There is a vending machine for every 23 people in Japan.
That’s the highest vending machine per capita on the planet.
Why Japan Has So Many Vending Machine
After the business card fiasco
I started to become keenly aware of all the vending machines that I saw here in Japan.
I noticed: they are everywhere!
Indeed, what we’re looking at here is a Japanese institution.
Behind me sits an entire shop
dedicated to chopsticks.
Yes, I’m about to go inside.
The first thing you have to know in order to understand the vending machines,
is that Japan is an aging country.
The average age here is 46 years old,
which is almost double the world average.
And the fertility rate is 1.4
which means the population is actually shrinking.
This is actually a looming crisis for Japan generally,
but one of the effects of it
is that the labor market is very expensive.
There’s a scarcity of low-skilled labor.
So, instead of paying a sales clerk to sit
and collect your money when you buy a piece of gum,
they just put it in a machine and automate the whole thing.
And the same goes for real estate.
Japan is one of the densest countries in the world.
93 percent of the population lives in cities.
People literally live in
apartment smaller than your SUV.
So instead of paying a lot of money for a store front,
retailers will just slip a little machine into an alleyway
to save a lot of money
and they can still turn a really good profit.
According to one essay that I read from a Japanese economist here in Tokyo,
the bigger explanation for the vending machines is
a fascination or even an obsession with automation and robotics.
Everything that can be automated here,
When I go into order like a ramen or breakfast,
more often than not I order on a machine
and I give a little ticket to someone.
It’s indicative of a broader cultural trend
of wanting to automate every system you possibly can.
Every taxi in Tokyo has automated doors
that the driver controls.
I don’t want to overstate this.
There’s still a major appreciation for handcrafted artisanal goods here in Japan.
A good example of
this is the seven-year-old coffee shop I just got out of,
where they literally use a weighted scale to weigh their coffee beans
before grinding them and brewing them to order.
To cool down their coffee they put it into a metal vessel
and spin it around a giant ice cube.
So yes, they love automation
but they’re still very much in touch with the handmade.
So another thing that totally contributes is this: coinage.
So much coinage.
The one big caveat to the whole automation thing is that
they haven’t really gotten on board with credit cards yet.
Everything is cash based.
And because of that you always have coinage.
One of their highest coin is worth like five dollars
and let’s be honest:
there’s nothing more satisfying than
unloading some of the change in your pocket
into a vending machine for some yummy treat.
My personal favorite item is hot green tea
comes out wonderfully warm
and you just wonder how you got so lucky.
So Japan is an aging nation
with expensive labor
and a love for robots
and too many coins in its pocket.