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Japanese Vending Machines at Night Juxtaposed with a Wintry Hokkaido Landscape (spoon-tamago.com)
375 points by DamonHD on Oct 5, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 164 comments

Those Japanese vending machines blow my mind. I got lost on takao mountain once and was utterly hopeless of ever finding civilization again. I found abandoned and rotting tractors the forest had taken back, weird half completed concrete structures, the trail was gone, I was well and truly lost. Then, I turn a corner, and find a goddamned vending machine. Powered. With stock.

I followed its power cord back for a solid ten minutes before I found the little building on a trail it led to.

Somebody restocked that vending machine. Somebody installed it.

It's like this throughout Japan. Boggles the mind.

Wait wait wait, so that photo of the vending machine in the middle of nowhere isn't a set up by the photographer? I thought he put the machine there, along with a generator behind it, just to take the photo!

It's really like that. In the countryside, you'll occasionally see rice fields with small walkways in between them in a + configuration with a vending machine hanging out in the middle. Presumably for the farmers to get something to drink...

Oh wow, that's crazy. I've only been to Tokyo, where they weren't out of place, but out in the fields? Sounds like quite the sight.

Yeah. Every now and again you'll also come across some 50-year old looking mechanical rice vending machine, selling 5, 10 and 15 kg bags of rice.

The photo 5th from the bottom actually appears to be of a coin-operated rice mill!

those, you bring your own rice though, so a bit different. (they're pretty common in the countryside!)

The first time I saw one, I was probably ~6 years old and my grandfather stopped by on our way home to mill some of the rice he had grown. I was confused since growing up in the States, I had never seen non-white rice until that point.

Rice vending machines are actually pretty common in the countryside where there may not be staffed rice shops or supermarkets

Our use-case is that my wife will receive gifts of unpolished rice from relatives, which we then need to haul to the vending machine to polish.

It's actually quite enjoyable, as you get to run your fingers through warm rice pouring out from the machine.

Can confirm. I live in the countryside. There are vending machines down some roads with ricefields on both sides.

I've not seen that where I live (Kamogawa), but I want to now. Guess I need to search around the rice fields more. :)

haha, I've just realized I know you. Will have to ask you where it is sometime. Small World.

Hehe, I got found out :-)

Close to where we used to live, by the bus stop in Hiratsuka, when I used to come back at night, the vending machine was brighter than the public lights.

Down the roads I've definitely seen. On the internal dirt paths was new to me (would love to see a photo!)

On dirt paths I have not seen yet. I am thinking about countryside roads with fields on both sides.

In some old arcade games you had these machines all over to dispense health. This always struck me as odd and unrealistic until I visited Japan and saw that it really is like that.

There are even vending machines at the summit of Mt. Fuji.

An American who climed up Mt Fuji met local youth who carried up snacks and drinks on their back to the top of the mountain. These were to be sold at shops and I guess vending machines at top of the mountain.

I heard that story about 20 years ago.

I saw some tractors delivering stuff to some of the huts and vending machines. There are also some police and ambulance services available. That was about 9 years ago.

The mountain is only officially open for a short time each year. I think most of the employees at the huts and other facilities are college students taking summer jobs.

Really interesting. There are a few scenes like this in the excellent art film Homo Sapiens[0][1] that stuck with me. Overgrown Japanese landscape with vending machines (don't remember if these were actually powered though).

[0] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5450084/

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEgjEzB36Lo

> I got lost on takao mountain once and was utterly hopeless of ever finding civilization again.

Wait, what? Takao mountain is in Tokyo! Yeah, not central Tokyo but still, it's like a 45min train ride from Shinjuku. You make it sound like it's some remote place full of bears. :-p

Can't you get prettttyy deep in those mountains though? Also if you go pretty deep, I imagine the trails aren't really marked well, if at all.

(was in a more remote mountain that's ~2 hours away from Tokyo last year)

Well, Kyoto is 2 hours from Tokyo and is pretty remote I supposed

JK. Shinkansen can really makes telling distance by time funny.

