Japanese vending machines; weird and wonderful

By David Higgins

Rows of vending machines can be seen everywhere in Japan.

Vending machines in Okinawa are here, there, and everywhere. Although the abundance of vending machines here can be an eyesore, they are also a great convenience for all citizens of Okinawa. The sheer density in which they are found side by side may be astonishing at first, but it becomes the norm within a couple months of living in Okinawa. In comparison to North America where you may find one or two vending machines around a stadium and zero in any residential area, it may seem excessive to see so many everywhere all over Japan.

Once you have lived in Okinawa for some time, you will be able to differentiate between the various companies of vending machines by their branded logo on the side. Each type of vending machine offers something different.  For example, a name brand soda at a premium price or a lesser popular brand as low as 50 yen per soda.  Now that’s value!  How about some warm corn soup, some bean dessert known as “Zenzai”, jelly desserts, or even a chance to gamble for another drink with a Lucky 777 machine.

There is also the option of getting a machine of your very own to set up in front of your business or even outside of your home!  If you have a personal favorite vending machine, you simply need to call that company and explain that you have space for one of their vending machines and, voila, you can obtain a vending machine for the price of 0 yen and reap 30% of all vending machine sales as commission. The vending machine company will come by and fill up your vending machines for free; your only responsibility is to keep the machine plugged in and pay for the electricity to keep it running.  If your vending machine lacks the assumed patronage and becomes economically unviable, you can cancel anytime and the company will take your machine away at no cost to you.

Beer and even strong liquor was widely available in Japanese vending machines in the years past, but those have now all but disappeared.

The ease in which these vending machines are procured is most likely why there are so many of them on Okinawa. Not only is it easy for people to set these machines up at their residential or business area, it is also very convenient.

Many years ago vending machines that sold beer were more prominent.  This was a very popular type of vending machine; however, these machines are becoming more and more scarce as minors were getting caught buying beer from these machines. The last time I personally found a beer vending machine was at a hotel near the ice machine.  While the beer vending machine’s popularity is fading, the cigarette machines are still going strong as they are becoming more sophisticated, requiring a special card stating your age to prevent minors from buying cigarettes.

Although the many vending machines around Okinawa are a convenient and enjoyable benefit to customers, unfortunately, they do not facilitate healthy living as most of the consumable items are laden with sugar or salt.  However, it is still a delightful surprise to discover a vending machine in the most unlikely area, for example, vending machines in rural areas such Ikei Island or Cape Hedo where it’s incredible that delicious cold or hot drinks can be purchased in the middle of nowhere surrounded by sugar cane fields along a quiet roadside.

Healthy or not, vending machines have proved to be convenient and a very popular fixture on Okinawa, and they are most likely here to stay.