Posted in Kafevend Blog
As you sit there reading this blog perhaps you have a drink in your hand, purchased from none other than your trusty Kafevend installed machine. Maybe you caught the train to work and passed by a vending machine or two at the station. Should you happen to visit the gym this evening, chances are you'll recuperate with a drink and a snack from the machine there. We find them installed in places where there's a lot of pedestrian traffic; airports, bus stations, hospitals, universities, offices and cinemas are all common venues. They're particularly useful for people who work unsociable hours and for those too busy to trek around a shop and queue at a till. Nevertheless, when it boils down to it you can easily go days (depending on your itinerary) without seeing one at all. If that thought makes you sad; if you're a vending machine addict who craves automation, then you need a holiday in Japan, a veritable vending machine heaven!
Japan has a population of some 128 million people and around 5.6 million vending machines, which effectively equates to a ratio of 23 humans to each vending machine. For the purpose of comparison here in the UK the ratio is closer to 55:1, but that ratio is skewed by the fact that well over half our nation's vending machines are situated in the workplace. In fact most British vending machines live an indoor existence where they enjoy a measure of protection from our hammering fists of frustration. By contrast, vending machines placed along streets in Japan remain unscathed thanks to lower rates of crime and vandalism, and perhaps a calmer mindset altogether. People go out and about by foot a lot too which is perfect for vending machine culture.
Our respective vending machine histories have a similar length. Japan's first foray into the business came in 1888 with Tawaraya Koshichi's invention of a tobacco vending machine. Similarly, it was during the 1880s that Victorian society saw the emergence of machines selling cigarettes, sweets and postcards, predominantly in the stations of the rapidly expanding rail network. The 1950s mark the point at which the march of the machine really got under way, both in the western world and in Japan, with its flair for robotics, high tech gadgets and games. In the decades since, whilst UK companies have improved vending machine performance and reliability immeasurably, drinks and snacks are still very much the prevailing merchandise, with the odd notable exception of course. (Check out our 'village vending' blog to see a truly innovative project in action!) In Japan however, as you might expect with such a huge number of outlets, there are an enormous variety of goods on offer. Let's take a look at what you could get with your yen.
In addition to the more usual snacks, other food on offer includes bananas, tomatoes, rice, eggs, canned bread and even live lobsters. Practical items like toilet paper, umbrellas and batteries are available. Items as diverse as flowers, T-shirts, ice creams and ties have whole machines to themselves. If you suddenly take an urge to go fishing, there'll be a vending machine to accommodate you. Books, CDs, DVDs and computer games will take care of your indoor entertainment needs. It's as easy to find a machine selling beer or sake as one selling tea or coffee. And finally, thanks to perhaps the most surprising vending machines of all, anyone who has ever yearned to keep a rhinoceros beetle as a pet will not go away disappointed. Who could ask for more?