You won’t get far in Japan without spotting a few (or a few dozen) vending machines. You’ll find some every block or two in cities like Tokyo and even smaller towns have their fair share. You’ll even find them tucked away in back alleys and sitting on top of mountains. So what’s in all those vending machines? Well, just about anything if you can find the right one. But the most common vending machines by far are for drinks.
Some of these drinks have really strange names (note Pocari Sweat, Energy Squash, and the different types of Calpis [say that one out loud if you don’t get it]), even if the contents are fairly normal (those three are, in order, a Gatorade type drink, an energy drink, and a milk based drink). In generally you’ll find water, some juice, a whole lot of different kinds of tea and coffee, the occasional soda, and some energy drinks. But there are some drinks that are just plain weird like soup in a can (available in corn and tomato varieties) and pancake flavored milk.
At 100 – 130 Yen a piece, they’re not a bad deal if you’re thirsty, especially considering that water fountains are a rarity in Japan. But what’s really nice about these machines is that you can get cold and hot drinks (as indicated by the red and blue labels beneath them). Cold drinks are great during the summer and fall, when many parts of Japan become very hot and humid, and hot drinks are a life saver when you find yourself spending a lot of time outside in the winter. My personal favorites are (in no real order):
Fruit juice mixes (there are many different kinds, most of which I’ve liked)
Barley tea (it’s caffeine free and good both hot and cold)
Royal Milk Tea (a lot like a chai latte; there’s many types of milk tea. but Royal is my favorite)
Green Tea (a Japanese classic)
Hot Lemon (think heated lemonade and you’re on the right track)
As a note, most vending machines have a bin next to them where you can put your “pet bottle” (plastic bottle) or can when you’re done. Often there are separate bins for bottles and cans so make sure you use the right one. If you want to carry your drink with you, just keep in mind that other vending machines and convenience stores are the only places you’re likely to find more bins.
But drinks aren’t the only things you can get in vending machines. There are also vending machines for:
Cigarettes (these are very common, though you need an ID card to use many of them)
Rice (see the above picture)
Small Meals (french fries, spaghetti, cup noodles, etc)
Ice Cream Bars (some in rather strange flavors, which I’ll be talking about another time)
Snacks (chips, energy bars, etc)
Clothing (for businessmen who need to freshen up after staying out too late to get home)
Beer (beer vending machines were actually banned a while back, but there’s still a some around)
Porn (for people too embarrassed to buy it in a store, I suppose)
And those are just the ones I’ve seen. I’ve heard about many other types vending machines as well. Even if you don’t run into any of the weirder ones, trying out lots of different drinks is a fun way to keep cool (or warm) and stay hydrated while touring in Japan.