The Convenience of Vending Machines

When I got to Japan one of the first things I noticed was that they had a $*%# ton of vending machines. They are literally everywhere, and they sell almost anything. My purchases from vending machines were mostly of the liquid variety and most machines sell both hot and cold beverages. I was in love! The ability to grab a hot coffee at any time of day was an empowering feeling as a coffee drinker. Move over Tim Hortons and Starbucks, there is a new king in town, and this time, it is automated!

Japan’s fascination with vending machines is an interesting one, and it is something we will explore in greater detail in this post.

As a coffee drinker, access to hot beverages from a vending machine was…Heaven!

While Japan has a fascination with vending machines, why do I? and why write a blog post about it now?

Terry O’Reilly and the Vending Machine

Coincidence is a funny thing. A few weeks ago at Carleton University, Terry O’Reilly, a Canadian broadcast producer and personality, probably best known for his CBC podcast called Under the Influence, was giving a presentation about the power of Storytelling.

I was first introduced to O’Reilly during my time at Algonquin College’s Library and Information Technician diploma in a marketing class in my final year. Since then (2012) however, I admittedly stopped listening to the show but in preparing for his presentation I went back and started listening again. Timely as it was, I listened to season 8, episode 4 titled “Vending Machines: Coin-Operated Marketing“. In this episode, the Japanese vending machine industry was discussed at great length.

Terry O’Reilly’s presentation at Carleton University on February 19th in Richcraft Hall.
For more context on the slide behind O’Reilly, check out this ad campaign he was a part of here.

Vending machines were something I wanted to write a post about and it seemed like an opportune time to share this interesting information with people who follow this blog.

Interesting Statistics

  • Japan has a population of 127 Million
  • There are 5.4 million vending machines in Japan
  • There is 1 vending machine for every 22 people
  • This makes it the highest ratio of vending machines per capita in the world
  • Annual vending machine sales total $64 billion USD (6.4 trillion yen) (source).

But why are they so popular in Japan? One author suggests that the popularity of vending machines are because of three factors, high land prices, high labour costs, and low crime rates. Low crime rates tend to be one of the biggest factors in the success of the vending machine in the land of the rising sun.

Vending machines on the streets of Hiroshima, Japan.

Vandalism on the Streets of Japan

One vending machine operator, who has approximately 2000 vending machines reported only 5 incidents of vandalism in 1994. That’s a surprisingly low 0.25% vandalism rate.

While visiting Japan this was one of the things I was very conscious of. There seemed to be very little to no visible vandalism on the streets. That said, I would often see stickers plastered on objects at various points around Japan. Can you really call these stickers vandalism? To me, it’s an interesting kind of guest book. It makes me sad that I didn’t bring any of my own stickers to add to the party!

Some of the only vandalism I saw in Kyoto, Japan.
Stickers all over this box in Miyajima, Japan.
Maybe I should have added my own stamp to Japan?

Put Them Anywhere!

Since Japan has such low vandalism, vending machine operators are not afraid to place vending machines all over the city. Coupled with high land prices, vending machines are the perfect solution, they only require access to a power supply and they have a small physical footprint. In the pictures below you can see vending machines are found all over Japan and they can be tucked into very small places.

Vending machines can be placed almost anywhere, even in small tight streets. These machines are on a walking path in Kyoto.

Even around Shyla‘s quiet neighbourhood, vending machines are abundant.

Even in residential areas, vending machines are easily found on the street. This photo was taken by Shyla!


If you visit Japan, you might notice that it is a very clean place! What makes this really interesting is that there is a serious lack of trash/recycling bins in public places. Even with garbage bins lacking, it remains one of the cleanest places I have ever visited. It’s a strange thing to think about. Perhaps people are more conscious about garbage in Japan, or people just care more about their surroundings. Either way, trash/recycling bins, although limited, can often be found around vending machines or convenience stores. Got garbage? I suggest finding a vending machine or convenience store.

In this photo, you see some of the rare and elusive trash/recycle bins in Japan. This photo was taken by Shyla!
You can see items in this vending machine are colour coded. Blue=Cold. Red=Hot. This photo was taken by Shyla!

If you have the chance to visit Japan you will no doubt encounter at least one of the 5.4 million vending machines scattered across the country. Like many other cultural and social aspects of the country I experienced, I wish I had the chance to research why these things became so popular in Japan. Perhaps then I would have appreciated the machine and the industry more than the hot can of coffee I got for ¥130.

Leave a Reply