Japanese Vending Machines – Your Guide

Japan's weird and wonderful vending machines have become notorious across the globe. Find out everything you need to know about them in our guide to Japanese vending machines.

Photo credit: Lordcolus via flickr cc

Japan is the world-leader in gadgets and gizmos conceived in the name of convenience, and the Japanese vending machine is the king of them all. You’ll find them in the city and the countryside, on mountainsides, residential streets and just about anywhere else you can imagine, stocking items from the very basics to the utterly flabbergasting.

Japanese Vending Machines Overview

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Most vending machines in Japan accept all coins except for 5 yen and 1 yen pieces. They also generally take 1,000 yen bills. In a lot of cases, there will be an image or note beside the money slot stating if any other bills are accepted, which could be the rare 2,000 yen, or more likely, the standard 5,000 or 10,000 yen bill. 

As you put your money into the machine, the lights below the items will begin to glow, indicating which items you have enough money to purchase. If you are using your Pasmo or Suica card to pay, simply make your selection and hold your card to the card reader.

Hot and Cold Vending Machines

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A real blessing through the long, cold winter months, many vending machines also offer the option of a hot drink. If you see two of the same drink, select the one marked in red to get your hands on a nicely warmed coffee, tea or hot chocolate. 

Cutting Edge Vending Machine

Photo credit: Danny Choo via flickr cc

These touch screen vending machines are found in some train stations along the JR East lines in Tokyo. They are equipped with a camera and can suggest a drink according to your gender and age  – at least that’s what the developer promises on their site

Stand in front of the machine without touching the screen and you should be given your suggestion. Touch the screen to override the machine and make your own decision. A neat little machine to try out. 

Special Japanese Vending Machines

Japan has some pretty specific vending machines, selling items we might not expect to find in a vending machine at all. Tourists can often be found marvelling at these contraptions, but to many Japanese, these machines are just a part of their daily lives. Take a look at some of our favourites below. 

Milk Vending Machine

Milk. Milk in a vending machine. The top row is plain milk and the bottom two rows include flavoured milk, coffee and vegetable juice. Perfect for satisfying a late-night milk craving but with prices significantly higher than in the shops, maybe not for everyday use. 

Ice Cream Vending Machine

Photo credit: Karl Baron via flickr cc

Ice cream machines are ever-popular, especially in the summer. They carry a good selection of Japanese and western fusion ice creams, and we’ve even seen some Häagen-Dazs machines dotted around Tokyo. 

Beer Vending Machine

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Once a common sight, beer vending machine numbers are now dwindling thanks to stricter underage drinking laws. Yet, some do survive, although often they will require the use of a “Sake-Pass” if you want to get your hands on a beer. One notable exception can be found under the tracks of JR Yurakucho Station in Tokyo. As well as beer, most also stock a tempting range of fruit-based alcoholic drinks and other options. 

Umbrella Vending Machine

Photo credit: Danny Choo via flickr cc

Not too widespread but available here and there are the umbrella vending machines. If you’re caught in a sudden downpour, this vending machine may just save the day. 

Weird Japanese Vending Machines

When we say weird, we mean weird. 

A while back there was a degree of uproar in the media over vending machines in Japan selling used underwear. To clarify, these were not common and have now been outlawed, but it does give you an idea of the pervasiveness of vending machine use in the country. 

Take a look at some of the best, below. 

More about weird in Japan? See 23 Weird Things to do in Tokyo and 19 Weird Japanese Food and Where to Eat it

Flying Fish Soup Vending Machine

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What could be better than a nice bottle of flying fish soup on a winter’s day, and now, you can get it from a vending machine! Very rare, we found this one in Neyagawa, Osaka at the corner of a parking lot. It says that the soup is dashi – a fish stock soup – and that there is a fried fish added to every bottle. How could you resist!

Crepe Vending Machine

Photo credit: Karl Baron via flickr cc

They are nowhere near as good as fresh ones but will do the trick if you’re craving a sugary snack. There are various flavours to choose from including cheese, fruit and chocolate cake. 

Hot Food Vending Machine

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Basically, a vending machine that microwaves you a meal and drops it out of a hatch once it’s done. Found at highway rest stops and the like, they are a lifesaver when everything else is closed. 

Ramen Vending Machine

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Select your noodles, add some water, and bang, a steaming bowl (cup) of delicious ramen! Cup noodles must rank as one of Japan’s favourite foods, and there’s a reason, they are endlessly cheap, quick and tasty.  

Burger Vending Machine

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Fast food just became even faster with this burger vending machine. We can’t vouch for the taste or the texture, but surely it can’t be that bad. 

Bread in a Can Vending Machine

Here’s a pretty special one: bread. In a can. Choose from various options, including bread with whipped cream, raisins and chocolate, pop your can, and enjoy some super sweet, fluffy bread. 

Hot Canned Soup Vending Machine

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Hot soup vending machines are surprisingly common. Generally, you’ll find corn soup or oshiruko (‘red bean soup’) but ramen, miso and clam soup are also widely available. 

Pantyhose and Lingerie Vending Machine

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This vending machine could be handy for cosplayers or anyone who forgot their underwear, pantyhose or bikini… for whatever reason. This vending machine type is generally found in or around love hotels. 

Condom Vending Machine

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The condom vending machine is another one usually close to love hotels. This one even lets you choose between two brands: Okamoto and JEX condoms.

Healthy Japanese Vending Machines

Vending machines don’t just stock sugary drinks and instant meals, some also offer some real nutritional value. Usually found in the countryside, again, these machines show just how much the country has embraced the idea of the vending machine. 

Rice Vending Machine

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This 24-hour rice vending machine makes so much sense in rice-loving Japan. Choose your quantity and variety and you’ve got your rice ready to go. 

Egg Vending Machine

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Someone had the great idea of offering eggs in a vending machine. How cool is that. Refrigerated and perfectly safe from scavengers, the egg farmer need not sit around and wait for customers. Just fill the machine once every morning and the rest will do itself.

Vegetable and Salad Vending Machines

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Same as the eggs, leading a healthy life close to a farm or vegetable market has just become simpler: get your fresh produce from this clever locker system vending machine and get cooking.

Fruit Vending Machine

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Although quite rare, fruit vending machines also exist in Japan. The above example can be found in Tokyo’s vibrant Shibuya district and sells only bananas. If you’re passing by and fancy four bananas at an inflated price, give it a try!

More Vending Machines

Photo credit: Karl Baron via flickr cc

Other vending machines in Japan sell items including tobacco, surgical masks, reading glasses, batteries, energy drinks, draft beer and much much more. Go exploring and you’re sure to find a new species out in the wild somewhere.

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Samantha Khairallah

Samantha Khairallah

Originally from Switzerland, currently studying in Tokyo. With a wide array of interests, including travel, I'm passionate about what I write here at Compathy Magazine.

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# Things to Do in Japan # Japan Travel Tips

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