First of all, no, not those kinds of vending machines. You know what I’m talking about (if you don’t then it’s best your mind remains unsullied), those ‘apparently’ exist though I’ve never seen them, even in Akihabara.
No, this is a particular street in Tokyo’s Akihabara that has loads of vending machines, with contents that ranges from drinks to mystery boxes.
Right, so first of we have this example:
We have the usual cans of coffee and oden (おでん – think japanese hot pot, lots of different kinds), but if you take a second to look (go on, have a look!), you’ll see we have an interesting array of: muffins, balloons, whistles, escargots, bouncy balls, other balls and yakitori (oh god I can’t imagine that tasting good).
Right, machine 2
So we’ve got cans of a beverage called “calpis” which is kind of like a yoghurt-soda (not fizzy thankfully), which is a standard drink, ok that’s not too bad; crisps, ok also not too bad…and then we have toy beetles (a couple of varieties for the discerning toy beetle purchaser), a toy car and those bubble-blowing things (you know, a little tube of soap water and a wand that you blow through to make bubbles).
Before listing more fun stuff, this whole vending machine area, whilst completely safe, in any other country would probably be a clear sign to ‘get out now, this area looks sketchy’.
Moving on, one of my favourites here
From left to right: Oden, Soda, Bells (label reads “Everyone’s Bells”, medicated toothpaste and, heh, perhaps the best of the lot – descaling powder for hot water dispensers.
The next two really outline why I didn’t buy anything from these machines
Crisps…really old and faded looking crisps bleh, and
Yup, popcorn! 3 flavours of popcorn! I have no idea how it’s dispensed, but I can’t imagine that either this or the crisps are particularly fresh. If I’m ever in Tokyo again where I’m not working to a schedule, and don’t mind being bed-ridden with food poisoning for a day or two then I might give it a try (I mean I do have health insurance…)
And last but not least, the mystery boxes!
So there’s quite a few of these boxes, and they each had a short piece of prose on the box (looked to be repeated on quite a few boxes). I didn’t feel particularly compelled to buy one though because I have seen videos of Youtube folk trying them out, and it’s usually just a box of crackers or something else non-perishable, makes sense I guess.
Oh yeah, and I was going to translate one of the stories, but after starting to translate one I picked at random it turned out to be just downright disgusting.
As to why there’s such an eclectic mix in these machines… I’m not entirely sure why, but there was this craze in Japan around the early-mid 90s for vending machines that held more than just the usual goods. The idea being something along the lines of “oh no, I need to de-scale the kettle, but the stores are all closed, phew good thing the local vending machine has those!”.
I think it was on an old Japanese TV show I watched on Youtube a few years back, but there was a number of attempts of developing whole stores that were just wall-to-wall cabinets of goods. The idea being that you just put in your money, punched in the number of the cabinet the thing you wanted was in (you know like a vending machine), and it would be grabbed and dispensed. I guess the benefit being you didn’t need to hire as many staff to run a store.
For numerous reasons they didn’t catch on, largely due to the shift of Japan’s convenience stores (コンビニ) to 24/7 opening, but I’m guessing the idea of having more ‘versatile’ vending machines hung around for a bit, with this creepy alley of toys, food and mystery boxes wrapped in utter-filth being evidence of such.
Bonus: Some more pics including delicacies such as tinned tuna and a AA battery charger.