Although quite simple, a foreigner with very little understanding of Japanese may have difficulty operating one of the country’s many vending machines with speed and efficiency.
1. Insert the money
Although some vending machines will accept ￥1,000 bills, ￥500, ￥100, ￥50, and ￥10 coins are easier to use. The machine will not accept ￥5 and ￥1 coins. Insert the required amount of the item you want to purchase.
2. Take temperature into account
It is not uncommon to come across a vending machine that serves both hot and cold beverages. Above the button, there will be an indicator that shows the type of beverage. The red indicator means ‘hot’ , whereas the blue indicator means ‘cold’.
3. Select the item of choice
Press the lit up button beneath the display of the item you want to purchase. The button will not light up if the required amount is not inserted in the machine. The button will be red if the item is sold out.
4. Don’t forget about your change
Change will be dispensed towards the bottom of the machine. If it doesn’t come out automatically – or if you changed your mind about your purchase and want your yen back – you can pull the lever labelled ‘Change’.
5. Don’t walk around and consume the beverage
Traditionally, people stand in front of the vending machine after making a purchase and consume the item completely before throwing it away and moving freely. Making a purchase and consuming it while walking is considered quite rude, but as a foreigner, you will be easily forgiven. For your consideration, keep recycling in mind. Japan has very limited natural resources. There will often be a special bin for cans, bottles and plastic ‘PET’ bottles located somewhere near the vending machine.
6. Avoid standing behind someone before/whilst they make a purchasee
Japanese people are often very selfless, so an act of this sort may intimidate the individual and cause them to rush eating/drinking in order to make your life easier. As you will soon discover, there will be many vending machines every few blocks; so unless you’re dying of thirst, keep walking.
7. Don’t get your hopes up for used underwear or pornography
Although there are vending machines in Japan that cater to such items, their locations are typically very exclusive, and the prices of such can be expensive.
8. Watch for vending machines that sell cigarettes and alcoholic beverages
These are very common, and sometimes placed in areas that may not, to a foreigner, appear ‘child-friendly’. Cigarette vending machines usually have a ‘Taspo’ system to prevent minors from buying these goods, and machines that sell beer may require you to insert your driver’s license. Keep in mind that the legal smoking age and legal drinking age in Japan is 20.
Enjoy your stay and the experiences in Japan with its wonderful vending machines. After a while, you will become very accustomed to making purchases and reacting to the often new and exciting tastes they offer!