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Vending machines / 自動販売機(じどうはんばいき)

Vending machines in Japan never fail to impress foreign travelers. They are everywhere, functional, clean, and convenient as they are supposed to be. Vending machines might be referred to as “Jihan” (short for Jidohanbaiki) by locals. Oftentimes, you see multiple vending machines lined up offering a variety of drinks, fast food, cigarettes, and even liquor. You might think that minors would purchase cigarettes and liquor? But it doesn’t seem there are any reports of abuse or harmful effects to the minors in Japan. Not only are the aforementioned common items available, but also some novelty machines offer ice cream, bags of rice, fresh produce, umbrellas, and even toilet paper. Why are there so many vending machines when ubiquitous convenient stores should satisfy their well pampered lifestyle, you might wonder. In the United States or Europe, vending machines are not as prevalent as in Japan. In this article, I’d like to explore why Jihans are so popular.

The first and foremost reason would be the safe environment. When there are virtually no concerns about the machines being damaged or stolen, it encourages people to own one. Other than the maintenance and monitoring fees, it doesn’t require overhead and offers 24/7 earning opportunities. Especially in the urban areas, it’s an effective money maker since little real estate is required. Secondly, quick, and easy product acquisition suits their lifestyle. Japanese generally expect timely, accurate and polite service to be rendered no matter what the situation and have low tolerance for what doesn’t fit that expectation. Almost all vending machines are well maintained: clean, accurate, functional, lit at night and some machines even say “thank you” after your purchase. The last reason I’d list here is strictly my speculation. The social withdrawal syndrome referred to as “Hikikomori” has been a long lasting and steadily growing social issue. I don’t even attempt to understand why this trend has been persisting over several decades. When people prefer to avoid interaction with others, vending machines are an ideal alternative to procure daily necessities. It’s an unfortunate and unwelcome trend, and the country has been struggling to identify the core causes. In any event, the country reopened to foreign travelers in October 2022. I suggest experiencing Japanese vending machines if a trip to Japan is on your calendar. I assure you that you will have no problem finding one.

vending machines, jidohanbaiki, jihan
vending machines in Japan


*many colloquial expressions are used in this dialogue. Discuss the usage of those expressions and feminine usage of end particles.

B: 水筒(すいとう)の水(みず)、飲(の)んだら

A: それが、もう全部(ぜんぶ)飲(の)んじゃったんだよ。

B: えーっ? 山登(やまのぼ)りはこれからよ。困(こま)ったわねー。ここら辺(へん)にお店(みせ)、あったかしら?

A: あっ、あそこに自販(じはん)があるよ。

B: ほんどうだ。助(たす)かった、助かった。自販でペットボトルが買(か)えるわね。

A: よかったー。でも、小銭(こぜに)がないかも。

B: 私(わたし)も。カード使(つか)えるかしら? とりあえず、自販まで行(い)ってみよ


喉乾いた I’m thirsty. In “〜は、〜が” sentence structure, often both subject makers are omitted in casual conversation. Unlike English, past tense is used for thirst and hunger.

水筒 n. water bottle, but this word is often used for sturdier bottle with a shoulder belt for a long hike or mountain climbing.

だら p. conditional particle. Discuss how it is different from ば orと

飲んじゃったcolloquial expression of 飲んでしまった. てform verb + しまう= regrettable action(verb). Here, (regrettably) I finished drinking all the water.

山登り n. mountain climbing. It’s a popular outdoor activity in Japan.

ここら辺 n. around here.

買えるv. able to buy. Able form of 買う

小銭 n. change / coins

とりあえず adv. For now

みよv. volitional form of みる、みよう。 てform verb+みる=try to do. Here, “let’s try to get there (and see if a card can be used).”

1 Comment

Hello Taisuke-san. I just got here and this is the first post that I read. It is very interesting. I am a foreigner and live in Japan for 5 years now. The first thing that I did when I arrived was buying a can of hot cocoa on a vending machine. There was a conbini nearby, but I wanted to experience the moment. It was nice and I remember it clearly.

But there was one time, and just once, that I tried to purchase an ice cream, and the machine gave me nothing! I couldn't take my coins back through the leaver. That was sad. At the time being I did nothing but leave, because I didn't understand a wor…

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