That's the weird thing about it, how quickly it can turn into a total overgrown jungle!

On google maps, from NW to SE the longest point between trails I can find is 1.3km, but if you have the bad luck to head off one of the southern trails and get lost heading northeast, you could go just over 2km without seeing a trail. I mean yea, low chance of dying, but high chance of extreme discomfort :P

Point taken.

Hmm, I think I got peed on by naughty monkeys there. I should be grateful they weren't angry bears (or even angry birds!) I suppose...

Man, how'd you get lost on Mount Takao? It's always so crowded... if you have any info that'd let one find that lone vending machine, I'm interested :)

At least when I went there it wasn't very crowded. There was a group of people at the summit (with vending machine present, of course), but otherwise hardly any people. However it was a slightly foggy day, so you couldn't see much from the summit. It is possible that on a clear day there are crowds trying to see Mount Fuji or something.

There’s a huge difference between weekdays and weekends.

Perhaps it was this one. http://jihan.30maps.com/map/54837

Takao can get too crowded. Head to Jinba 陣馬 which is just a few train stations away for fun and good food on top.

Who buys stuff in a vending machine in the middle of nowhere though ?

I am really intrigued.

Miki Meek a radio producer who I meet on a 4 day trek through Guatemala has a This American Life about a phone booth in the middle of nowhere in Japan with no connections to power, people go there to talk to deceased loved ones. It's a beautiful piece of radio journalism. https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/597/...

That's based on an NHK documentary called 'Kaze no Denwa' (Telephone of the Wind.)


Part of the reason there are so many vending machines around is preparation for a disaster; vending machines from at least the last 15 years will dispense drinks for free in the event of a disaster.

According to this site Coca Cola dispensed around four million free drinks on 2011/3/11 (Great East Japan Earthquake).


If the vending machines are giving stuff away, what will CNN fill airtime with, when they can't complain about looters?!

Just kidding, I know they will just speculate about the possibility of it instead.

If the looters politely just took some groceries they needed but couldn't pay for because the local economy was in disarray then I'm sure they wouldn't complain. It's batshit people hoarding TV's and shit though.

A japanese riot- i guess thats a thousand disapproving stares..

How is this triggered? Via (lack of?) mobile connection or power?

People hiking/moving around, but they're also part of the country's disaster-preparedness system, they'll dispense product for free in case of disaster.

Reminds me a little bit of some Stephen Shore photographs of banal Americana --but set in Japan... so banal Iaponia?

I never understand why people can get lost at Takao, the place is like a damned Shibuya, packed with people.

A little random but I thought some of you might want to know what the stores were that were next to the vending machines in the photos.


1. Alcohol and food store

2. No store

3. No store

4. Alcohol store

5. Eel restaurant

6. No store

7. Egg vending store (direct from farmer)

8. Rice polishing vending machine (turns brown rice in to white)

9. No store

10. Sightseeing ferry office/shop

11. Apple store (actually name of company but they import brand name products)

12. No store

That's obviously only a small sample but as someone who lives in Japan I can tell you that usually where there are alcohol stores, there are vending machines. Of course there are other places they are too, but in my experience, it's rare to find one without vending machines.

I've seen photos of people gathered around beer vending machines having a jolly time from before 24/7 convenience stores took over that particular market segment.

Some vending machines in Japan are designed to give out free drinks during an emergency [0]. That could be one of the reasons why there are so many well-maintained vending machines everywhere, even in remote areas.

[0] http://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/16-things-you-didnt-...

That is such a sensible idea that it will never catch on anywhere else.

that's because everywhere else people will just break them open during an emergency. which i think is probably the more reasonable thing to do for everywhere else.

The machine already has communication equipment for stock alerts. The disaster feature is just a bit more code.

Getting a hot chocolate out of a vending machine while the sky is dumping snow is one of life's many sublime pleasures.

