Japanese Vending Machines: Bizarre Fact or Deviant Myth?

Posted by Codi Hauka & filed under Pop Culture.


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Photo courtesy of Codi Hauka

It’s no secret that vending machines are as much a staple of Japanese culture as Tim Hortons is to Canadian culture. They cover the nation, supplying millions of people with refreshing beverages and snacks in even the most remote places for little money. But there is a misconception regarding the contents of these vending machines and the sort of moral wavering they exhibit. Can you really buy underwear? Beer? Condoms? The answers may surprise you.


Used women’s underwear

Okay, this is a bit of fact that morphed into myth when it became horribly hyperbolized as something readily available across Japan. Yes, there were once a few vending machines that sold used women’s underwear. Just a few. They were made illegal for selling used school girls’ panties which is just not cool. So while you might find it’s existence disturbing and creepy, it was never a mainstay in the vending machine market and no longer exists, forcing all Japanese men (and women) to get their soiled panties the old fashioned way: from the store.

Porn/Sex toy vending machines

Once again, I cannot deny the existence of such dispensers, however I have never seen one, not even in Osaka or Tokyo. But I know they’re out there. Some people say these exist partly to maintain anonymity when purchasing such things, which must be true considering the lengths you would have to go through to find one.

Photo courtesy of Codi Hauka


Vending machines dispense both hot and cool drinks

This is one of my favorite things about vending machines in Japan. Why don’t we utilize this technology in North America? Are you telling me Canada couldn’t benefit from warmed beverages? And I’m not talking about those questionable hot coffee/chocolate mixed drinks that are dispensed into a paper cup. These are canned and bottled drinks heated to the perfect temperature for drinking. There’s no waiting period—as soon as you open it, the beverage is stabilized at the perfect threshold between being scalding or disappointingly cool. The Japanese have this down to an art.

More drink than food vending machines

There are way more options for drinking than eating when it comes to vending machines, which is not to say that there aren’t a lot for eating. But let’s consider that you can easily find five drink vending machines per block in almost any city. Yeah. So there’s still a number of food vendors (these usually sell pastries, cookies and other sweets because “sweets” and “snack” in Japanese is the same word), but I would guess that they are fewer in number because of the number of convenience stores (konbini) that are everywhere instead. Way more than in North America and with way better food for cheaper. Japan is truly a land of cheap convenience.

Egg vending machines

These vending machines are only out in the country, usually adjacent to a chicken coop. Smells terrible and I wouldn’t recommend trying to get them home in the heat of the summer this way. Really, its just a machine for the novelty factor.

Photo courtesy of Codi Hauka

Beer vending machines

Yes these are totally real, and it’s not just beer you can purchase: highballs sake and other liquors from vending machines as well (and for pretty cheap, I might add). Japan has no prohibition against open liquor, and it is completely legal to drink in public. So alcohol designated vending machines totally work here. Some things to note: they do not operate at all hours. They aren’t available in every vending machine, but you’ll usually find them in downtown/business districts, but again not necessarily true. There’s a whole corner of them right by my apartment and I live nowhere special. There is, of course, no means to ID anyone who uses these machines, so drinking underage here is like taking candy from a candy-hating baby. You can purchase anything from a standard pint, to a tallboy, to over a litre of sake from these bad boys. And yet there aren’t an obscene number of people running around hammed all the time. I can say with absolute certainty that this is the only place in the world that such a system would work. Except maybe North Korea.

Cigarette vending machines

More readily available than alcohol vending machines, the Japanese love to smoke. It may sound like a stereotype, but it’s like saying almost everyone in Vancouver owns something from Lululemon: it’s just true. Again, really nothing to stop the kids from indulging in this vice. Youth in North America would constantly be on a rampage in Japan.


Not terribly prevalent but still, they exist. Not a huge selection to choose from, and yes the pun was intended.


Now, while used underwear may be a myth, unused underwear from vending machines is absolutely real. They’re usually disposable underwear, made of some kind of rice derivative, and meant for one time use if you get stuck (which is more of a thing in big cities when you missed the last train home). I don’t want to think about the other reasons you may need disposable underwear.

There you have it. There is a great deal of truth to the things you’ll hear about vending machines in Japan, but don’t go telling all your friends about the used panties you can readily buy, because it’s just not true, and they’re pretty expensive too ($30 for used undies? Please). There are lots of quirks to Japanese culture, but vending machines are an absolute perk, and it fills me with joy see Tommy Lee Jones drinking his boss coffee like a boss whenever I need a beverage, hot or cold.

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