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by Kaylee Noborikawa, staff writer

ted the world’s first hot and cold beverage dispenser. It wasn’t the most sophisticated or necessary invention but convenient nonetheless. This sparked a revolution, resulting in high-tech machines, compared to those in the United States, dispensing a variety of the products, from everyday food, beverages, and cigarettes to 10-kilo rice bags, alcohol, eggs, live lobsters, live beetles, toilet paper, flower bouquets, disposable cameras, underwear, pornography, and kerosene. And these are only some examples of bizarre items that can be found in Japan’s vending machines.

The Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association, estimates one vending machine per 23 people, which makes Japan the highest vending machine-using country after the No. 1 United States (yet it’s 5,749,910 square miles smaller than America).

With an estimated 5.5 million vending machines, Japan also has one of the world’s highest vending machine densities.

In 2001, the Japanese vending machine industry raked in $87.5 billion, or an average of about $730 per person. Emiko Narushima, a senior at HPU who lived in Tokyo, said that when she first came to the islands she noticed that the vending machines here were different. Those in Japan sold more “stuff,” she said. “They were more convenient, and the quality was better.” She added that she would purchase food items such as hamburgers or instant noodles from vending machines, at least three times a week.

Another unique quality is the thought behind the vending machines. Newer models are equipped with video cameras, optical sensors, and touch-panel screens. Some include microchips that alert vendors when items are running low. Some alcohol vending machines have embedded devices that can verify a customer’s age and refuse a sale to a minor.

Some machines are helpful, designed to reduce garbage or offer free drinks following an earthquake. Recently, vending machines equipped with security cameras and emergency buzzers were placed along school routes to help children in emergencies.

According to Eisuke Ishikawa, an environmental writer who specializes in the Edo period, the Japanese, historically, admired and worshipped Western civilization for it’s convenience. When the government attempted to “westernize” itself during the convenience became an important aspect of Japanese culture. With Tokyo being so populated and busy at all times, vending machines provide an easy way for people to purchase necessities quickly, without having to stand in line.

In September, Motorola announced that it would be launching Zoom Systems vending machines, which would carry Motorola Razors, Blue-tooth-enabled headsets, car chargers, and other convenient accessories for cell phone users. Two machines have already been installed, at San Francisco International Airport and Chicago’s State Street Macy’s, and it already sells iPods from vending machines at U.S. airports, hotels, and grocery stores.


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