After the Fukushima earthquake I was walking from Ebisu to Roppongi (all the subways were shuttered). A cold evening and I wasn't properly dressed.

Then I turned the corner and saw a machine with Tommy Lee Jones' staring down selling hot cans of Boss Coffee. Made the night a little easier.

I used to love the coffee vending machines until I accidentally got one with jelly chunks in it and was afraid to ever try again.

We had a Cup Noodle vending machine on our university campus which sold the elusive curry flavour, possibly the food I'm most nostalgic about from my time living over there.

Just a small guess, but was that a Dydo stocked vending machine?

Dydo stuff tends to be what the absolute cheapest vending machines offer. About five times I have bought a Dydo coffee, and five times I have decided to never do so again. Any of the Coca-Cola or Kirin (Pepsi does not exist beyond the brand here) stocked vending machines should be good and safe.

Do you know long the coffee cans are kept heated? I'm concerned that those cans have had hot coffee in them for days on end, which is generally not good for food (heat breaks down its nutrients and often produces free radical byproducts).

Are the heated cans sold in the Japanese vending machines self-heating cans?


According to this, the Japanese ones keep the cans heated:


>>Proprietary heating technology

>>Unlike hot can drink machines in Japan, the Starbucks machine does not keep the steel cans heated. Instead, the container heats after the customer makes a selection.

Not sure in general, but I'm pretty sure I have encountered the self-heating kind in Japan.

Neat. I have / used to have a pair of 'hand warmers', plastic bags with a fluid of sorts and a copper (?) coin you can 'flip over', the click / shock causing the fluid to crystallise and generate heat. Those can be reused too by putting the (crystallised) bag into hot water for a bit.

The Hard Black. Delicious.

Getting a painfully hot can of sake out of a street vending machine was an interesting experience for me, albeit in Tokyo.

Seeing my ryokan vending machine stock some mixture of underwear, shoes, toiletries and just possibly food (that may have been a separate machine), also!

For me it was the hot milk tea. Almost impossible to find in the West, every morning at near freezing temps I could cling to a metal piping hot can of sweet milk tea. I can't go a day in .jp without grabbing a can.

What really surprised me is how in a place like Tokyo the machines seemed to only reliably function using change, whereas in Norway you pay for bus station lockers and public toilets with credit cards.

"Royal Milk Tea" is easy to make (although it's hard to clean the pan afterwards). Boil a cupful of milk with a teabag in it. Once it's boiled, take out the teabag and add sugar. In fact I think I might have one right now ...

I make mine Malaysian style:

1. Make a syrup out of brown sugar by heating it in a pan with some water. The real recipe uses palm sugar but brown sugar is close enough.

2. Put it in a cup, then evaporated milk, then strong black tea.

3. Mix to taste. The three layers don’t mix together on their own. The more you mix it the sweeter the drink gets.

More and more vending machines work with Pasmo/Suica stored credit cards these days fwiw, especially those near the train stations or conbinis.

You’ll love Teh C if you ever visit Malaysia. The real secret to good hot milk tea is using evaporated milk.

> For me it was the hot milk tea.

Mine was the hot lemon tea.

When the story about the Bodega startup[0] came out, it occurred to me that what they were trying to do was essentially what Japan is already doing with vending machines - automate retail at scale. Unfortunately, Bodega tried to undermine, transform and rebrand the local culture in a way that many found offensive, but that aside, I wonder what particular cultural elements make vending machines seem so successful in Japan, but not as much in the US?

Maybe Amazon could bring back Automats[1]?



> particular cultural elements make vending machines seem so successful in Japan

Not being vandalized is mentioned in the article.

People in Italy were always kind of surprised to hear about US newspaper machines - the ones where you put in some coins - and you can take out as many newspapers as you want, essentially. They'd joke that people would regularly take them all in Italy, and in Naples they'd probably just haul off the whole machine, change, newspapers and all.

