Few expect vending machine hunting to be one of the more exciting aspects of tourism—those few who do have probably been to Japan.
A few years ago, one of my friends returned home from a visit to Japan. I asked him what he remembered best about the country, and he replied, “Vending machines.”
This—for my anime-obsessed, devourer-of-Eastern-culture friend—was somehow the first thing out of his mouth.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I replied. “Vending machines?”
“Listen,” he said. “You don’t understand. They are everywhere in the city. To escape, I went to the country and visited a rice patty. Rice patty here, rice patty there, rice patties everywhere. And in the middle of it all? A vending machine. In the dirt. I have no idea how it got power or where it got restocks from. But I could buy cigarettes, alcohol, and underwear out in the boonies.”
You never know what sort of bizarre and completely unexpected conveniences you might find while traveling. In case you find yourself randomly needing a puppy while traveling in Japan, but don’t have time to go to browse a pet store, here are six bizarre and unique vending machines to keep an eye out for.
(I) First stop: Akihibara. If you like the quirky and unique, and you feel like making your hunt for vending machines easy, this should be your first stop.
Not far from the Akihibara train station there is a hidden corner full of vending machines. Possibly most exciting are the two milk vending machines—both packed to the brim with completely unique milk products from across the country, some of which can only be bought from these vending machines. Help yourself to some ice-cream drink, different kinds of milk, or even milk coffee.
But if you’re lactose intolerant (or otherwise not interested in cow juice), while your friends browse, you can amuse yourself by exploring the passive-aggressive signs that litter the area. One threatens to immortalize you forever on the internet if you use the corner as a bathroom—yikes!
(II) That’s not all that Akihibara has to offer. Near the KFC is a vending machine known as the “treasure box.” If you think of yourself as a bit of a pirate—or really lucky—don’t miss this imposing, golden machine.
This treasure box is a mystery machine—you put in your money, and you get out a random package. The contents can range anywhere from Nintendo’s newest video game system to a tiny coin purse. Are you feeling lucky?
(III) After Akihibara, travel to Sendagaya to find a more personal vending machine—a proposal vending machine. You read that correctly. A proposal vending machine.
Managed by the company “Jam Home Made,” this proposal vending machine sells rings, with real diamonds, for only nine thousand yen (plus tax)—about US $83, which is a steal.
An added perk for those feeling homesick, the slick white walls of the room that hosts the vending machine makes you feel like you walked into an Apple store. If I feel the sudden urge to propose to someone while traveling Japan, I know where to go.
(IV) Before I reveal to you our next location, imagine the situation: You’ve been sent by your company on a big business trip in Japan. You have your nicest suit on, and you aced your makeup. But while you’re standing at the train station it starts raining—pouring—and you realize the rain is going to ruin your outfit and makeup.
If you ever find yourself in this sitution, hopefully you’re at the Suidobashi station, mildly famous for its umbrella vending machine. Maybe get two, just in case you lose one of them. Our last two vending machines can be found all over Japan if you have a keen eye.
(V) We’ve all been there—after a few days of long travel, you’re having the time of your life, but you can’t quite shake how badly you miss your furry friends back home, and petting your travel companions is weird (not to mention trying to play fetch with them).
In such a crisis, you need a puppy vending machine. Many pet shops in Japan can provide you with one, and don’t worry about the puppies—it’s perfectly humane. They each get a brightly-lit container with clear walls and some toys, and for your convenience, the price of each puppy is printed on their individual container. Who can say no to a puppy?
(VI) Most vending machines sell drinks—which isn’t particularly impressive—but how many vending machines sell Coke slushies?
You might need to search around for a bit, but Coca Cola has a few vending machines that sell sodas that freeze when you turn them upside down. Perfect for a hot day or a tired traveler—but my one question, why haven’t these been brought to the States yet?
That’s just a small taste of the vending machines that you’ll encounter in Japan—and I didn’t even mention the canned bread vending machines or the fresh fruit vending machines, among countless others. For almost literally any need that you can imagine, Japan has a vending machine.
And odds are that it’s just around the corner.
—David “Boo” Ludlow