FX Excursions

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The Story Behind Japan’s Famous Vending Machines

by Jack Guy

Feb 24, 2020

ID 98737599 © Seaonweb | Dreamstime.com


Vending machines are everywhere in Japan, offering everything from cold drinks to phone chargers and even hot meals like ramen.


Accessible 24 hours a day, the machines have earned a special place in Japanese culture and make a real impression on visitors, too. The story begins in 1888, when an inventor named Tawaraya Koshichi invented a tobacco dispenser.


However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that vending machines really took off, offering drinks such as juice and beer. In 1964 there were 240,000 machines in Japan, a number that exploded to reach 1 million in 1970 and 5 million in 1984.


As their popularity increased, new types of vending machines entered the market. You will find umbrella vending machines, popular in sudden downpours, and book vending machines, so you can buy something to read on a long journey. There are also business card vending machines, an important part of Japanese corporate culture, so people can print out cards on their way to a meeting if they have run out.


Today there is a drink machine that spins a roulette wheel after you buy your drink, offering you the chance to win another drink for free. Others play short comedy videos while preparing you a fresh coffee, so you can be entertained while you wait.



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