Japanese Culture: The Vending Machine Nation

Japan is a country known for its technological advancements, and their love of new technology is having an interesting effect on Japanese society. Just like in their extremely efficient industries, everyday life in Japan is becoming more and more hassle-free. Hence the rise of the very popular shopping alternative: vending machines. In Western countries, these machines might just be a slightly more infuriating way of getting a sugary or salty treat. But in Japanese culture, the possibilities for vending machines are endless. You can find anything from soft drinks to underwear in a vending machine and shockingly there are 23 times more vending machines than people.

Now with COVID-19’s effects on society, being able to make purchases without direct human interaction is another way to limit the chances of the virus spreading. Considering these circumstances, having a large variety of vending machines available is very helpful and will continue to be so in the future. But does the rise of the vending machine tell us more about Japanese culture than we might think?

Japanese culture vending machines
A Brief History of Japanese Vending Machines
They might seem like an entirely modern invention, but the idea of vending machines has been around in Japan for hundreds of years. They started out in small towns and villages as unmanned food stalls that were replenished with fresh fruit and vegetables by local farmers, and passersby would take their produce and leave the correct money. Obviously, unmanned stalls can only prosper in a country with a strong sense of personal responsibility and trust. Fortunately, both of these things are prevalent in Japanese culture. In fact, Japan’s crime rate is still decreasing today which keeps unmanned food stalls in business.

The modern day vending machine started gaining popularity in the 1960s, and the number increased from 240,000 in 1964 to 1 million in 1970, thanks to more companies like beer distributors using them to sell their goods. In the 70s, coffee companies introduced canned coffee and by 1973, there were more than 2 million machines. The trend continued, reaching numbers upwards of 5 million by 1984. The humble vending machine has come a long way, now selling everything from food to clothing and flowers. In cities like Tokyo, you can find a vending machine on almost every street corner, where life is fast-paced and the demand for instant purchases high.

Japanese culture food stall
The Love of Technology
The low crime rate is just one of the reasons why vending machines are so popular in Japan. But there are many other reasons why vending machines are on almost every street corner in Tokyo, and some of them tell us a lot about Japanese culture in general. Japan has become a technologically advanced nation because of the amount of people who have an interest in new technology and innovation. Japanese inventors come up with interesting new ideas that can only take off with the help of a forward thinking audience.

Luckily, Japanese people are open to new ideas and are credited with some of the biggest leaps in automation in the world. With the growth of automated production in Japan, it only seems natural that Japanese people expect their shopping to be automated too. What’s more, vending machines are becoming so technologically advanced that they can even tell you the weather and update you on current events. For a technology-loving nation, ever-present vending machines are becoming the new norm.

Japanese culture Tokyo technology
Efficiency in Japanese culture
Finally, one of the biggest advantages of vending machines is convenience. In Japanese culture, efficiency is highly valued. Japanese manufacturing systems gained global notoriety for its reduction of waste, both in the form of materials and time. Industrial robots reduce time and money spent on labor throughout all sorts of manufacturing industries in Japan. This leaves the living and breathing workforce free to come up with more innovations for their technology.

After a hard day of work, Japanese people want nothing more than an easy and efficient way to buy anything they need. Thus, vending machines fit in perfectly with the fast-paced and highly efficient nature of the country. The way that these machines evolved so quickly also reflects how innovation is a valued part of Japanese culture.

Japanese culture vending machines
The reasons why vending machines are so popular actually reflects a lot about the efficiency and hard work ingrained in Japanese culture. The humble vending machine is continuing to evolve, introducing cashless payments as well as face, eye and fingerprint recognition. There are also “surprise” machines where you put in 1000 yen and not know what you get. Some of today’s vending machines in Japan even offer features like personalized recommendations, bringing endless possibilities when coming to the automated service. In numerous industries, including technology and manufacturing, Japan offers a prosperous landscape where new ideas can grow and gain popularity.

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