Japan’s Vending Machines

Does any country love vending machines as much as Japan?

Japan has 5.5 million vending machines. That’s one for every 23 people. You never need to go looking for a vending machine. Sometimes they walk around looking for YOU.


We tend to think of vending machines as technology-driven devices, but in Japan they evolved from unmanned fruit and vegetable stalls. Farmers would leave their fresh produce in roadside stands with a collection box for payment. Customers were generally honest because that‘s what kind of country this is.


Family farms aren‘t what they used to be, but today any property owner can drop a vending machine outside of a home or business to dispense just about anything.

There’s remarkably little incidence of theft. One of the first things I noticed here was that bicycles are rarely locked. I thought they might be part of some free bike sharing program, like the Cambridge Green Bike program that was terminated when all of the bicycles were stolen within a day. I was even tempted to borrow one. But nope, these are all private bicycles; they just happen to be sitting around without locks. Back home, I can’t even keep my bicycle in my own garage without someone stealing it.


Japan can put vending machines in the middle of dark alleys or the edges of nowhere without risk of tampering. I set up a jellybean vending machine at my office, and it lasted for all of two weeks before my coworkers broke in and stole all the jellybeans without paying. This is why we can’t have nice things 🙁


One more thing! Many Japanese vending machines automatically release their contents for free after a natural disaster. Makes sense, as it is cheaper to give the snacks away than to pay for damages if hungry people break in out of desperation. Meanwhile, less-civilized societies see disasters as opportunities for surge pricing.


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