the day or night.

Nowadays, one can find almost anything in a vending machine in Japan. While the typical machines exist to dispense things such as food and beverages, there are also vending machines designed to dispense actual items, such as t-shirts and toys. It seems there's no limit to how creative a vending machine can be, especially in Tokyo - here are some of the most unique things travelers will find.

  • Canned Oden: When it comes to vending machine food, Japan is breaking the limits of what we thought we knew was possible. Oden is a popular one-pot meal that consists of a soy-based dashi broth with fish cakes, daikon, hard-boiled eggs, and more, and it can be found (piping hot!) in a vending machine. Complete with a small toothpick used to eat the ingredients in the dish, the broth is easy to sip while on the go.
  • Sake Vending Machine: That's right - for a shot of sake, all one needs to do is find a sake vending machine! The most popular one can be found in Ryogoku Station, Tokyo, and features three different types of sake to sample.
  • Gachapon: Also known as tiny toy vending machines, these can be found in gachapon halls around Tokyo, especially. While one can get an idea of what kind of toy they might get after inserting their coins, it's always a surprise, for the most part - but always something fun and unique to play with.
  • T-Shirt Vending Machine: At the Shibuya 109 mall, visitors will be able to purchase vibrantly-colored t-shirts with only the press of a button. These are more of a novelty than anything, plus - who else can say their t-shirt came from a vending machine?

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Some other unique vending machines that can be found in and on the outskirts of Tokyo:

  • Curry vending machines
  • Vegetable vending machines
  • Egg vending machines
  • Umbrella vending machines
  • Vending machines for hot/fried foods
  • Fruit vending machines
  • Flower vending machines
  • Pancan (bread in a can) vending machines
  • Pokémon vending machines
  • Crepes vending machines
  • Cup Noodles vending machines
  • Rice vending machines

How To Use A Vending Machine In Japan

For the most part, Japan's vending machines take coins and not much else. While there are some nowadays that take cards, more often than not they must be cards that are local to Japan. Therefore, tourists should be prepared to keep some cash or coins on hand if they plan on indulging in any vending machine shopping. Suica and Pasmo cards can also be used depending on the vending machine, as long as they've been loaded beforehand.

Aside from that, the process is fairly similar to any other but can be more complex depending on the type of vending machine one is using. For the most part, visitors will insert their coins or cash, follow the directions on the screen (which might very well be in Japanese!), and choose their selection. Some vending machines do have English translations but not all of them.

  • Tip: If a light flashes in red underneath an item, that's a likely indicator that it's sold out.

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