What’s up with Japanese Vending Machines (Jihanki)?

The Concept behind vending machines (jihanki, jidouhanbaiki)

Vending machines started in Britain in the late 1880s when a small cabinet-like equipment automatically dispenses cigarettes without any human intervention. There were other historical records of earlier coin-operated machines that dispense products to the user.

Ideally, the main concept of a vending machine is that the consumer can provide a specific amount of coins to a slot keeping a storage full of items. The machine will recognize the amount of money and eventually provide the item.

In Japan, cigarette machines were among the first kinds of vending equipment available. A coin will dispense a certain amount of tobacco. This was believed to be the beginning of the popularity of vending machines in Japan and since then thousands of jihankis have been manufactured not only in Japan but all over the world. The availability of vending machines makes transient occupancy in hotels, capsules, and the like much more convenient because of the availability of goods.

In Japan alone, there are roughly 5.5 million vending machines throughout the country. They are distributed near crowded areas, convenience stores, bus stops, train stations, and many more. For crowded cities like Tokyo, a vending machine can be located at almost every corner and block.  There are vending machines for almost anything in Japan including non-perishable and perishable goods. Starting from a machine that automatically sells a cigarette, Japan became one of the countries in the world with the largest collection of vending machines.

The Importance of Vending Machines in Japan

In the Japanese language, the word Jidouhanbaiki literally translates to ‘vending machine’ in English. In modern times, it is commonly known as jihanki for short. In the entire world, Japan is home to one of the largest collections of vending machines.

The Japanese put great value to convenience, this is the lesson learned in analysis how much adoration the locals have for vending machines. The faster they can get their items, the better. This is due to the fact that people, especially living in busy cities like Tokyo, have strong work ethics and do not wish to waste time on lining up for goods.

Since vending machines also occupy much smaller spaces compared to actual stores and restaurants, business owners will be able to save a great deal. This means that they would be able to maximize Japan’s sky-high real-estate value.

Also, the presence of vending machines all over Japan is an indication that crime in their country is pretty low. For an individual to be willing to walk around the neighborhood to look for a specific item on surrounding vending machines without fear is already an admirable quest.

Another importance of vending machines is the fact that the people can use their coins for easy purchasing. With many items on sale being higher than most coin denominations, it is difficult to maximize the use of coins except with the presence of coin-operated vending machines.

The popularity of Vending machines in Japan

Many people, especially foreign travelers, wonder why there are so many vending machines in Japan and why they are so popular. The answer is simple, Japan is quite reputable when it comes to innovation and technology. Creating a machine for almost anything is a sure sign of how ‘high-tech’ their country truly is. Japan has a vending machine for everything, even fresh produce, and goods which only has a short shelf-life. There are live crabs, fresh fish, fresh vegetables and more. They sell clothing, footwear, accessories, and even gadgets.

The important question now is not why vending machines are popular in Japan. Instead, the true need for vending machines should be a question that must be explored. Do they really need vending machines for everything? Honestly, that question is quite difficult to answer.

By David McKelvey (Flickr: Casual Frozen Foods) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


On the business aspect of it, a vending machine is an automatic investment where the replenishment of goods requires consistent capital. However, the lack of employees will significantly cut expenses for the business owner. This, in certain aspects, is actually beneficial for the business owner. On the economic side, however, the continuous production of service-oriented businesses that reduce human intervention will reduce the number of jobs available for the citizens. But this is not necessarily bad as a high demand for more equipment will increase the demand for manpower in manufacturing firms. So instead of jobs in service, there are new jobs in manufacturing.

Vending machines also take up smaller spaces compared to restaurants and stalls. Thought of anything more convenient than a convenience store? A vending machine that sells everything. Although convenience stores are mostly open 24 hours in a day, the removal of human intervention in the process speeds it up entirely. The only problem with vending machines is that the items are not easily accessible all at once.

Themed Vending Machines in Japan

Jihanki Shokudo

One popular tourist attraction in Japan would be the Jihanki Shokudo or JihankiLunch. This is a small-scale restaurant made up entirely of vending machines. It hires completely no staff at all. This particular restaurant is located in Isesaki city and it is making headlines all over the world.

The restaurant itself is only made up of three vending machines. One serves cheap ramen, the other serves hot sandwiches and the last serve burgers. It is not just the vending machines that impress people, it is also some other features of the restaurant. One is the fact that the restaurant is completely organized. There are trays of straws, napkins, condiments, and chopsticks at every table.

On top of that, the entire restaurant is completely clean! There are bins intended for leftover food and there are bins as well for wrappers, bowls, and the like. The owner simply visits a few times a day to check up on the stocks and throw away the garbage.

For people on a budget but are after a unique travel experience, a short visit to this restaurant is great. The food is good and the price is very affordable where every meal ranges between 200 yen to 400 yen. Just make sure to stay disciplined and keep the place clean!

