At slightly over 5 million nationwide, Japan has the highest density of vending machines worldwide. There is approximately 1 vending machine per every 23 people, according to the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association. Annual sales total more than $60 billion.
What interested me, however, was what the vending machines say about Japan's unique culture. An obvious answer stuck out: Japanese people, and Tokyoites in particular, work a lot and therefore value convenience. But so do New Yorkers, as well as any other number of city-dwellers, and still vending machines are not nearly as popular.
So why are they ubiquitous? Sociologists and economists have offered a few potential answers.
- The cost of labor
- High population density and expensive real estate
- A lack of crime
- A cash based society
- A fascination with automation