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).
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.
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.
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.
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.