Japan has millions of vending machines with some of the most foreign items. Continue reading to learn about what Japanese vending machines sell.
Considering how unique Japanese culture is and the massive number of vending machines in the country – over 5 million! – it’s no surprise that you’re bound to find some outlandish things there.
Most of it boils down to food and drink items from different parts of Japanese cuisine instead of Soda cans and beer snacks. But numerous vending machines sell things you couldn’t imagine, such as clothing items, umbrellas, surgical masks, and even live and dead bugs!
I know it sounds weird – especially the bugs – but it’s also fascinating to see how Japan contrasts with the West in daily things like vending machines.
So stick around as we’ll explore what vending machines sell in Japan, starting with food items, beverages, then misc items eventually. In each section, we’ll also go in order from most to least familiar to the untrained Western eye.
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Items Sold In Japanese Vending Machine
In Japan, you’ll find the occasional snack vending machine. But for the most part, niche drinks and non-consumable items dominate the market.
Here are some of the weirdest things you’ll find in Japanese vending machines:
- Hot meals
- Flying fish soup
- Live beetles
- Temple fortunes
We’ll start nicely with snacks like potato chips and popcorn, which are pretty rare to find in Japanese vending machines. But you’ll see them a lot around touristy areas.
Although ice cream is a very seasonal dessert to enjoy, vending machines sell them in various flavors for 120 yen, or just under a dollar.
Instant noodles (ramen) are an iconic meal even in the west. And in Japan, you can get your quick filling at some vending machines in a plastic cup with hot water or soup.
I can already feel the Italian sighs, but hear me out! These vending machine pizzas aren’t like those cold overnight pizzas, but they’re heated on the spot and served quite fresh.
I imagine the initial response to hearing about vending machine sandwiches is “meh.” But in Japan, those vending machines are pretty much mini-kitchens that make your sandwich fresh on the spot. And they’re quite good, too.
Rice is the centerpiece of Japanese cuisine, so it’s no surprise they sell it in vending machines.
You can find raw rice to take with you home, and some machines sell large bags (10+ kg) of rice. But if you’re in a hurry and need your carbs, you can get steamed or curried rice.
Fruits & Vegetables
Whether you’re craving a quick banana or want to buy a cabbage ball for home, you’ll find your fit for fruits and vegetables in Japanese vending machines.
Maybe you find it gross, but bugs are a notorious part of East Asian cuisine. So if you’re feeling adventurous and want some easy protein, check out these crunchy bugs.
Japan is notorious for its intensive work culture with long hours, so again, no surprise to see coffee sold in vending machines. Besides, you can find similar machines in the west, so it was a nice familiarity to see.
Some machines even let you decorate your cup for around 200 yen, or $1.5.
It seems like beer is the universal language of our planet, after all.
Many vending machines sell different beer types in Japan, and some are even imported from the west.
Coke and slushies are two very common drinks here. But combine both into one cup and put it in a convenient vending machine? Now that’s what I call innovative.
At first glance, it looks like a normal Coca-Cola. But when you turn the bottle upside down, it slowly transforms into a coke slushie. It’s also enjoyable to watch!
If you can get your daily kitchen supplies like fruits and vegetables from vending machines, then why not milk? You’ll also find different flavored milk bottles if plain isn’t your thing.
Sake is traditionally served with food but if you’re in a rush and want something to push you till the end of the day, you can buy a sake shot at some vending machines.
Delicious as it is, creamy corn soup is a famous dish in Japan. Luckily, you can easily find it in Japanese vending machines, too. And at 120 yen (<$1), they were pretty cheap!
Flying Fish Soup
Do you know how chicken broth has become a popular drink recently? Japan took it a step further with fish broth, specifically, flying fish broth.
Its color may be slightly off-putting to the untrained eye, but it goes well with hot noodles.
Did you know that masks were already a big part of East Asian culture before the pandemic? So the next time you realize you forgot your mask at home, just buy one at the vending machine!
Normally, if you forgot to check the forecast before going out and it starts raining, you’ll have to rush to the nearest shop to buy a new umbrella. But in Japan, you can easily rent an umbrella and drop it off at another machine once you’re done.
Are you In Valentine’s day rush? No problem! You can easily buy your flowers from a vending machine without waiting in long lines.
The origami vending machine in the touristy Nikko district is a brilliant way to support the creators with mental disabilities and give tourists an easy way to connect with the culture.
Collecting rhinoceros beetles is another long-standing Japanese tradition that’s become more convenient with technology. It’s an excellent opportunity for bug collectors, but some activists argue that keeping live beetles locked in vending machines is cruel.
Japan is very sophisticated, but tradition is still a big part of the culture. And although controversial, some temples now have vending machines that sell fortunes and lucky charms.