Japan • May 08, 2017
While soda and snack machines are available all over the world, no country has quite the vending machine culture that Japan does. Japan is famous for having vending machines for just about anything–from more expected things like alcohol, cigarettes, and chocolate, to more surprising items like canned bread, Buddhist amulets, books, and reading glasses.
Machines that sold drinks started to appear in Japan in the 1950’s and over the next couple of decades, vending machine culture started to really take off. Today, Japan has the highest per capita rate of vending machines in the world. There is approximately one vending machine per every 23 people, with annual sales of more than $60 billion (according to the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association). These machines initially became popular because they offered convenience and round-the-clock retail in the days before convenience stores. Nowadays, you can find 24-hour 7-11’s and Lawsons in Japan, but vending machines have long been ingrained in the local culture.
Why are vending machines are so popular in Japan compared to other countries? There are several reasons. With the long work hours in Japan, especially in Tokyo, convenience is highly valued. Vending machines continue to serve an important purpose as another form of convenient retail, along with convenience stores, especially in more rural areas. Japanese people also love automation. There is, of course, no cost of labor or expensive real estate when it comes to these machines. And finally, there is little crime in Japan, making it safe to have vending machines on the streets. Whereas, in the US for example, American vending machine companies rarely consider operating stand-alone units on the street due to fears of vandalism, theft, and property crime.
Like with everything else in Japan, vending machines continue to evolve and improve over time. With competition from 24-hour convenience stores, companies need to find fresh ways to keep people spending money at these machines. The main demographic that uses most vending machines is made up of middle-aged male office workers. Drinks company Dydo Drinco, for example, has started introducing vending machines that talk to customers with games where customers can win prizes, as well as a smartphone app for users to collect points and introduce more fun into the vending machine experience.