List of COOL Vending Machine Items


This kind of vending machine is very common in arcades and game centers. It serves freshly popped popcorn of different flavors for a low price. However, some retro vending machines only offer plain salted with butter. But, this is already good enough for the price. Now, people don’t have to line up in cinemas to enjoy a small bag of delicious popcorn.

Uncooked Rice

The Japanese absolutely love convenience which is why many prefer buying grains of rice in vending machines that in grocery stores. Just imagine how much time is saved buying rice from machines than walking around the store and lining up to pay for an item? On top of that, this kind of machines provides availability 24/7. Although this kind of machine is only unique to some Asian countries, vending uncooked rice is quite convenient.

Cold Beer

This is one of the most interesting items vented out of machines in Japan. There are vending machines selling canned beer. However, this particular kind of vending machine serves draft beer by the glass – an interesting venture. The problem with this machine is that it will be difficult to control youngsters buying a pint. However, with the strict implementation of the law in Japan it is pretty obvious that drinking under-aged is illegal and punishable by law.


For people who are unprepared for a sudden downpour of rain, this particular vending machine is quite useful. The good thing is that the item vended can be used multiple times making it worth every yen. This kind of vending machine is common in places of high foot traffic like train stations, bus stops, and the like.


Some variants are served hot in a bowl while others are served on a cup. There is even a vending machine that allows the customer to choose from a wide selection of flavorings and add-ons. For a small price of 300 to 400 yen, a good hearty meal is made instantly available to consumers. Hot soups are great on cold January mornings.


There are some vending machines that sell almost any kind of battery available. This is helpful when disasters strike and when there is no power in a certain location. Or, on an ordinary day, it saves a person’s time in walking to and lining up at the convenience store to purchase new batteries.

Bike Parts

Japan is home to a great number of pedestrians who prefer riding bikes than taking cars to work. Having a vending machine that sells bike parts makes lives easier and convenient for many commuters. It saves the hassle of looking for a shop that sells what suddenly broke and losing time having it fixed. The important thing to remember about this, however, is that learning how to fix a bike is essential for commuters and bike owners.

Mobile Chargers

Having to go about the day without a mobile phone or any form of connectivity is not easy. For anyone on the go without any extra battery packs, a fast charging machine is made available for use. It usually has a number of available cables and a coin through the slots would allow for a few minutes of charging time. This is a very convenient machine for those in great need of electricity.

Selfie Booths

There are now vending machines selling photos in color. There are built-in cameras that can take a group’s photo. The machine allows for digital printing, design, and color. In fact, forums online say that this is probably the coolest vending machine in Japan.

List of UNUSUAL Vending Machine Items


Some people are actually in awe of this new fad in Roppongi hills but a puppy vending machine is unusual to borderline abusive. The company that owns the puppy vending machine said that reducing human intervention in the purchase of animals and pets saves time and reduces expenses. This, on the other hand, does not look that promising.

Live Crabs

On top of the puppy vending machine, an equipment selling live crabs is also unusual. Actually, any vending machine that produces live items is absolutely unusual. What assurance do consumers have that the item inside is still alive and how long would these living creatures stay alive inside a machine?

Stuff in cans

Most vending machines sell drinks of all kinds; this includes beer, soda, milk, tea, and more. However, Japan started selling other items in cans too and the combination does not always sell. For instance, a few vending machines in Japan sell bread in a can while others sell ramen in a can. There are also soups, ready to eat spaghetti sauces, and more.

By Guido (Flickr: i found a porn vending machine!!) [CC BY-SA 2.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Future of Vending Machines in Japan

There are a number of very ambitious and impressive ideas about the future of vending machines in Japan. The next step to the vending machine manufacturing in Japan would be cashless transactions. There will be a tap card which can be used in any vending machine all over Japan which can be used for purchasing regardless of location and price.

Other very ambitious ideas would include fingerprint or face recognition machines. This will allow the machine the machine to decide which item to purchase because it already recognized a person’s favorite drinks and food item. Although this is quite far-fetched, nobody really knows for sure the future of vending machines in Japan.

What is interesting about this is that there is already a working vending machine in the Shinjuku station which decides for the buyer between the choices just by scanning the buyer’s face. It has been programmed to recognize an age range for the buyer and use statistics on what to produce for the buyer.

For instance, it has been recorded that high school students usually prefer carbonated milk drinks. The buyer of the same age range as the statistics will let the machine decide what to buy. The machine will automatically produce a carbonated milk drink after scanning and recognizing the buyer as a high school student.

Vending machine manufacturers create ways to encourage consumers to spend more on their products. This is by providing promos, points through apps, discounts, and the like for the consumer. There are even vending machines that have games wherein prizes are given to winners. On top of that, Japan has also increased the number of crazy items being sold in vending machines nationwide.