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Japan's incredible vending machine culture
Posted on 16/08/2017


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From cans of soda to eggs and even puppies, there are very few things you cannot buy from a vending machine in Japan. It is then no surprise that the country has the highest density of vending machines in the world, however reason for this are not as straightforward as you might think...

There are over 5 million vending machines in Japan

There are over 5 million vending machines in Japan
Pumidol Leelerdsakulvong/123RF

According to JNTO - Japan National Tourist Organization - there are approximately 5.52 million vending machines in the country. With a population of around 127 million that means there is on average of one vending machine per 23 people. Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association puts the annual sales total from vending machine at around 60 billion dollars. By comparison in the Unites States the annual revenue from vending machines is approximately 7 billion dollars. Just think about those figures for a moment, Japan is roughly the size of California and yet the revenue from its vending machines is more than eight times that of machines in the United States. What is behind these figures? Why are vending machines so popular in Japan? Well it turns out the answer to these questions is by no means straightforward...

1) Variety of products sold

The first, and perhaps most obvious reason behind the popularity of vending machines in Japan, is the incredible variety of goods you can buy. Think about your average office vending machine, chances are its content will be pretty similar to that of any other vending machine in the country: a fairly mediocre selection of soft drinks, tiny packets of chips and generic chocolate bars. In Japan things are quite different, if you can imagine a product chances are you will be able to buy it from a vending machine. Alongside the usual soft drink/chips/chocolate selection, the selection of which by the way is expanded beyond your wildest dreams, you can also buy: fresh fruit, eggs, hamburgers, hot soup, ramen and sushi. Of course vending machines apart from food sell other things; well here too the variety is taken to new levels. You can buy anything from cigarettes and earbuds to puppies and used underwear (don't ask).

Vending machines are not limited to big cities

Vending machines are not limited to big cities

2) Price of real estate

With over 93% of the population residing in urban areas Japan's cities are some of the most densely populated in the world. This has unsurprisingly led to real estate prices skyrocketing over the years. And while this has had a profound effect on residents of Tokyo, a city infamous for its exceptionally small apartments, it has also affected retailers for whom it is much cheaper to put up a vending machine on the street than rent space for an entire shop.

3) A low crime rate

According to an article published in Business Insider, which quotes figures from the United Nations' 2010 crime report, Japan has one of the lowest robbery rates in the world. This means that vending machines are rarely vandalized, stolen or broken into even if they can potentially contain thousands of dollars inside. According to The Japan Times many of the machines also have built in security cameras and can contact the police in case they are being tampered with.

You can buy almost anything your heart desires from a vending machine

You can buy almost anything your heart desires from a vending machine
Trinuch Chareon/123RF

4) A fascination and reverence for all things automated and robotic

Japan's fascination with robotics is no big secret. From robot run hotels, to fully automated factories and even companions for the elderly, the country leads the way not only in technological developments but also in their application in daily life. And what are vending machines if not robotic versions of sales clerks.

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