Vending machines are everywhere in Japan -- here are the strangest places to find them

At slightly over 5 million nationwide, vending machines are everywhere in Japan.

They are on nearly every block in Tokyo and dotted across even the most spartan landscapes in the country’s vast rural expanse.

Photographer Eiji Ohashi began documenting Japan’s vending machines nearly a decade ago after getting caught in a blizzard in his native region of Hokkaido. He navigated home using only the lights from the vending machines, which are often placed on the roadside.

Since, he has come to see the vending machines as a symbol of modern Japan – full of convenience, safety, and loneliness.

Ohashi shared some photos of the strangest places he’s found vending machines with Business Insider here, but you can see more in his books Roadside Lights and Being There.


There is approximately 1 vending machine per every 23 people in Japan, with annual sales totaling more than $US60 billion.

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiTayoro, a small town outside the city of Shibetsu in Hokkaido.

Source: Business Insider


They can be found just about everywhere: down alleyways, in front of convenience stores and road stops, and even in the remotest places.

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiKutchan, Hokkaido with the volcano Mount Yōtei in the distance.

The vending machines offer a wide variety of products from expected fare like soft drinks and coffee to rice, batteries, junk food, noodles, and even glasses.

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiMinami-ku, Sapporo was a major site for the 1972 Winter Olympics, hosting major events like figure skating and ice hockey.

Source: DramaFever


Winter in Hokkaido, Ohashi’s home, is long and brings 200 inches of snow per year. Snow inspired Ohashi’s project.

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiIwanai, Hokkaido, a small town known for its fishing industry and skiing in the winter.

Source: Current Results


“Snow looks so beautiful when it reflects the glow of a nearby vending machine,” Ohashi said. “When I enter into this quiet world, where all sound is absorbed by the snow, I feel at peace.”

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiIwamizawa, Hokkaido

Ohashi uses the vending machines and their locations to show the diversity of Japan’s many regions and the contrast between Japan’s urban future and its rural past.

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiToyohira-ku, one of ten wards in Sapporo, Hokkaido.

Ohashi told Business Insider that the prevalence of so many vending machines in even remote places is “evidence of how safe a country Japan is.” Vandalism, property crime, and robberies are exceptionally rare in Japan.

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiYubari, Hokkaido, a former coal mining city that has seen population plummet in recent decades.

Ohashi said that his friends and family will frequently tip him off when they see a new vending machine that he should photograph. He also uses Google Street View to locate the most remote machines.

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiShinhidaka, Hokkaido

Street-side vending machines like these in Otaru, a small seaside town, would be unthinkable in the US due to fears of property crime and vandalism.

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiOtaru, Hokkaido, a popular tourist town north of Sapporo.

Traditionally, rural areas often have wooden stalls where farmers leave fruit and vegetables for passersby to purchase by leaving the correct change. The vending machines are just a new version of that tradition.

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiToyohira-ku, one of ten wards in Sapporo, Hokkaido.

Source: CNN


Some economists have speculated that vending machines are so prevalent because the country’s declining birthrate, ageing population, and lack of immigration has made labour both scarce and costly.

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiOtaru, Hokkaido, a popular tourist town north of Sapporo.

Source: Business Insider


Japan is one of the most population-dense countries in the world. The population density has led to high real estate prices, meaning that most Japanese people don’t have a lot of room to store consumer goods.

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiTōbetsu, Hokkaido, a small town known for producing rice and flowers.

Though 93% of the Japanese population lives in cities, that hasn’t stopped companies from placing vending machines in small towns like Tōbetsu.

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiTōbetsu, Hokkaido, a small town known for producing rice and flowers.

Source: Business Insider


Japanese companies would rather stick a vending machine on a street than open up a retail store, because the machines generate more revenue for each square meter of land.

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiToyohira-ku, one of ten wards in Sapporo, Hokkaido.

Ohashi suggested the vending machines show that Japanese people place “a high value on convenience in everyday life.”

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiKiyota-ku, a district of Sapporo, Hokkaido’s largest city.

Journalist Tsutomu Washizu, who has written a book on the history of vending machines in Japan, has attributed Japan’s fixation on automation and robots as the main reason for their popularity.

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiToyohira-ku, one of ten wards in Sapporo, Hokkaido.

Source: Business Insider


“Life in Japan has become extremely convenient, but still there seems no end to the pursuit of greater comfort,” Ohashi told The Japan Time in July. People should stop pursuing convenience, he said, and instead pursue “the true essence of happiness.”

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiIshikari, Hokkaido, a small city north of Sapporo.

Source: The Japan Times


Ohashi said that he sees the vending machines as representative of Japan’s workers. “Any given vending machine will only be around as long as it is profitable; once the desired profits stop, the machine will soon disappear,” he said.

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiKiyota-ku, a district of Sapporo, Hokkaido’s largest city.

Even buried in snow, the machines work tirelessly, because they are maintained regularly, he said.

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiTōbetsu, Hokkaido, a small town known for producing rice and flowers.

Ohashi said that he hopes the photos teach viewers that “the world works because of the daily efforts” of hard-working people that will never be recognised. Japan’s vending machines are representative of that, he said.

Courtesy of Eiji OhashiToyohira-ku, one of ten wards in Sapporo, Hokkaido.

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