>People in Italy were always kind of surprised to hear about US newspaper machines - the ones where you put in some coins - and you can take out as many newspapers as you want, essentially

Honestly, I have no idea why those things even exist or how they make anyone money. It's baffling.

I guess people are honest enough that they buy the newspapers.

Compare and contrast: in Italy, until recently, you could only buy newspapers from newsstands, who had some kind of monopoly on their sales. You couldn't get them from a grocery store, and certainly not from a vending machine.

Nope, different. Many of those pictures have vending machines sitting outside neighborhood mom-and-pop stores. From my experience living in Japan, those machines are most likely owned/leased by the owner of the store, who stocks them and collects the profits. They function as a labor-saving device for high-trafficked items and a way to sell during off-hours.

My understanding of Bodega is that they want to replace the mom-and-pop store with a centralized vertically-integrated company (theirs).

"They function as a labor-saving device for high-trafficked items and a way to sell during off-hours."

Seemed to be Bodega's plan also.

If they want to go after a particular market, so be it. I'd rather it be a new business than a venture by a corporate giant. That opportunity has been available to every mom-and-pop store too, right? Even if it was just one vending machine in one nearby apartment building?

I can appreciate the romance of corner stores, but if they're not innovating or marketing, they risk losing out to others who are.

Bodega isn't innovating much. There are several other systems where you access a big refrigerator using an app and get food.

If they're not innovating or offering something of value, they'll fail.

I think avoiding products that spoil is easy but smart. Saves somewhat on transport constantly replenishing the cabinet, refrigeration, etc. Focusing your product catalogue is innovation to some extent.

I don't get the bodega hooplah. Every startup is taking away some way of making a living of someone else.

It's like saying pizza hut coopted Italian pizza joints and drove Italian pizza makers out of biz. Sure, it did, but aside from the fact jobs were lateralized, what's the big deal about transforming the biz?

Same with Uber et all.

The main big deal is that it managed to lower the price of those products. The TL;DR effect of that is that it removed people from the middle class and drove most of the jobs to the lower class (e.g. pizza delivery, production line pizza making), and a few to the upper class (a handful of companies owning the pizza market, instead of dozens if not hundreds of local pizza restaurants).

Same with Uber, it drives the price down and turns taxis into a fairly exclusive and respectable job (I'm mostly thinking about the London Black Cabs or the fancy Mercedes taxis I see here in NL) to a race to the bottom. The same happened to the postal service, turning it from a respectable middle class uniformed government or semi-governmental job to something stay-at-home moms do part-time. Mind you, the market changed and snail mail is nowhere near what it used to be. The markets for pizza and taxis haven't changed that much in comparison though.

It's because New Yorkers have a romanticized ideal of bodegas.

> I wonder what particular cultural elements make vending machines seem so successful in Japan, but not as much in the US

Mostly a lack of, for a better term, conformity. There is very little crime in Japan and people trust each other way more.

In the US, those vending machines would get vandalized and probably stripped of their metal in under a week. Even if there was a market demand for them, the cost to service those machines would be astronomical.

That's why there are upholstered seats in Japanese subways, but typically not in US subways.

In the US, RedBox (well, CoinStar in general) seems to have figured out the right formula for successful vending machines.

For even more photos from this set see the photographers site: https://www.sapporo-creation.com/existence

In many ways Japan seems like a paradise. Crime free, almost, 70%+ forest coverage, technologically advanced but still respect for long-standing cultural traditions. It's unrivalled social cohesiveness comes at the cost though of a lack of diversity. For example, I read somewhere it gets less than 100 asylum seekers a year.

> Crime free

It's because there are police everywhere, which keeps petty crime under control. There is a bounty for turning in lost money (and if it is not claimed after a certain period the person who turned it in can keep the whole amount).

Police are also mostly respected here because they (mostly) are helpful and don't harass citizens. Someone being beaten or shot by police like overseas just doesn't happen here.

