I came to Japan this July. And it was not only hot, it was like being in an oven. But luckily there was Japan’s most useful thing to save me from dying of thirst – the vending machine. There are so many of them in Japan that you can’t walk more than one city block without seeing one. On top of that, unlike Western vending machines, in Japanese vending machines your stuff won’t get stuck! So, why are there so many vending machines in Japan?
Table of Contents
What Are Vending Machines?
What vending machines or 自動販売機 (jidouhanbaiki; jidou = self-moving, hanbai = selling and ki = machine) are should be clear to almost everyone. A vending machine is a machine selling stuff.
That said, there are different types of vending machines. The most common one in Japan is the one selling drinks. You can get water, coffe, various kinds of teas, soft drinks and even hot drinks!
But besides vending machines selling drinks there are many others, like ones selling cigarettes, ice cream or even Japanese sake.
That’s completely different to what I am used to in Switzerland, where all you get from vending machines are overpriced sweets and soft drinks, that might get stuck, leaving you thirsty and without money.
And there’s one more very common type of vending machine in Japan. It’s the food ordering vending machine. They also exist in fast food restaurants outside of Japan, but they are (still) rather rare. Whereas in Japan’ it’s completely normal to walk into a restaurant and order at a vending machine. Almost no one of my Japanese friends found that weird!
How Many Vending Machinese Are There in Japan?
According to the Japan Vending Machinery Association, there are 4.2 million vending machines in Japan. But this number also includes ticket vending machines, coin lockers, etc. If you only count vending machines selling food or drinks you end up with just 2.4 million vending machines.
Other sources like CNN claim that the number of vending machines in Japan is around 5.5 million. But the accuracy of this number also has to be questioned, as the amount of vending machines in Japan is said to fall.
Depending on which number you take, this makes Japan the country with the biggest or second-biggest amount of vending machines in the world. Because it is said, that in the United States there are about 4.6 million vending machines.
Why Are There so Many Vending Machines in Japan?
The main reasons why there are so many vending machines in Japan are:
- Japan is hot
- vending machines are more convenient than going to a store
- the more vending machines there are the more they get used
- in Japan vending machines don’t get vandalised
- they are easy to maintain
- Japanese people love automation
- Japan is densely populated
Japan Is Hot
Japan’s wheater is crazy!
I arrived in Japan this July. And it was way too hot, there were days where temperatures reached more than 40° Celsius! That’s where the vending machines came in handy, without them I think I would have died. That time I had to walk 20 minutes everyday from my host family’s house to the nearest station. And that twice a day! I just had to drink a lot. And despite bringing my own bottle with me, I bought at least two bottles a day.
Vending Machines Are Convenient
As the reason for why they use vending machines, my Japanese friends responded the most with: “because they are convenient”. And that’s true. If you get thirsty in Japan you are almost never further than a few steps away from a vending machine. I went on a small walk today and decided to count how many vending machines I’d come across. In only five minutes I saw 13 vending machines. And as I said, there are about 4.2 million vending machines in Japan. That means there is one fore every 30 Japanese residents!
There Are Already Many
“What do you mean with there are many vending machines because there are already many?!” you might ask.
It’s because what makes vending machines convinient is their sheer amount. If there wasn’t a vending machine around every corner, you wouldn’t really get to use them, would you? Even on ferries you will find vending machines.
And because there are already so many vending machines in Japan, the Japanese are used to seeing and also using them. And they won’t even mind them. Same goes for me, in the first few weeks I couldn’t even believe how many there were. But now I almost don’t notice them anymore.
They Won't Get Vandalised
Japan is one of the safest countries on earth. That’s why you can put up a vending machine wherever you want without having to worry that it gets robbed or vandalised. Whereas in other countries you have to keep that risk in mind.
Easy To Maintain
Vending machines are very easy to maintain. You don’t have to pay any salaries, they don’t take away much space, so you can put them almost everywhere and once they are up and running, you can leave them on their own. And by that you can make a neat little side income.
Japanese People Love Automation
Japanese people are obsessed with automation. For example, I often see robots “working” in shops, like the one in the picture above and it’s almost completely normal. And it’s no secret that Japan is one of the leaders in robot technology. Besides that, jobs that would normally be done by humans are often automated. Like putting up the lid of the toilet (read more).
And let me tell me about the first time I arrived in Japan. So I arrived at Tokyo Narita airport which is quite a bit away from the city of Tokyo. And you first have to hop on a train. For which you of course need a ticket. Where do you buy that? – At a machine. But wait! The machine speaks to you in a cute little voice! Such speaking machines are no rarity in Japan and make it seem that the Japanese adore such human-like machines.
No but jokes aside, Japan really focuses on robotics and automation because of it’s rapidly aging society.
In fact more than 30% of Japan’s population is over 65 years old. And the birth rate is also shrinking. Which means that there is a high demand for workers, especially high skilled ones. And jobs requiering less skill are ought to be automated.
Do The Japanese Really Use Vending Machines That Often?
Only because there are so many vending machines, that doesn’t mean that people don’t go to shops to by drinks.
In reality more people buy drinks from shops than from vending machines. At least according to my survey that I did along my friends. The reason is, that super markets are cheaper. The average price of a bottle of water at a vending machine is about 120 Yen (about 1.10$), whereas in supermarkets you can get a bottle for under 80 Yen (about 0.73$).
That’s why the picture that the West might have of the Japanese being obsessed with technology and machines isn’t true.
But nevertheless are vending machines as such something that you will only find in Japan!