Vending Machines | Rosa & Patrick

In Japan, it’s no secret that vending machines are everywhere and that technologies are incorporated into these common machines. One of the reasons for their widespread availability, or its popularity, is that vending machines provide service convenience and a multitude of services. Another important point is that in a country with population densities that would make the average Canadian cringe, space is at a premium. With the small footprint of a vending machine versus a convenience store (which there are still plenty of), services can be provided in areas where it would not normally be feasible due to space restrictions, saving on money, or both.

Their availability and existing systems means that additional services can also be deployed efficiently. Common auxiliary devices include phones, emergency noticeboards, AEDs (automatic external defibrillator), and WiFi hotspots. However, the most common type of vending machine is for drinks that can tackle Japan’s hot weather and walking distances (to and from the station).

Vending machine equipped with emergency noticeboard

For example, on the way from the Mukogaoka-yuen station to the International House, the climb up the hill can be a tedious one (especially in hotter weather), and the path has several vending machines along the way that sell drinks to keep hydrated without heading all the way to the nearest convenience store. Most vending machines sell drinks which also vary slightly depending on the location. At train stations, vending machines tend to have more caffeinated drinks (coffee and tea), which is a logical step taking into consideration the long work hours of the working population.

A station vending machine with a wide selection of caffeinated drinks and water
Kamakura, a popular tourist destination, has a variety of vending machines. While drink machines were still the most common, there were ice cream and cigarette machines as well. Even in places that sold food and drinks, like the aquarium, gatchas (toy vending machines) and drink machines were abound. For foodstuffs, vending machines don’t cause long-lineups, are cheaper to install than to hire workers at restaurants, and allow for a streamlined process.

A cigarette vending machine in Kamakura that requires a taspo
There are also restrictions on vending machines to prevent problems. For example, cigarette machines that require confirmation of taspo cards can only be obtained by Japanese citizens to prove they are of legal age to smoke, which is used to prevent underage smoking. Taspo cards can also be used as an alternative to cash for payment.

Many vending machines, especially those by stations, accept alternative payment methods. To maximize convenience, trains passes (Suica and Pasmo in the Tokyo/Eastern region) are often usable to buy drinks.

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Vending machine that accepts Pasmo as payment

Recently, vending machines have been getting a face lift and are becoming more advanced and obtaining interesting new features. For example, vending machines are being equipped with facial recognition devices that allow the vending machine to know the gender and approximate age of the customer to offer recommendations (like the Acura covered by Faye and Lean). Others are going cashless—instead opting for smartphone apps and alternate payment methods.

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The Acura vending machine recognize customers and give recommendations


Vending Machines | Faye & Lean

It is a widely known fact that vending machines are ubiquitous in Japan and found on almost every road, street corner, and train station. They sell small snacks, tobacco products, and hot food in addition to the standard cold drinks and can be found anywhere from developed areas like Tokyo to more rural farming areas as well. This week, we will be examining the present and future of vending machines in Japan, along with their many roles in Japanese society.


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Everyone knows that vending machines are used to dispense snacks and drinks in exchange for a couple of coins, but few people outside of Japan know about their useful settings in the case of an emergency. A recent development that Japan introduced to certain vending machines in the last decade is the ability to vend beverages at no cost during times of emergency. The emergency mode on these vending machines is unaffected by power outages as they operate on batteries or independent power systems, so it may be invaluable to those looking for water or sustenance when disaster strikes, especially in an earthquake-prone country such as Japan.


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Another very recent development is the new Acure digital vending machine, which is characterized by a large digital touchscreen, face recognition software that allows the machine to recommend drinks based on your physical features (age and gender) and real-time information (time of day). Over repeated usage, it improves its suggestions from the facial data it gathers. In the UK a vending machine called the “Luce X2” can recognize children, bring up their data (age, purchase history, medical records) and deny them the ability to purchase snacks. Features like these can be soon implemented into Japanese vending machines to incentivize things like healthier eating, but may also raise controversial questions about privacy and data collection.


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The Acure app gives customers the ability to connect to these new vending machines on their smartphones. Acure’s app implements the features that take advantage of their technological advancements, such as being able to use reloadable transit passes to purchase drinks (much like a prepaid card). The most recent development is being able to purchase drinks from any location through the Acure app. In the Acure app, you are able to purchase things in bulk and dispense them whenever you are near an Acure vending machine. The app provides you with a QR code for you to scan at the machine for your device to be recognized. One of the new features integrates social platforms by being sending a gift to a friend. Be it through LINE or email, your friend can receive your gift and redeem it anytime they are near by a Acure vending machine. You can also do surveys to get free drinks. Lastly, to incentivize using their app you accumulate points through drink purchases, and can use those points to buy more products.

During our short time in Japan, we came across many vending machines at many different places including street corners and historic temples/shrines. They were lifesavers in the time of dehydration, but unfortunately, we could not find any of the more recent, technologically fancy vending machines. After asking around amongst the local Japanese students, we found that the newest vending machines often exist at the major train stations (for example, Shinjuku), and none of the Japanese students we asked  had come across the Acure vending machines. This just goes to show that even though the new technology may exist, many people may not even be aware of these new vending machines. We hope to encounter one of the new vending machines  before we return to Calgary, and we predict that more of these technologically novel machines will start to spread around Japan and may become more common in the near future.

Until next time,

Faye and Lean

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