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Friday, March 6, 2015

Coca-Cola And Japan's Vending Machine Obsession

Japan has this, deservedly so, reputation for extremes with regard to vending machines—you know, drop in some change to purchase your product of choice.

Living in Toronto, the vending machines we have had here revolve(d) around cigarettes, condoms or tampons, chocolates and chips (potato, et al) and beverages, including hot coffee and cold sodas, and I suppose newspapers, though that one is more on the honor system. And gumboils, of course!

I'm not even going to mention tokens or passes for city transport, except that I just did.

Pretty much standard fare, when it comes to vending machines.

But in Japan… I was able to purchase a nice bottle of Spanish red wine, ice cream, hot canned coffee, cold soda, sake; and chose not to purchase: bags of rice; pornographic magazines; comic book magazines (manga); flower bouquets; shirts, ties, shoes, new underwear, and rather in famously in the distant past, used women's underwear for those who like that sort of stuff.

There were also vending machines for batteries, disposable cameras (very handy when out and you realize you've forgotten your bulk non-digital camera) - this was in the days before digital and before the shrinking of powerful smart and cellphones.

The one thing I never saw in Japan was a vending machine offering chocolate bars or chips… the lifeblood of the vending industry in the west… I even owned and operated a small vending machine 11 years ago.

Well… almost… those pop machines are pretty damn visible in most public centers. One saved my life when I was lost in the rice fields of Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken… probably saved my butt quite a few times while I was in Japan.

So… how did it all begin in Japan? Did they start the vending machine industry? Not even close. I know that vending machines have been around for well over 100 years… offering fresh, cold water in paper cups, for example… and to be honest, I'm sure there are earlier examples, but you can get that information yourself, because it doesn't relate (I am guessing) to Japan.

See? (I couldn't help myself:

According to Coca-Cola Journey: "the world’s first vending machine was invented in Ancient Egypt in 215 BCE."

"As the story goes, the vending machine sold holy water in a temple in Alexandria. Utilizing the principle of levers, the weight of a five-drachma coin would tilt a receptacle inside the machine and a tap would pour water until the receptacle returned to its original position. While the machine itself has not survived, Heron of Alexandria recorded its existence in his Pneumatika."

Apparently, the first patented vending machine was built to dispense postage stamps in 1857 by Brit, Simeon Denham.

Now… the first vending machine in Japan was a 1904 machine that dispensed stamps and postcards, and while popular for those who liked to write, vending machines were fairly restricted in what products were dispensed for many, may years.
Automatic Stamp and Postcard Vending Machine, replica. This vending machine is made in 1904. The oldest existing vending machine in Japan. Exhibit in the Communications Museum, Tokyo.

So… what spurred the orgasmic excitement of everything vendable is vended in Japan?


Oh why am I not on your payroll as an ambassador?!?! And so I come to you, with open arms….

Coca-Cola was and maybe is the quintessential product that defined America, that was easily accessible to the people of Japan after WWII.

At that time, Japan was a crushed mess, and was built up with American hands and money, before being subverted by the Japanese who gained control of their own destiny soon afterwards…

The thing is… the Japanese seem to have a lot of respect (after WWII) for their conquerors… and wanted to be like them (but not exactly), and so were rife for the pickings, if you will, for a taste of Americana like Coca-Cola's Coke.

I often wonder why I like Coke, as opposed to Pepsi? Was it just because one was available at the kiosk in the subway I passed every day after school? Or, was it the red and white colors were the same as the flag of my then NEW adopted country (Canada)?

First… according to recent data released by the Coca-Cola Journey team (see… that whole come to you with open arms thing is a line by the rock(?) group Journey. I thought it was witty), there are over 3.8 million vending machines in Japan.

Those 3.8-million vending machines in Japan are responsible for some ¥5-billion (~US $40-million) in sales annually.

Of that, there are 2.2 million that just vend soft drinks, which accounts for about ¥1.9-billion (~$16-million).

There are, in fact, approximately 980,000 Coca-Cola (brand) vending machines in Japan.

The very first Coca-Cola vending machine in Japan began operation in 1962—it was the first domestically manufactured bottle soft drink machine.