> lack of diversity

I once worked at a place that was known for being a safe place for ethnic Koreans to "come out" about their real ethnicity. I was considered to be safe to work there because some were public figures and I would not recognize them, or at least not blab on social media about x TV presenter having Korean heritage.

I guess my point is that a lot of things in Japan are completely different to how they appear to a casual observer. Even asking Japanese people is not going to get you far, because most people will not tell you their real feelings or opinions unless you are a very close friend.

I've picked up substantial dropped money on the ground, handed it into the police, and had it returned to us in full after some time, in the UK; it's not just Japan!

> close friend

I terrorised one Japanese work colleague by crying in front of him on a train (can't remember whether in London or Tokyo), but another long-standing Japanese colleague/friend would be entirely cool about it I suspect!

This may be a bit ignorant but why do they care so much about someone being Korean / of Korean ancestry?

Both are East Asian. It's really hard to understand for my European mind.

Well they kinda invaded Korea for a long time for one. https://www.quora.com/Why-is-there-a-conflict-between-Korea-... explains that one.

European as in west-European? That part is relatively culturally and ethnically diverse; northern and eastern Europe are a lot less so, and tolerance towards foreigners is lower there. The English and French still really dislike one another for example, and they're much closer together than Japan and Korea.

I don't think the English and French living in one another's countries try to keep their ethnicity secret.

I'm neither Japanese nor Korean so I can't really speak for either culture, but Japan and Korea are not England and France, and they don't necessarily view themselves the way Westerners view them.



Europeans killed a few other Europeans in the 20th century (and before it!). The base cause of it is chauvinism. It's mostly gone in the EU thanks to post-WWII integration. CJK haven't had their "Asian Union" moment yet.

the main thing is the country is something like 97 percent japanese and there is extreme pressure to conform. anything different is judged.

If you ever live in Japan, you will alternate between "wow, this country is so wonderful, why can everywhere be nice like this?" and "this is so dysfunctional, how has the whole thing not collapsed yet?" Both are true in different ways. Economically, Japan is not doing great though, and I worry about the future of the big companies.

Also all foreigners in Japan seem to hate each other for ruining the "purity".

>technologically advanced

You might revise your opinion about that somewhere around the hundredth time somebody tells you that you have to communicate with them by fax.

I would definitely describe "putting two coins into a vending machine to receive a ticket to hand to someone in exchange for a tasty bowl of ramen" as more technically advanced than "table for two?...[waiting, waiting]...one ramen, please...[waiting, waiting]..."everything ok here?" "yes go away" [waiting waiting] ... "here's the bill"...[waiting waiting]..."have a nice night"

Advanced tech doesn't have to be high tech.

Well no, it just seems completely bizarre and adds little value to the process in my experience and HO. (Still, happy to be corrected...)

When just arrived in Tokyo for the first or second time and still feeling a bit nervous I went into an empty noodle place and was completely lost until the cook put down what he was doing and in utterly perfect English walked me through the whole process...

The country is a very very strange mix of advanced and retardedly old tech.

You can get hot drinks from bending machines in the middle of nowhere and just have to input a phone number in the GPS to be guided to a ryokan deep in the mountains of Akita, but kerosene heaters are almost universal (central heating is not a thing outside of large/business hotels) and many businesses require fax or physical stamps.

LOL, though I recently had the same experience of when a doctor's secretary rather imperiously informed me that my test results would be faxed to my GP. Maybe fax is regarded as more secure than email?

> It's unrivalled social cohesiveness comes at the cost though of a lack of diversity.

Why is that a problem though? Does it make their life worse in some way?

Well, if you're the nail, and you have the temerity (or simply bad luck) to stick out, then you get hammered down, while everyone around you either pretends they don't see it happening, or tell you it's your fault.

If you're there, and you're actively paying attention, you'll see an awful lot of nails.

The parent's point was that there actually aren't many nails, at least in terms of race/ethnicity ("no diversity"). To me it looks like a good situation to be in, because such homogenous society should much more frictionless.

