The World of Japanese Vending Machines

Photo: Chris McGrath / Staff (Getty )
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For decades now, Japanese vending machines have served up an array of interesting, mundane, and useful things. Things like manga. Or bread in a can. Or illicit substances. Or video game piracy cartridges.

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In Japan, vending machines started to appear in 1950s with drink machines, and then really began to take off in the following decades. Today, Japan has the highest per capita rate of vending machines in the world (the U.S., however, has a high number of machines, most of which are soda heavy), with the vast majority still being drink machines.

Over the years, it seems like people have put almost everything imaginable in vending machines, especially in the years before convenience stores really took off in the country and starting appearing on nearly every corner.

Yet, vending machines, like the country’s unmanned vegetable and fruit stands, do still serve a very useful purpose, especially in rural areas: round-the-clock retail.

Here’s a round up of some of Japan’s more unusual vending machines. Keep in mind, most Japanese people would also find many of these rather unusual.

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If you are wondering where the panty vending machine is, forget the panty vending machine!

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Here is a vending machine for traditional Japanese seals (“hanko” or 判子).

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Vending machines for amulets at Buddhist temples.

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Chikuwa (竹輪).

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Noodles.

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Fishing bait.

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Flowers, how lovely!

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Note the bottles of sake.

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Books.

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Batteries.

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Glasses for computer use.

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Bread in a can.

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New bras.

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Toy cars.

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Chewing gum. Only chewing gum.

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Cup sake.

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Cup noodles.

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Rice.

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Pornography.

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Sliced apples.

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Umbrellas.

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Melons.

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Eggs.

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Bras and underpants (both new!).

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Sushi.

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Um?

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Yakiniku (焼肉 or “grilled meat”) sauce.

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Another vending machine taking the train.

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Dashi.

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More sake.

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Child-sized?

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Here are boring vending machines in an exciting place: Mt. Fuji.

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And now once again, it’s time for the Hello Kitty vending machine!

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Soon.

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This article was originally published on March 5, 2013. It has since been updated and expanded.

Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.

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About the author

Brian Ashcraft

Originally from Texas, Ashcraft has called Osaka home since 2001. He has authored five books, including most recently, Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World's Most Desirable Spirit.