Question: In what country can you find vending machines on every street that sell interesting items like lobsters, umbrellas, and pizza?
Upon traveling to Japan, what’s one thing that might stick out to you right away? The staggering abundance of vending machines. With approximately five million machines, or about one machine for every 23 people, Japan has the highest density of vending machines in the world.
The country is known for its many out-there practices, and their obsession with vending machines is just one of them. Found outside along city streets and alleyways, in virtually every train station and building, and in residential and commercial areas, the machines sell almost anything you could imagine. Many of the machines sell hot and cold beverages like energy drinks, juices, tea, and coffee, but some of the most interesting finds include umbrellas, ice cream, ramen, fresh eggs, beer, pizza, disposable cameras, underwear, and Buddhist amulets. The annual sales for the convenient appliances total more than $60 billion.
This quirky craze says a lot about the values of Japanese culture—including their appreciation for convenience and all things automated. Japan has some of the longest working hours in the world, and vending machines are a way to make life easier for those who do not have time to shop in a store. For Tokyoites who work more than 80 hours of overtime a month, even stopping by a convenience store is too time consuming, so they rely on vending machines to pick up anything they need.
With an aging population and a declining birth rate, the cost of labor is high, and with 93% of the population living in cities, real estate is expensive. For retailers, it’s more practical to set up a vending machine, on the street or in a park, than to rent out and staff an entire store. And, with one of the lowest crime rates in the world, unsupervised machines in Japan are rarely broken into, stolen from, or vandalized.
The pervasiveness of vending machines found in Japan would most likely not be possible anywhere else in the world, and is just of the many things that makes Japanese culture so one-of-a-kind.
10 More Fascinating Facts about Japan:
- In Japan, napping in the office is common and is seen as a sign of being a hard worker. They even have a name for it—inemuri, which translates to “sleeping on duty.” Napping in public is also culturally accepted in Japan and it’s common to find people napping in cafes, restaurants, and parks.
- During each school day, Japanese students take time during their daily schedule to clean up around their school—a tradition called o-soji. The practice is used to teach students to respect their surroundings, and is a contributing factor for why litter is scarce in Japan.
- Following World War II, late night dancing was outlawed in an attempt to crack down on prostitution. The ban forbade public dancing unless the venue had a special dance license, and even then, all dancing was to be stopped at midnight. Finally, after 67 years, the law was finally overturned in 2015.
- Japan’s trains are some of the most punctual in the world, and on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen, the most heavily traveled high-speed railway in the world, the average delay is only about 30 seconds.
- In Japan, there are more pets than children with about 22 million pets in the country and only 16 million children under the age of 15.
- The Japanese use about 24 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks per year—almost 200 pairs per person. In proper Japanese etiquette, chopsticks should never be crossed on a table or stuck vertically into a bowl of rice, as both are symbols of death.
- Tipping is not customary in Japan and is viewed as unnecessary, or even rude. For service workers such as waiters, cab drivers, or hotel staff, doing their job well is about pride, rather than working for a tip. If you do try to leave a tip, you may be rejected.
- There have been more than 300 Kit Kat flavors produced in Japan since 2000, including flavors like wasabi, cheese, red bean, and baked potato. The name Kit Kat coincidentally sounds like the Japanese phrase “kitto katsu” which means good luck, making Kit Kats a popular candy to give to students before exams.
- While salmon is a huge component of Japanese sushi today, it was not introduced into Japan until the 1980s by Norway.
- The fortune cookie, commonly found in Chinese-American cuisine today, is not actually an Chinese or American invention, but originated in Kyoto, Japan as a cracker served alongside tea.
Experience the many quirky customs of Japan when you travel with O.A.T. on our Japan's Cultural Treasures adventure.