> For example, I read somewhere it gets less than 100 asylum seekers a year.

I'll clarify that image by tell you they roughly get 9000 asylum requests a year according to the Japanese Government themselves [1]. They are however extremely reluctant in accepting any of the requests, which is what I assume you were speaking about.

To some I can imagine that's quite a shock and horror, for some, it's a dream.

"Japan accepted just three refugees in the first half of 2017 despite receiving a record 8,561 fresh asylum applications, the government said on Tuesday"

"Only four refugees were accepted in the first half of 2016, when fresh asylum applications totaled 5,011, the Justice Ministry said."

[1] https://japantoday.com/category/national/japan-accepts-3-ref...

I hadn't known the reason for there being so few. I assumed it was because it was 'off the beaten track'.

And, it may be worth mentioning that Japan is more tolerant of immigration than asylum-seekers. Often, when Japan's refusal to accept refugees is held up as an ideal, the fact that not most foreigners in Japan aren't refugees seems to be overlooked.

> social cohesiveness

Also known as xenophobia.

>For example, I read somewhere it gets less than 100 asylum seekers a year.

And this is by definition a good thing?

Don't forget the awesome working hours and working culture! It's so good that they even have a word for the awesome overworking: Karoshi [1].

I wouldn't romanticize Japan this hard as you are doing right now, it has it's own sleuth of problems just like any other country.

[1] Karoshi (Overwork Death) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kar%C5%8Dshi

Social Cohesiveness is not also known as xenophobia. Where foreigners tend to be so rare as to be exotic there tends not to be xenophobia. It's when the host community perceive themselves to be overrun that the xenophobia comes out.

Indeed, I say this time and again to friends and family who marvel at a lifestyle that has allowed me to live on several continents: there is no such thing as a perfect place to live.


Yes. Had a great time too, very peaceful.

Great for you! Then I guess you were not one of the many women who are raped for not wearing a burka, or non-Muslims who are bullied in asylum centres, or homosexuals beaten up for holding hands, or Jews attacked for wearing a kippa, or or or...

The odd thing to me about Japan's vending machine situation is that it's largely drinks. Not much in the way of the snack vending machines that one frequently encounters in the U.S.

I suppose it's probably due to the Japanese aversion to preservatives / prevalence of convenience stores, but one would think they'd have come up with some tricks like the ones they've perfected with cup noodles.

Walking while eating is considered impolite which is why I suspect vending machine food never took off. Just a cultural thing I think.

Then again drinking while eating is also impolite.

I remember also getting vended fries, but hot and cold drinks alone blew my mind coming from the U.K.

Yeah, there are fresh food vending machines around in a few places... notably in government offices like city hall or ward offices where you might have to wait for a while.

More common are the vending machines that will sell you a ticket for a meal, which you then hand to the person who will make your food and give it to you.

I'm not certain if that scheme is done for fraud prevention, or if it is done for convenience in order to have fewer employees.

> I'm not certain if that scheme is done for fraud prevention, or if it is done for convenience in order to have fewer employees.

Well, it sure stops both the indecisive idiots and the morons who can't unweld themselves from their phone.

One of my favorite moments was at a Superdawg in Chicago Midway. The standard, high-maintenance indecisive Californian was at the head of the line: "Well, I don't know. Maybe the <blah> but ..."

The enormous lady at the counter brandished a HOLY GODDAMN FUCKING HUGE ladle right under the Californian's nose with a relatively normal volume, but forceful, "Look, ah gots payin' customers lined up. Git outta da line, and come back when ya know what the hell ya want. NEXT!"

I guess you don't have to really shout when you wave around a ladle that big.

It brought tears of joy to my eyes. I wish customer service would do this more often.

Man, I would love to do that in the middle of about three quarters of the conference calls I've been on.

"No soup for you!"

They need to start a chess clock when it's your turn.

