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Does Japan Still Have the Most Vending Machines Per Capita?

Margaret Lipman
Published Jan 21, 2024
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The fact that Japan has a lot of vending machines should come as no surprise. For decades, the prevalence of these convenient, automated dispensing systems has been well documented. You don’t have to look far to find lists of usual and not-so-usual items found in Japanese vending machines, from flower arrangements and hamburgers to T-shirts and umbrellas, and much, much more. For example, there is even a vending machine in Akita Prefecture that sells fresh meat from wild bears killed (legally) during the local hunting season.

The most common items sold in Japanese vending machines, however, are pretty standard. More than half of the country’s machines sell soft drinks or hot beverages. (Some do sell alcoholic drinks, though this is much less common.) And just as you’d expect, there are plenty of machines selling snacks and other convenience foods (as well as hot, fresh, and frozen foods). Cigarettes, personal necessities like clothing or toiletries, and tickets are frequently stocked.

But just how many vending machines does Japan have? Does it still deserve the title of having the most vending machines per capita? According to recent figures, it does, though the United States reigns supreme for the total number of vending machines, at over five million. Japan has around four million, though with a significantly smaller population (roughly 123 million vs. 335 million in the United States). That works out to around one vending machine for every 30 people in Japan—down from a high of around 5.6 million in 2000, which is where the often-cited statistic of one machine for every 23 people comes from.

The land of vending machines:

  • One of the main differences between vending machine culture in Japan and the U.S. is their location. Vending machines on city streets are an extremely common sight in Japan, while in the U.S. they are more likely to be found inside buildings or transportation terminals.

  • Interestingly, Japanese vending machines are very rarely robbed or vandalized, partially due to Japan’s low crime rate and partially because of built-in cameras and a direct line from the machine to the police.

  • Numerous factors help explain the ubiquity of Japanese vending machines. Japan, especially its largest cities, has a very high population density, meaning there is less space for physical shops, which face high real estate costs. And due to a low birthrate and an aging population, Japan is facing a labor shortage in certain sectors, so it’s not surprising that vending machines stand in for nonexistent retail workers.

  • Japan has long been at the forefront of automation technology (think robot servers and touchpad menus), so vending machines are a natural fit. Yet despite Japan’s technological advancement, cash is still commonplace, so dropping a couple of coins into a vending machine is especially convenient.

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Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman , Writer and editor
Margaret Lipman is an experienced writer and educator who produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.

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Margaret Lipman

Margaret Lipman

Writer and editor

Margaret Lipman is an experienced writer and educator who produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide...
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