Cool Japanese Vending Machine Beverages

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If you’ve visited Japan, you know the Japanese love vending machines. In Tokyo, there is literally a beverage vending machine on every block, and in most cases, more than one. These vending machines offer a wide variety of beverages, from delicious bubble gum flavored soda to hot coffee, to an odd assortment of drinks in between. There are also many vending machines in Hong Kong (albeit fewer), so maybe it’s a thing in all of Asia?

During our trips to Japan, I’ve become slightly obsessed with these vending machine drinks. Seriously, it’s bad. It doesn’t help that low denominations of Japanese currency are coins, so even if I’m spending $2 (USD equivalent), it only feels like I’m spending pocket change. This may seem ridiculous, but in the moment, you really don’t give it much thought because they’re just coins. (At least that’s what I tell myself, and research on the psychology of money reinforces this, no matter how ridiculous it sounds.)

Regardless, it’s really fun for me to stop at random vending machines to see what different items they have from other vending machines. If I had to guess, I’d say that 75% of the drinks in vending machines are consistently the same. Another 20% are variable, with a large degree of overlap between machines. It’s the final 5% of drinks that seem to really differ, and these elusive drinks are usually the ones I’m after. Not that any of you care about the distribution of beverages in Japanese soda machines (talk about a niche interest), but when you’re bouncing around Japan all hopped up on caffeine looking for your next sugar-fix, I guess this is the kind of weird things you start contemplating.

Probably (hopefully?) of more interest is the actual unique drinks I’ve tried from these machines. Here are some photos I’ve captured of some of the various drinks I’ve tried.

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This is one of two types of Dragonball Z soda I had in Japan. I’m not entirely certain, but I think this was just like Diet Coke/Coke Zero. This one I found in a sketchy mall that specialized in manga porn, comic books, and antiques. (I was not there for the porn–I purchased some Tokyo Disneyland collectibles.)

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There was some debate in our group as to whether this was pear soda or apple soda. Based on taste, it was difficult to tell–it was sort of somewhere in between. The label is no help, either. I think it’s pear soda.

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This is the better of the two Dragonball Z sodas I tried. This one tasted like bubble gum, which may sound gross, but actually was delicious.

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Natchan! was a delicious drink that I assume was at least partly made of real oranges. Maybe not. The real star of this lineup, though, was the right on the far right, which was “cream soda.” In Japan, cream soda is typically an ice cream float made with melon-flavored soda and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. So this is the soda version of that ice cream/melon concoction. It was quite possibly the best drink I had in all of Japan.

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Mets (typography look familiar?) juice by Kirin (a popular beverage manufacturer in Japan) tastes almost exactly like Squirt.

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Golden Mix is the bomb. I don’t know what all flavors are in this, but it’s basically a sweet, light-colored fruit punch that’s heavy on pineapple.

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This was an energy drink of some sort. That’s really all I know about it.

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This is one of the most disgusting drinks I’ve had. It was cold, black coffee. It literally tasted like it was cheap coffee you might find at your office a day after someone turned off the coffee machine.

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This drink touts itself as a healthy lemon drink with loads of vitamin C. I’m betting it’s about as healthy as some Sunny D, but it tastes delicious, so who cares?

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Americans will recognize brands like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, although the slogans and branding are a bit different. In the case of Pepsi, the taste is also different (I thought). Possibly due to using real sugar? The other drink here is hot chocolate.

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Finally, for the Disney fans out there, here’s a vending machine in Tokyo Disneyland. There are only a few vending machines in the parks (originally, there were none, which was a deliberate choice to distinguish the parks from daily life), and none of them serve the odd beverages you can find on the streets. Still, cool machines.

Hope you enjoyed this fun little post on Japanese vending machines. If you’re a big fan of vending machines, Japan is the place for you. Not only are there these ‘normal’ drink vending machines, but also ones for alcohol and…used panties. Ahh, Japan.

For those who are wondering, this is just a small selection of the drinks I’ve tried. I don’t usually take pictures of the soda cans because there’s something about photographing a can of soda with a DSLR that often draws too much attention. When we’re in Japan, I normally have about 8-10 vending machine beverages per day. Now that really puts the CAFFEINE in Travel Caffeine!

Your Thoughts…

Have you ever experienced the greatness that is Japanese vending machines? Ever tried any of these specific beverages? Have questions about any of these drinks? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

15 replies
  1. Vlad B
    Vlad B says:

    Out of all the vending machine drinks in Japan, I am most partial to Pocari Sweat – it’s basically a more palatable version of Gatorade in my opinion. It does help during a long day of walking.

    Reply
  2. emily bennette
    emily bennette says:

    Wow, this such a cool thing. I can’t believe what they can do with vending machines nowadays. Being able to have cold drinks is one thing, but getting hot drinks as well is so awesome. It would be so fun to get a can of hot coffee out of a vending machine on a cold morning. Do you know if they have anything fun like this for snack machines?

    Reply
    • Greg
      Greg says:

      They have a vending machine for everything. Beer machines outside a shrine in our neighborhood… but the underwear vending machine has to take the prize. Fascinating culture, a bkast to explore!

      Reply
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  4. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    As a former natural foods store employee, I feel compelled to weigh in on the apple/pear flavor debate. From the picture on the can, that looks like an Asian pear, which is smallish, roundish, and has a texture and flavor similar to an apple. So everyone is (sort of) correct!

    Reply
  5. Jeff Krause
    Jeff Krause says:

    Great post, but I’d like more nutritional info. Seriously, do they post that sort of thing on the cans in Japan? I’d want to know how serious of a caffeine trip am I gonna have after drinking this? You are brave for just going for it without knowing what’s in it first.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Haha, “brave” is one way to put it. I think other words could be used for consuming something without having any idea of what’s in it. 😉 As far as nutritional info goes, I can’t recall whether that was there or not. I wasn’t really looking, and I don’t have any photos of the sides of the cans. I *think* there was nutritional info, albeit in Japanese, but that’s just a guess.

      Reply
  6. Tammy
    Tammy says:

    I haven’t been to Japan yet, but tasted some very odd vending machine sodas in Australia. The worst was called “Lift”. I am thinking it must be an acquired taste. Seemed like it was condensed lemon juice with fizz. Way too strong, but quite the experience.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Yeah, a lot of them are definitely “acquired tastes,” to put it mildly. I had one in China that was “jelly” flavored. I about threw up after taking one sip of it. My stomach is churning as I write this, just thinking about it. The worst drink I’ve ever tried, by far.

      Reply
  7. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    This has to be one of the oddest blog posts I’ve ever read! I’m pretty sure I’d be on water only while in Japan (I’m weird and detest fruit juices, so most of those sound abhorrent to me.) Bravo to you for your bravery of the unknown!

    Reply

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