The Beverage Machines Empire

Student Customers
Students pose for photography in front of a Naha camera
The frame
Couple sharing instant soup in front of a drink machine in Takayama, Hida region
in orange tone
Drink machine respects the artistic standards of the wall on which it is installed.
in Ishigaki
Drink machines side by side with street artwork on Ishigaki Island, south of Okinawa
Lolita Style
A resident of Asakusa, Tokyo, dressed in a Lolita style, poses in front of a neighborhood machine.
break in can
Employees of an Asakusa Maid Café take time to enjoy drinks in the back of their workplace.
Mayu, Osaka
Mayu, an Osaka resident used to buying coffee cans from the machines in her city.
regular tea and milk tea
Kirin brand cold teas. Hot drinks have a red bar underneath instead of blue.
cold teas
Kirin brand cold teas. Hot drinks have a red bar underneath instead of blue.
Hot & Cold
Machine with hot and cold drinks in a Tokyo street.
smoke tunnel
Sequence of machines under a Tokyo railway bridge filled with small street restaurants.
in Nara
Deer passes in front of the drinks machine placed in the park of Nara.
Coke & Cola Model
Classically designed machine, a rarity among millions of sophisticated specimens.
There are more than 5 million ultra-tech light boxes spread across the country and many more exuberant cans and bottles of appealing drinks. The Japanese have long since stopped resisting them.

Thanks to the proximity of vast, icy Siberia, Japanese winter often sets in sooner than expected. Sometimes it invades the months of a sunny spring.

There was the last of these meteorological whims. We explored the domains of Mount Fuji from the base of its southern slope, nestled between Saruga Bay and the slope of the volcano.

The days dawned damp and frigid. Only from time to time did we glimpse the distant snowy summit of the mountain, among the clouds that had settled.

In order to make the most of these ephemeral periods of visibility, we sacrificed ourselves to early awakenings. The dawns brought us to the station of train of Kofu before the first work “automatons” Japanese

And even the opening of convenience stores in the area, less present than usual because we are almost 100km from Tokyo.

Beverage Machines, Japan

Drink machine respects the artistic standards of the wall on which it is installed.

Early Bird Breakfast sweets Nippon and Milk-Tea

The twenty-minute walk chilled us and aroused a ravenous appetite. As soon as we reached the platform, we would take from our backpacks any industrial snack purchased the day before and fly to the vending machines installed there.

One hundred and thirty yen (slightly more than 1 euro), guarantee us the first moment to receive

Beverage Machines, Japan

Employees of an Asakusa Maid Café take time to enjoy drinks in the back of their workplace.

compensator of the day. The purchase couldn't be easier and faster. We already knew by heart and sautéed the position of our favorite drink.

The 100 yen and cent coins we inserted fell almost soundlessly. It was enough for us not to miss the correct button for a bottle of very hot Milk Tea Kirin to rush into the tank, like a kind of food jackpot.

All around, frost painted the suburban landscape white and covered sections of the station.

The small Japanese bowls looked more like styrofoam but the first sips of tea with milk had the flavor of salvation. During several months of exploring Japan, those machines saved us time and time again.

Beverage Machines, Japan

Kirin brand cold teas. Hot drinks have a red bar underneath instead of blue.

The Japanese Profusion of Japanese Beverage Machines

There is one drink machine for every twenty-two Japanese inhabitants (about 5 million in total). They appear in fewer numbers in the most unusual rural or mountainous corners of the country. Or as part of veritable electrified armies that took over cities and their surroundings.

They belong to big technology companies. They rent them to the main Japanese and multinational companies that sell beverages.

Beverage Machines, Japan

A resident of Asakusa, Tokyo, dressed in a Lolita style, poses in front of a neighborhood machine.

In areas with the greatest movement of people – such as Shinjuku, Tokyo, where the busiest train and subway station in the world is located – they can appear in endless sequences that drive the most indecisive customers to despair.

The offer is not for less. In addition to a panoply of mineral, vitamin and flavored waters and the usual international soft drinks – Coca Cola, Pepsi, Fanta, etc. – the machines offer numerous soft drinks and Japanese juices (the Japanese call them all jujuu) various types of teas, teas with milk, countless types of coffee (regular, Premium and hyper-strong), from coffee with milk and even chocolate.

Beverage Machines, Japan

Machine with hot and cold drinks in a Tokyo street.

The Disposition and Suggestion of Drinks with Japanese Efficiency

As a rule, drinks are organized by category. A blue or red bar below the price line determines whether they are hot or chilled products.

The former diminish as winter lags behind. Okinawa and other subtropical islands of Ryukyu, they always have some cold cans and bottles to represent them.

Beverage Machines, Japan

Drink machines side by side with street artwork on Ishigaki Island, south of Okinawa

After this pre-choice of temperature, the selection of the drink can involve different factors. Habit will be one of the main ones, as will the client's physical need and state of mind.

The manipulative ability of companies cannot be underestimated. No country developed the design art like Japan. The labels and packaging of small cans and bottles capture many brains.

This is what we believe because it seems hardly credible that, in a nation with the purchasing power of Japan, the slight difference between 100 and 150 yen (minimum and maximum drink prices) exerts too much influence.

Drinks For Every Taste. And Matching Japanese Tastes

In our particular case, we managed to reach the drinks of our choice in a short time: Milk Tea from Kirin or from two or three other brands (the taste doesn't change) was chosen for breakfast, to heat or refresh as it exists in hot and refrigerated.

We opted for an exceptional isotonic drink when the heat and thirst were overpowering, and for a coffee or coffee with milk in the rare times when we needed an extra stimulus to overcome sleep or tiredness and continue discovering.

Millions of Japanese and gaijins (foreigners) remain undecided. With the purpose of influencing them, some machines equipped with facial recognition systems that recommend drinks based on the age and gender of the customer were recently launched.

Beverage Machines, Japan

Sequence of machines under a Tokyo railway bridge filled with small street restaurants.

Out of curiosity, the company responsible for its creation and marketing is JR East Water Business Co, neither more nor less than a subsidiary of the railway company JR EastCo. And this fact helps to demonstrate the versatility and business dynamics that Japanese transport companies deliver.

Back to facial recognition, if you identify a man in his fifties, the recommendation would likely fall on green tea. If this man is younger, it will become a cafe.

A woman in her early twenties will be suggested a milk tea or something sweeter. The creators also anticipated other situations.

Mayu, an Osaka resident used to buying coffee cans from the machines in her city.

The drink recommendation may depend on the temperature and time of day.

In any case, the recommended product is identified with a special electronic tag that activates immediately.

And Other Technological Extras Improved From Year to Year

And, according to an agreement between Japanese municipalities and vending companies, machines positioned in strategic places – such as subway and train stations – were equipped with a special energy support system and programmed to offer drinks in the event of natural disasters.

In times of normality, payment for drinks can be made using coins or bills, or even smart card systems such as the popular Suica that took over Japan and is used for numerous purposes. Market laws dictate that payment is not always required.

Beverage Machines, Japan

Couple sharing instant soup in front of a drink machine in Takayama, Hida region

Some vending operators for less expensive drinks (70 to 120 yen and served in paper cups with logos and even mini-ads printed on them) remembered to offer discounts or even drinks to people watching movies in return. advertisements with about 30 seconds.

The task seemed simple and even fun to millions of Japanese people.

Today, these machines already exceed 50.000 units. They joined the more than five million who had already conquered the nation of emperors.

Beverage Machines, Japan

Deer passes in front of the drinks machine placed in the park of Nara.

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