It prevents the employees from handling cash

Soups seem to be pretty common in the winter. One time I had a hot corn soup from a vending machine somewhere out in the mountains.

some train stations have banana vending machines

Are there still machines selling cans of beer? That was one of the highlights of my visit to Tokyo. My host advised me that I must either stand at the machine and drink it or put it away while I walked. No drinking and walking.

I was 14.

Beer isn't in 'publicly' accessible vending machines any more as far as I can tell. It is however often available in the foyer of a place that normally sells beer (that might be currently shut.)

Ski resorts are my main source of vending-machine beer. Nothing better than cracking a can of Sapporo Classic in your first gondola ride of the day.

It depends where you are in Japan. I haven't seen them around Tokyo (not to say they don't exist though) but other cities have them.

only place i saw them in my entire trip to japan was in a hotel. And it was a little underwhelming because there was cheaper and a higher selection of alcohol at the Lawson 5 feet away from the hotel

Not in Tokyo anymore, but they do have them around Kansai still.

My hotel had beer in the vending machine on my floor. This was Tokyo last year. This was not a public vending machine though.

There are fewer in Tokyo than in the 1980s, but they still exist. They are in virtually wall hotels, but there's a beer and chuhai vending machine on the street near my kids' Tokyo preschool.

I stand corrected. I guess it depends on the ward / district and I've been hanging out all the wrong places!

Wait, really? I thought there were copious alcohol in Tokyo vending machines, at least the last time I visited.

They still have them in the vending room in many business hotels in Tokyo. Better than a minibar!

>My host advised me that I must either stand at the machine and drink it or put it away while I walked. No drinking and walking.

The animation on getting drinks out of vending machines in Shenmue (Dreamcast game) makes a lot more sense now.

I was in Kyoto in 2013 and there were plenty of beer vending machines.

yes there are still beer vending machines in Tokyo as well as other liqour but they now require a special liqour id card to prove your age.

While we're on the subject of Japanese vending machines, how do they implement the IC card scanning feature? Does it need to be connected to a special network or is the logic all done on the card? I'm specifically talking about the payment verification and logic. I have one in my office that accepts IC card payment and I'm not quite sure what is required for that to work.

Suica, Pasmo and the like are all contactless SCs. The Wikipedia page is a good start, and you can go deeper from there: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suica

Ah sorry, I mean how the machine verifies the validity of the card.

It's asymmetric key cryptography.

Every vending machine can verify signatures using a CA certificate. Charging stations and a vending machines also have a signing key signed by that central certificate. Whatever is written on the card is signed by whoever wrote it.

Charging a card goes like this: - Read everything from the card (data + signature) - Verify signature + expiration dates, etc - Extract amount on card - Decrement said amount - Write new amount to card - Sign data on card using local signing key

It's a bit more complicated than that, but you get the idea. In some systems the logs of all transactions are reconciled asynchronously (if and when internet connection is available) so if a card is cloned it can eventually be detected and blocked.

The "local signing key" is the interesting part to me. I guess only vending machines in certain areas can get IC card support. I wonder how often those local keys need to be rotated.

That's a great answer though, thanks for writing it up!

I'm not entirely sure, but yesterday I observed some vending machines at a local university that worked with student IDs. The machines had a small antenna encased in the drink display, so presumably that model broadcast payment and/or inventory updates to some nearby receiver or via stock WiFi networks.

I'd expect that there would be a strong incentive to have the cards require network access to verify balances or else some enterprising hackers could potentially reverse engineer the process to add additional funds to the card.

adsfg afaf asdf asdf dsf f fas df

The attitude is strange with vending machines and other cultures. I saw a vending machine selling 20oz and 1.5l (I think?) bottles of coke for the same price. In America, that would be unheard of, why would anyone buy the 20oz bottle. But in Japan, it seemed like many people just bought what they needed.

It's common for American grocery stores to sell 20 oz bottles for +-20% of the price of 2 liter bottles. The differentiation here is entirely in perception. The smaller bottle is usually chilled and seems like an individual serving. The larger bottle is considered to be a bulk purchase. Often, consumers will purchase both in the same trip, intentionally oblivious to the value differential.

