This project explores the colorful world of Japanese vending machines. Japan has 5.52 million vending machines spread across the country.
With a population of 127 million people, that is 23 people for each vending machine. Each year 6.95 trillion yen (US$65 billion) is spent on vending machine purchases in Japan. The vending machines sell almost everything imaginable.
The moment one gets off the plane in Japan, vending machines are waiting to greet you. You don’t need cash to make a purchase from a vending machine in Japan. Common alternatives to cash are Suica and Pasmo cards (Similar to Oyster Cards in London and Octopus Cards in Hong Kong).
Just a quick swipe and you can have whatever you desire; hot drinks, cold drinks, beer, sake, cigarettes, toys, soups, fruit, and a personal favorite when I can find it – Cup Noodles.
The thing that catches one’s attention when photographing Japanese vending machines is the frequency of use. They are always in use.
Typically, even in the most remote locations, someone will always politely let me know that they apologize for interrupting my vending machine photo session because they need to purchase something. Japanese vending machines are well maintained and vandalism is virtually unheard of.
The best locations in Japan to find vending machines and explore the urban landscape are alleyways.
Japan is one of the safest countries on the planet, so weaving in and out of alleyways is safe and the only place to experience the real Japan. The majority of people and life exist in alleyways.
Japan is a culture like no other. Traditions are honored and conformity is expected.
But while cultural shifts are changing the attitudes of younger generations in particular, Japanese vending machines continue to thrive and serve as emblematic reminders of the conformity and the convenience that is central to Japanese culture.
There is virtually nowhere in Japan that can offer escape from vending machines. They simply exist. They are efficient and reliable. They are colorful and inviting. I find them elegant.
About the author of this article:
Doug Caplan was born in Montreal, Canada and currently lives in Langley, British Columbia.