Japan by Jitanbaiki- shopping on the run

Vending machinesMorning Globetrotters (Australian Eastern Standard time) and once again welcome back to your GTG as we tackle all the travel world’s ‘most pressing’ topics and break it down for your literary digestion. Today we bring you everything from coco-robo to dirty laundry as we look at the unique Japanese world of the vending machine.

In theory, it’s possible to visit Japan and avoid interacting with a single person once you’re fingerprinted and through the border. Japanese society works on a foundation of some simple elements, including trust, privacy, round-the-clock timetables, trains, cram schools, exam pressure….and Jitanbaiki or vending machines.

Beverage vending machines for PiTaPa in Ten-Ro...

Japan experienced a vending bonanza during the 1950s and since then the range of products available has blossomed and plateaued like the career of your favourite 90s pop group (don’t worry, you don’t have to pick just one, I certainly didn’t…). The current range includes (but of course is not limited to):

  • Hot dogs
  • Hamburgers
  • Ties
  • Amulets/good luck charms at shrines or temples
  • Discount tickets (rail and other)
  • Fishing bait
  • Flowers
  • Sake and beer
  • Rusted batteries
  • Kids’ computer glasses
  • Manga (comics)
  • Pornography
  • Sliced apples
  • Sushi
  • Toy trucks and tanks
  • Hot noodles and rice
  • Umbrellas
  • Barbecue meat sauce
  • Second hand mobile phones
  • Lettuce
  • Bananas
  • Eggs
  • Draft beer
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Canned bread
  • Toilet paper
  • Kerosene (for small home lamps)
  • Live rhinoceros beetles which can be a popular children’s pet
  • Gloves
  • Sneakers
  • Live lobsters, and last but not least
  • Underwear (both clean and used)coco robo

Currently, whether walking down any suburban street, or at the top of mount Fuji, when In Japan, there is seldom a place you can go that a pioneering vending retailer hasn’t been before. Commonly these machines provide a selection of the local favourite bottled water brands and other (usually low calorie) flavoured drinks, beer or cigarettes. Over time, the Japanese tradition of trust has faced the challenge of under-aged smoking, leading to a reduced number of cigarette machines available. The more unique examples can have just as much novelty for Japanese people as they do for gawking foreigners. Your pornography and used underwear machines are generally found within close proximity to adult stores or other forms of adult business, keeping them out of the realm of general public traffic.

Japanese vending machines

Japanese vending machines (Photo credit: SJI Photography)

Other challenges such as the even larger phenomenon of the 24hr convenience store (to be investigated in a future GTG post), have also lead to slightly declining numbers. Of course while an interesting challenge, to attempt  a trip based on machine transactions only would be highly restrictive and no-where near as much fun. Your GTG recommends giving some a try, taking a few photos, and writing in to your GTG with the most unusual commodity you found on sale. Happy vending and until next week!

English: Instant noodles vending machine

English: Instant noodles vending machine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)