Beverage cooling vending machines for Coca-Cola were manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (三菱重工業株式会社 Mitsubishi Jūkōgyō Kabushiki-kaisha) on behalf of Vendo (now Sanden Vendo America) in 1962.

By the way, Mitsubishi was responsible for a lot of the builds for the Japanese Imperial Navy during WWII, including the Zero airplane. But the war is over, and Japanese businesses need to work.

At this time, it was for bottles. but Vendo was one the first to introduce vending machines for cold cans in the late 1960s, allowing vendors like Coca-Cola to fit twice as many cans as bottles into the machine of the same size.

For Japan, in 1962, the vending machines—the V-63 and the V-144—were delivered to Tokyo Coca-Cola, with a total of 880 eventually making it across the country by the end of the year. That's them in the photo below.

The Vendo machines were initially rentals, paid for by Coca-Cola on a monthly scheme. Then as now, Coca-Cola replenishes the vending machines as required.

Basically, these Coca-Cola soft drink vending machines began the whole vending machine development and marketing in Japan, though they can not be blamed for the product choices of other entrepreneurs who stuff them with highly desirable, but less ethically savory items such as used panties.

Weird obsessions aside (I suppose I have mine, as well) (I collect. What? Collect. Hopefully my gathering of acorns will pay off one day for someone other than myself.), did you know that as of 2003, Coca-Cola has made some vending machines worldwide known as the Disaster-Relief Vending Machine. As of December 2011, there are 6,000

No, you don't need to search for a tsunami-soaked bill to insert, rather a remote-access communications network will kick in and allow these vending machines to provide free-of-charge beverages during times of emergency.

As of December 2011, there are 6,000 of these Disaster-Relief vending machines around the world, which is kind of sad, because it implies that everyone else has figured out that this is a high-risk area. 

These machines are installed mostly in school gymnasiums, hospitals and other sites that would be used for evacuation purposes.

(Remember... you can never evacuate a person... that would kill them. You can evacuate an area with people, just not evacuate people from an area.)

During the March 11, 2011 earthquake in Japan (the so-called Great East Japan Earthquake), a large number of soft-drinks were made available for free.

I wonder how many of you ever thought about the fact that these vending machines have to be plugged in 24/7/365 days a year... which means they, and their cooling pumps, electronics and sometimes flashing lights and plain old lighting chew up a constant amount of energy... wasteful, even?

I sure as hell didn't think that. Not ever. I'm always glad I can find a machine selling what I want when I want it.

Still, some of you adorable treehuggers are thinking this way, and so, apparently is Coca-Cola.

The Ecoru/Solar Vending Machine consumes zero grid-energy for nighttime illumination.
Vending machine energy consumption has dropped 70 per cent in the past 20 years. The Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association began to develop a number of energy-saving measures. Between 1991-2012, they successfully reduced the annual electricity consumption per canned and bottled beverage vending machines by more than 70 percent. An example is the Ecoru/Solar Vending Machine pictured above, and the Peak Shift Vending Machine below.

A “Peak Shift Vending Machine” provides substantial reductions in electricity consumption.
The Peak Shift Vending Machine actually consumes half the electricity of an electric fan... though odds are you aren't running every second of the day - even in the cold dead of winter.

Regardless, this vending machine is cool. Yes... during the day when it is warmest, a vending machine will have to work harder to maintain a cool temperature for the beverages.  But not this one.

In Japan, with peak electrical usage down in the evening and night, this bad boy utilizes excessive cooling at night time (electricity is in excess, and is thus cheaper), via super thermal insulation in the vending machine's interior.

This vending machine provides a chilled beverage for a 12-hour period without having to draw an electricity for cooling. In fact, while the electricity used is at night, the overall energy consumption is a mere 5% of 'regular' vending machines. That's your half a fan in action, but it does make me a fan. Cool.

Let's leave it here for now...

And, for the record, I am drinking a Coca-Cola can of Coke as I write this - plucked from my work vending machine at lunch. I wish they would stock it with Coke Zero, as an option, however.

What's funny is that I was in the hankering for a Coke, and then came upon the topic.

Andrew Joseph


  1. It has two purpose one is to act as an insulator and the second is to prevent the expansion that can happen while rotating. cm 1500 insulation machine

  2. I like your blog.
    Really very useful post.
    Thanks for sharing valuable info. about vending machines.
    Soda Machines