Japan is the land of vending machines, there are almost 6 million of them and you can find vending machines everywhere. They sell all kinds of products, and many of them do much more. The first machines from 1904 sold postage stamps. In 1931 you could buy the first sweets in the vending machines – caramels. Even in that early stage vending machines had special functions to amuse customers and played a samurai actions movies! Since then, the machines have undergone a huge change, and the Japanese cannot imagine life without them. The variety of products that you can buy in the machine makes you dizzy. They have become the hallmark of Japan, which has been the leader of this industry for many years and introduces new solutions all the time.
The vending machines became part of everyday life in Japan during the economic boom after the Second World War. It all began in 1957, with the introduction of fountain-style vending machines that sold juices. Some of them are still in use. These machines have become a huge hit among people, which is why their number grew up to 15,000 very quickly. They were installed in places such as department stores and cinemas. In 1970, the number of machines in Japan exceeded one million. Their spreading has contributed to the creation of canned drinks and 100 yen coins. The company producing non-alcoholic beverages at that time developed a canned coffee that could be sold hot. All that was needed was a machine that would allow it. Hot coffee was a winter drink, so the machine had to be able to sell cold drinks in the summer and hot in the winter, but initially it seemed impossible. Inspiration was found in an unexpected place – the heaters used on the trains. They created a miniaturized version of this heaters, but the next challenge was to maintain the same temperature for all cans. Three metal plates were placed above the radiator, which enabled proper redirection of the air flow. A new kind of machine made its debut in 1972.
Modern vending machines are selling cold and hot beverages at the same time, and some models can also assess the age and sex of the customer to recommend drinks that are most often chosen by his consumer group. Each client receives different recommendations. This is possible thanks to the miniature camera that is on the machine. It captures the image of the client and compares its face with a database of million of male and female faces. It determines the age and sex of the client by analyzing certain key features around the eyes and mouth. The machine also takes into account the current temperature and time of day to ensure the best possible recommendation. It offers benefits to both its owners and clients. All types of data collected by these devices are currently used to develop new products. What products we find in each machine is obviously not accidental. They are tailored to the tastes of customers who are the most numerous group in a certain area. If there are mainly older people living in the neighborhood, there is more tea and coffee in the machine than sweet drinks. They will also be heated for a longer part of the year, as older people less often drink chilled beverages.
Another new invention are vending machines where you can buy coffee. Coffee from the vending machine?! It is nothing new. But this is not the instant coffee that you can usually get in vending machines, but a coffee from freshly ground beans. Of course, the preparation of such coffee takes a bit more time, which can be annoying for impatient customers. The device has a screen installed that displays the transmission from the preparation of our coffee. Thanks to this, time flows faster and we get to know the way the device works. Or maybe you want an artistic latte?
Vending machines with beverages are the most popular, but not only these products can be bought in them. We will also get snacks, ice creams, pancakes, warm popcorn, as well as fresh products such as eggs or fruit. The rain surprised you? No problem, there is a vending machine with umbrellas. You had drunk too much the previous evening and you did not get home to change? Fresh underwear and a tie are already waiting for you in the vending machine. And if you’re a fan of used underpants, you’ll buy one too. Only you have to know where 😉
The vending machines stand at every turn, but there are places where several machines are grouped in one place. On the main roads and wherever there are no grocery stores in the area. Retro vending machines selling hot meals. Ramen or udon, burgers and fries, you will find in them various dishes, which are prepared by the owner of the machine, which is why they always taste different. In the ’70s, restaurants with vending machines were popular, they were called self-service coins restaurants. This was small buildings with several vending machines and tables. The introduction of 24-hour retailers such as stores and restaurants, made these places just a curiosity and tourist attraction. There were also bars with vending machines and now there are very few places, but they are very popular. In Japan, you can drink alcohol on the street, so here and there you can find vending machines selling beer or sake. There are also special editions of canned meals, which are sold hot from vending machines. In Japan, you can buy canned soups, skewers, oden or… bear stew!
Some vending machines are used in the event of natural disasters. For example, if an earthquake cuts off drinking water in the city, you can get free drinks in the vending machine. Thanks to batteries, they work even during power interruptions. The displays can show text informing about, for example, the location of the evacuation center. Vending machines in very busy places, like metro, have built-in resuscitation devices, which everyone has access to.
The machines are an inseparable element of the Japanese landscape and life. They are located in many places and they are convenient to use and have a wide range of products. Thanks to the fact that technology is constantly developing, they offer much more than just sales of goods. They are a tourist attraction and a technological curiosity. You never know what you will find in a certain vending machine, there are always a new products.
And what would you like to buy in the machine?
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