In a previous post, I shared my odd infatuation with Japan’s ubiquitous vending machines. I wrote that back in this blog’s infancy after a couple of trips to Tokyo and Kyoto, during which I obsessed over finding and buying the oddest/coolest drinks I could find from Japan’s vending machines. Here we are 4 years and several trips to Japan later, and my fascination with Japan’s vending machines has yet to wear off. What can I say: I’m easily impressed.
In this post, I’m going to share some of the bizarre, cool, and otherwise interesting drinks I’ve scored from the vending machines of Japan. It’s not really a practical post from a trip planning perspective, but I’ll try to share some info that at least borders on useful. Otherwise, it’s best to view this as a “fun” post that offers a window into the depths of my weirdness. A fascination with vending machines? C’mon.
Or, you can view this sequel as nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt at recouping the costs of my drinking habit via advertising revenue. If the current pace of the original post is any indication, I should make my money back in a little over 6 years. Alternatively, maybe ‘Big Vending’ will see this post, and sign me to a lucrative sponsorship deal. Either way, I’m counting on this post as my nest egg. 😉
Okay, enough with the nonsense. Let’s get down to brass tacks and the very serious business of examining my vending machine finds…
We’ll start with one of my top 5 sodas in all of the world: Gabunomi Melon Cream Soda. This tastes like a cross between honeydew melon, bubble gum, and cream soda. To the extent that there’s a melon flavor, it’s actually pretty mild. That may not sound like the most appealing thing, but the way it comes together is nothing short of amazing.
Seriously, this is the perfect drink for a hot day (or probably any day, for that matter). It’s not too heavy or sugary, but has a nice and refreshing flavor. It’s basically a J-pop music video in your mouth.
This orange soda tasted like orange soda. Nothing profound about it. I’m guessing that it contains 10% orange juice, which also makes it marginally healthy.
This one is embarrassing. It’s not soda, it’s creamed corn. That’s not the bad part–it’s that I’ve bought this multiple times, not paying attention to the label, and then have started drinking it, assuming it would be coffee (as most drinks that are hot and this size are).
Have you ever prepared your taste buds for coffee and instead starting guzzling creamed corn? Of course not–you’re not crazy. Well, I have, and let me tell you, it’s a surefire way to fire up your gag reflex.
In this twofer, we have Boss Coffee and a delicious fruit smoothie drink. The smoothie drink tasted mostly like peach, and I think (maybe?) it was 30% fruit, so presumably healthy, too. (Note: my bar for something being “healthy” is extremely low.)
If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d totally buy into one that explained the widespread nature of vending machines in Japan as a result of Suntory putting addictive chemicals–or heck, mind-controlling chemicals–into Boss Coffee. Seriously, you cannot find a vending machine in Japan that doesn’t have an entire row of various Boss Coffee flavors.
On top of that, Tommy Lee Jones is on the side of most of the machines. In isolation, that probably doesn’t seem particularly odd. I didn’t think anything of it until seeing a Boss Coffee commercial on TV in one of our hotel rooms, and realizing something else was up. That got me to read into the backstory, which is that Tommy Lee Jones is an alien visiting Japan.
If you think this is eerily like when Joey did a “Ichiban: Lipstick for Men” commercial, you’re not the only one.
(P.S. You’re welcome for introducing the awesomeness that is alien-in-Japan Tommy Lee Jones into your life.)
As someone who likes to live on the edge, I have a particular fondness for cheap energy drinks. In Japan, the cheapest vending machines tend to have the most eye-catching energy drinks with (what appear to be) listings of the various vitamins and such in them.
Power Squash is actually a fairly tame example. Some of the sketchier energy drinks make bolder claims, and they can back them up. After downing a can of this stuff, I always feel ready to pick up a mid-size car and throw it.
Another energy drink, this one of the classier/more subtle variety.
I’d say about half the energy drinks I encounter in Japan taste like Red Bull. Good if you like Red Bull…bad if you had too many negative experiences with Red Bull in college, and now can’t stand the stuff.
This is a pretty common drink, and every time I purchase it, Sarah and I have the same exchange. I make some dumb comment about trying to be healthy by getting C.C. Lemon, and she explains to me how this is not actually healthy.
In other words…if you want to feel good about at least being somewhat healthy while on vacation in Japan, definitely have one can of C.C. Lemon per day. Doctor recommended!
I did a terrible job photographing these vending machines, but they are the elusive 100 yen machines. If you look at the front of the one of the right, you’ll see a panel that says “Happy Price – All 100!”
This means that everything in the machine is 100 yen (slightly less than $1). In addition to these being the cheapest vending machines, they have tend to have some of my favorites, like the melon cream soda above. You’ll mostly find these in residential areas, away from major points of interest or tourist spots. Someone really ought to make a website devoted to maps of where to find 100 yen vending machines. That’s a million dollar idea, if I’ve ever heard one.
I think that’s about enough Japan vending machine goodness for now. The good news is that I have enough photos for 3 or 4 additional installments in this series (oh yes, it’s a series now) and we’re going to Japan again soon, so maybe I’ll get really ambitious and start doing a daily vending machine find drink. Who knows…the sky is really the limit on this concept.
If you’re planning a trip, please check out my other posts about Japan. (I promise, most of the other posts are more useful than this one from a planning perspective.) I also recommend the Lonely Planet Japan Guide to help plan.
Have you ever experienced the glorious vending machines of Japan? Ever tried any of these specific beverages? Have questions about any of these drinks? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!