For me, it's preceived carbonation level.

A 2-liter bottle seems like it starts becoming flat remarkably quickly.

So, the average carbonation level of 4 bottles of coke is perceived higher than the carbonation level of 2 liters.

Maybe it's more of a placebo; you're more likely to drink the 20oz bottle quicker than the 2-liter. An open (even re-capped) 2-liter bottle will lose carbonation over N days quicker than a 20oz you drink in maybe an hour or whatever (at least that's how I see it)

In America, when I ask for half a cup of coffee at Starbucks (no I don't ask for a discount), because I don't want/need that much coffee, I get weird looks.

Or when I am at Taco Bell and I just want a small cup of soda, instead of that giant cup they give, I always get the "are you sure?"

I'm not even Japanese and I'd buy the small can. I have no use for 0.5l of coke, let alone 1.5l. It's supposed to make me a bit more concentrated, not replace my water.

You probably have to bring the trash with you for a while, so ending up with a smaller empty bottle can be preferable. There aren't a lot of public trash cans.

(Before I realized this, I was once perplexed by where to throw out a food wrapper. I went into a restroom in the subway station and threw it out in the only receptacle I saw, which turned out to be the hand dryer. That was embarrassing.)

I'd love to visit Japan, and Hokkaido specifically. Seems like such a nice place.

Hokkaido is a land of contrasts. Amazing natural spaces, great food- especially the seafood, but also the best milk in Japan, etc.

Hokkaido is also one of the poorest prefectures in Japan and has struggled since the economic bubble collapsed 3 decades ago. You see a lot of abandoned houses, and whole towns look empty as youth have moved to Sapporo or other larger cities for work and leave only the elderly to farm or fish, etc.

The Spike Japan blog stopped in 2014 but is a very interesting look into the rural collapse of Japan, and Hokkaido specifically.


Note that if you go just by that blog, you'd not want to visit. It's a great place to visit, to ski, etc. but there is the other side that SpikeJapan highlights.

Japan was beautiful; visually, culturally, and culinarily. I'd highly recommend it.

I just started taking Japanese classes yesterday and I can't wait to go back next year.

There were a lot of weird small vending machines in Austria too, like on some random street corner, you'd find a gumball machine. Stuff like this:


I never really figured that one out.

Heh, those machines are great. The temporary tattoo + chewing gum is the best. I have a collection of the weird toys and figurines from those machines (and similar ones around the world)

Hokkaido is a great place.

What mountain is this: http://www.spoon-tamago.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Eiji-...

It kind of looks like a miniature Fuji-san.

Could be Mount Yōtei, a Hokkaido mountain known for its resemblance to Mount Fuji:


Great photos. But these photos highlight one of the biggest problems in Japan. Plastic consumption. Japanese hardly use reuseable bottles and places to refill a canteen or your reusable bottle are near non-existent.

If that's the biggest problem a country has, I'd say they're doing pretty good...

Those vending machines look so /comfy/. :)

Why is this even posted here? It doesn't seem even remotely relevant to Hacker News.

Is there even a "relevant to Hacker News"? I've always seen it as things that people find interesting. If you don't like it then downvoting is an option if you're able to.


"If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity"

Because it is 'deeply interesting'

Cool photos of machines.

Photos of other cultures.

Provokes discourse.

I find vending machines interesting. I think it does apply to the general feel here. I'd love to see the internals more often though!

Fuji Electric is market leader in Japan. FE is also #1 vending machine vendor in China, where their revenues are already on a par with their domestic market.

Top of the range products feature large digital signage on the front. Also, body-shape / gait recognition (age / gender categorisation).

Because culture.

impressive durability: some of these vending machines are friggin' snow-proof -- and they still keep the drinks warm.

Also, on snowy days, even the 'cold' contents are heated (from below freezing to just above)

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