The Siren Call of the Vending Machine

February 2015: Zen and the Art of Vending
Known as “jidouhanbaiki” (自動販売機) or by the shorter “jihanki” (自販機), the machines are a feature of the landscape wherever you go in Japan.

Nov. 2014:  Analyze This–Robot Knows What You’re Thinking? Nestlé Japan will soon begin using a humanoid robot to sell Nescafé machines as the company devises new ways to appeal to customers in the brand’s biggest market. The company claims that the robot can read human emotions.

October 2014 :  Farmers and foodie companies realized the appeal of using vending machines to sell raw milk, eggs, or fresh meals on the go. This article looks at the early steps of vending machines going farm fresh.
I have a love/hate relationship with vending machines—

I’ve used them around the world, but as you can read below, one tried to steal a child from me some years ago. Now if a new robot “salesperson” can tell if I’m sad, happy, or freaked out, I’m wondering what’s in store for vending machine personalities. 
Some machines seem simple enough. Two innovations popped up recently, and unlike many of the “food items” in the past, these have a healthy ring to them. 

One is a veggie machine called the Farmer’s Fridge, and the concept is simple. The owner figures any successful machine must include moderate prices and convenience, so he is restocking this salad vendor on a daily basis and trying to make a go with his veggie vending.

The other one is more specific. An agricultural company in Japan has placed a tomato vending machine in a Tokyo train station area. They are catering to joggers and walkers from a nearby running route that rings the Imperial Palace. The slogan is “tomato loading” and the cost goes at $3 or $4 dollars, depending on how big a tomato you want to load into your system.
I’m still cautious around Japanese vending machines. Because of one decades ago, I know I left at least one child behind during my long teaching career. Alan was a thirteen-year-old American, and I left him at a train station eighty miles north of Tokyo.
A colleague and I were herding thirty-two international school students back from a week-long excursion, and the bullet train we were on made one of its few scheduled stops. Long enough to tempt Alan off the train as he answered the siren’s call of the vending machine on the platform. Not long enough for him to make a purchase and get back on.
Japanese vending machines offer everything but handguns, and Alan was hypnotized by the choices: Three types of coffee, various tea combinations, soft drinks with or without ice in small or large cups, Coke, Aquarius, Fanta Orange, and the ill-named Calpis, a white liquid that reminded me of milking our family cow when I was an Iowa farm kid. 
By the time Alan’s buyer’s paralysis let up, the train doors had sealed, and as we watched out the windows, he faded into nothing but a shadow in the neon glow of the station. I could imagine the vending machine thanking him with its robotic female voice: “Domo, arigato gozaimashita.” Alan probably made the polite retort, “doo itashimashite,” before noticing the train had left. 
Alan eventually made it home; I kept my job; and I have refused to make eye contact with vending machines ever since. Salads, tomatoes, or Twinkies—whatever the product, these modern cyborgs have one goal: to lure you in and part you from your money. I think I’ll do my tomato loading in the old fashion ways.
Note: for a look at more bizarre modern vending machines, check this blog entry.  
dan gogerty (top photo from and bottom photo from

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