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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogVending Machines in Japan: A Deep Dive into Its History!

Vending Machines in Japan: A Deep Dive into Its History!

Thuy FangThuy Fang
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March 27, 2024
A woman wearing a kimono at one of many vending machines.

Vending machines are convenient wonders found in practically every corner of Japan. They give you various options such as drinks, snacks, and Japanese candies to unusual items whenever needed. Let’s explore the rich history of these beloved machines in Japanese society!

When did vending machines arrive in Japan?

The first jihanki (vending machine) ever recorded was invented in ancient Egypt (around 215 BC), where they sold holy water in temples. Fast forward to Japan in 1888, a brilliant inventor named Tawaraya Koshichi had an ingenious idea of selling tobacco through machines. He even designed one that could dispense stamps and postcards, showcasing Japan’s early innovation in automated convenience. 

An electronic jihanki with drinks.
Some vending machines have touch displays! Image via Shutterstock

In the 1960s, jihanki became super popular in Japan, especially for selling beverages. Coca-Cola was one of the first big companies to bring them here. However, Japan didn’t stop there; they also invented jihanki, which sold hot and cold drinks in the 1970s!

Nowadays, you can find vending machines for almost anything, from Japanese candy, snacks, and drinks to meal vouchers and train tickets! You can spot them in quiet countryside areas and even up on big mountains. There are nearly three million jihanki in Japan. That’s a bunch of machines, but it’s no wonder they’re handy and reliable. They even help businesses save on labor costs.

Why are there so many in the country?

Life moves quickly in busy cities like Tokyo, and people want things fast and easy. That’s where these machines come in handy. They’re like quick stops for busy people on the go. Also, with prices going up and fewer people working in stores, vending machines are a cheaper option. And since most people still use cash in Japan, those extra coins you’ve got can be used easily!

Yet, it’s not just about being quick and cheap; cleanliness is essential, too. Japanese vending machines are always kept clean and have sealed products, so you know you’re getting something fresh. 

Two polka dot vending machines.
They have really cool designs as well! Image via Shutterstock

Moreover, these automated vendors aren’t just about snacks and drinks anymore. They’ve evolved to offer a broader range of goodies, from Japanese candies to cool t-shirts! This constant innovation keeps the experience fresh and exciting, making jihanki a staple of Japanese society.

One more reason vending machines are loved here is because people feel a connection to robots. They see Jihanki as a helpful robot that does tasks for them.

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What are some unusual vending machines?

Dashi soup stock

Dashi is a magic ingredient that adds a rich umami flavor to dishes like miso soup and noodle broths. Now, you can find this vending machine in various spots around Tokyo and Nagoya, ready to provide you with the perfect dashi whenever needed. 

A vending machine for dashi soup.
You can also get savory soup as well. Image via Shutterstock

These machines offer two types of dashi, one made with grilled flying fish and the other with dried bonito flakes. They’re all perfect for enhancing your homemade Japanese meals. The funny thing is that the bottle has fried fish inside, making it even more exciting to get your dashi.

This dashi isn’t for sipping straight from the bottle! At the bottom of the vending machine, there’s a warning reminding you that it’s meant for cooking, not drinking. So, if you’re craving a warm and comforting bowl of udon or oden, just grab a bottle of dashi from one of these machines and get cooking!

Capsule toy

Capsule toy machines are famous all across Japan. You can find them in famous areas like Shibuya and Akihabara. Using these machines is incredibly simple. You pop in a coin, give the lever a little spin, and out pops a capsule filled with a surprise toy. 

A capsule toy from a vending machine.
Gashapon is very common as well! Image via Shutterstock

These toys can be anything from your favorite anime characters to adorable animals or tiny versions of famous places in Japan. Many machines offer unique models of Japanese candies, snacks, or traditional dishes. These vending machines are even more remarkable because some capsules are see-through. You can peek inside and get a sneak peek of what toy you might get.

Horror items (Akihabara)

Just a short walk from Akihabara Station, a mysterious alley is home to some of the most unusual vending devices you’ll ever encounter. It’s called “Terrifying Vending Machine Corner,” a weird place where locals and tourists come to discover all kinds of creepy and bizarre stuff. 

An unusual jihanki in Akihabara.
You can get some unusual items here! Image via Timeout Tokyo

In a small and old building, these machines stand packed tightly together, selling all sorts of crazy items. From something like model trains and even stag beetles, the lineup is as eclectic as it gets. 

You’ll find jihanki stocked with odd items like old tickets and even superalloys disguised as innocent beverage cans as you explore further. But the real surprise comes with the mysterious white box adorned with cryptic and strange writings. However, you can still find ordinary items like canned soda, Japanese candies, potato chips, or flavored popcorn here.

Why should you try vending machines in Japan?

A woman at a vending machine at night.
Have you ever used a vending machine in Japan before?Image via Shutterstock

Vending machines have become a symbol of convenience and reliability in Japan. Plus, with a wide variety of items available, from Japanese candies to unique souvenirs, there’s always something interesting to discover. Have you ever tried a vending machine in Japan? Leave a comment below and share your experience!

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