Cheap vending machines date back to 2003


Tokyo Walker has an interesting tidbit on “merchant-owned” vending machines. For decades, the vending machine business was restricted to direct operation by the drink manufacturers, but in 2003 was opened up to small owner-operators. This development has been the driver of the growing number of machines offering very cheap canned coffee and other drinks. According to today’s article, some offer items for as cheap as 50 yen apiece.

How do they do it? Apparently by selling drinks that are “close to their expiration dates” or bear discontinued labels, options not available to the manufacturer-run machines.

(Bonus vending machine fact: As of 2007, there were 5.4053 million vending machines in Japan (48.8% of which were drink machines), by far the most per capita in the world)

17 thoughts on “Cheap vending machines date back to 2003”

  1. I don’t recall the figures, but I recall that the vast bulk of ‘vending machines’ in Japan was technically those machines in pachinko parlors that dispense balls.

  2. 2008 numbers:

    Nope, drinks dominate, even when accounting for train ticket machines which are the second largest category. The pachinko machines aren’t even a blip

    Update: Um nm that thing about ticket machines… ticket machines are second in terms of sales despite having a far smaller number.

  3. Pachinko machines are 0.5% according to the pdf on that page.

    Also, according to the same source, America has twice the amount of ice cream vending machines (122,000) than it does cigarette vending machines (60,000), which saw a 33% drop in machines last year. Seems like vending machines in the states are on the right track.

  4. And I still haven’t seen in the US a cigarette vending machine that a child could access.

    TASPO, although I haven’t investigated the details, seems like a lot of R&D invested in the wrong direction.

  5. I haven’t seen a cigarette vending machine in America since I was a kid. They banned them, at least in the NJ/NY area, something like 15 years ago.

  6. Okay; as I said, I don’t remember where I read it, and it was some time ago. So I wonder why this source said that. Was it a sarcastic comment on the ubiquity of pachinko? Or were they counting the actual pachinko machines by mistake? Looking at the figures, I would say that would be likely. There are about 3,000,000 pachinko machines in Japan (about a million less than 1995).

    Hmm. I notice the US has seven million vending machines. Including about three million more drink machines. So why all the hype about Japan being a land of vending machines? Because US ones aren’t on the streets or something?

  7. “So why all the hype about Japan being a land of vending machines/”

    Japan has the highest number per capita. Perhaps they stand out for Western visitors because they are rarely out-of-order and almost never vandalized which contrasts with vending machines in some other countries. You also can’t underestimate the impact that seeing a beer vending machine had on young, impressionable minds. There are fewer of these now, however.

    The industry is concerned about the slow take-up of Taspo cards. They have just opened a “Taspo shop” in Shinjuku, which promises to process an application in less than 30 minutes, and plan to do the same in other locations. The colour scheme looks a bit similar to a branch of Citibank which might cause some fun.

  8. I don’t think the ratio difference by itself is large enough to make people go Wow. I think it would be a combination of the fact that they work, that they are generally (in my limited experience) more ‘public’, and yes, the infamous beer machines. For the JET type of young Westerner/Yank who comes over, especially those that are not of legal age back home, it can be very impressionable.

  9. A lot of the US ones are indoors in shopping malls, etc. and are typically just feet from shops that are selling the same thing anyway. In Japan, vending machines are out in the open, there when you need them.

    “You also can’t underestimate the impact that seeing a beer vending machine had on young, impressionable minds.”

    In my case, considerably less than the impact of seeing a whiskey vending machine.

  10. I saw a cigarette vending machine the other day. It was by the bathrooms in this bar in Philadelphia. We were asked to show ID at the door, but they let underage kids to use the bathrooms and for shows in the back, so if you played your cards right you could probably buy a pack. Or maybe I’m wrong and the bartender watches more closely than I suppose.

  11. If “where you need them” means a 100 yen vending machine two feet outside the discount supermarket that sells canned coffee for 60 yen apiece, then that is true convenience.

  12. Well – this is a case where statistics don’t give the whole picture. The ubiquity of the vending machine in Japan – can also be explained in part by the population density of Japan. Japan has an average of 343 people per square kilometre – while the US has around 31 people per square kilometre. Even if they had the exact same ratio per capita – there would be around 10 times more per kilometre in Japan to support the same number of people.

    The above of course assumes even distribution of people which in itself isn’t accurate either, which is why stats have to be looked at from several directions.

    Statistics from

  13. If “where you need them”…

    No, I mean after climbing 200 steps to get to a secluded Shinto Shrine in Shikoku.

  14. “if you played your cards right you could probably buy a pack”

    This makes me feel old. It never ceases to amaze me the lengths underage people will go to get their hands on contraband. Even high school dropouts come up with brilliantly complicated schemes.

  15. “Even high school dropouts come up with brilliantly complicated schemes.”
    I think that should be “especially” not “even”.

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