Japanese Vending Machines: Selling Tasty Noodles and Oodles More

Vending machines selling a range of items
(Photos courtesy of Maruyama Seimen Inc. and GAKU Inc.)

   In Japan, vending machines are everywhere — not just ordinary places like town centers and train stations, but even remote spots like the side of the road in tiny rural villages. Events in recent years have highlighted the benefits being able to buy products without making contact with another person, and various new types of vending machines have appeared as a result.
   Vending machines are a beloved part of life in Japan, so it's no surprise that they've evolved to cater to people's specific needs alongside selling regular products like drinks and snacks.

Would You Like It Hot, Cold, or Subzero?

   It goes without saying that drinks vending machines offer a wide selection of beverages, but what really stands out in Japan is the different temperature settings.
   A single vending machine can sell hot drinks, cold drinks, and even room-temperature drinks (which are considered healthy, as they're easier for the body to handle). Some vending machines ever offer super-cold sodas chilled to temperatures just above freezing!
   But if you'd like something truly refreshing, there's an even better option: sodas that freeze like magic when you twist the bottle cap, turning them into frozen slushies. For best results, make sure you open them right after you buy them from the machine.

This vending machine lets you choose between room-temperature, cold, and hot drinks. The temperatures are indicated by the colored labels underneath. (Photo courtesy of Asahi Group Holdings, Ltd.)

Opening a bottle of subzero soda.

When you open a subzero soda, it slowly turns into a slushie right before your eyes. (Photo in cooperation with Asahi Group Holdings, Ltd. and DECKS Tokyo Beach.)

From Photogenic Desserts to Popular Ramen

   Fancy a cute dessert to post on social media, or maybe some tasty ramen from a famous noodle store? Believe it or not, there are vending machines for those, too. They're a great way to try delicious foods without waiting in line for hours, even after opening hours.
   Some vending machines sell delicious creamy cakes packaged in transparent cans, and they're a huge hit on social media! Not only do they look amazing, but they're made by genuine patissiers and you can buy them at the press of a button! They're easy to carry around without losing their shape, too, so they make for great presents.
   And for fans of ramen, there are vending machines that sell different versions of ramen from famous stores all over Japan, letting you taste and compare all the different flavors without having to travel far and wide. These machines are equipped with technology that freezes every meal to -25°C, and automatically stops selling ones that have passed their best-before date — they really have thought of everything.

A vending machine selling desserts in transparent cans. These cakes have been a hit on social media because the layers look great through the can. A spoon is included, so you can dig in right away. (Photo courtesy of: GAKU Inc.)

A vending machine selling different types of ramen from all over Japan.

The ramen is sold frozen; you just need to heat it up at home for an authentic restaurant taste. (Photo courtesy of Maruyama Seimen Inc.)

Customized Products Just for You

   There's also a vending machine that uses AI technology to sell customized versions of products.This machine, which was created in collaboration with a cosmetics company, uses AI to analyze an image of your face, then selects a combination of four eyeshadow colors that are best suited to your facial shape and features, from 26 available options. In other words, it creates a color palette just for you from around 350,000 possible color combinations.
   You can even engrave the palette with your name, for an extra personal touch. If you're looking for an original palette unlike any other in the world, it's the perfect way to find one.

This vending machine sells cosmetic products based on AI facial analysis.

The camera scans your face, then the AI analyzes the scanned image and selects the most suitable colors. (Photo courtesy of TOPPAN Inc.)

Vending Machines Against Food Waste

   Special vending machines are being used to counteract food waste. These machines, called "food loss reduction boxes," sell various types of food, like items approaching their best-before date or limited-edition seasonal products, at reduced prices so they can be enjoyed while they're still good. Customers purchase the products online, then visit the vending machines to collect them.
   Eliminating food waste helps reduce wasted energy and CO2 emissions produced when food is incinerated. As more and more companies and local governments aim toward achieving a sustainable society, the number of these food loss reduction boxes is on the rise.

After purchasing a product online, customers are sent a URL via email. This links them to a QR code, which can be used to open the collection box and pick up their product. (Photo courtesy of ZERO Co., Ltd.)

   Japanese vending machines are constantly evolving thanks to innovative ideas and technology. What's more, they offer a wide range of products, from famous ramen to customized makeup. If you ever visit Japan, be sure to try out some different vending machines and enjoy their fun and surprising features.