Vending Machines Are Useful Indicators Of A Nation’s Sanity

The idea that vending machines can sell practically everything has reached its highest proportions in the far East, particularly Japan, where there is approximately one vending machine for every 25 people which is just over 5.2 million machines in total throughout the country (though this number has fallen by a quarter of a million in the last 10 years or so). In the respected nation of Japan vending machines have also reached their highest level of technology, wowness and absurdity in equal measure; they do not however, dominate the weird, as their Chinese neighbours thouroughly demonstrate.


OK, so just how amazingly absurd are we talking? Not selling cars in vending machines. The Japanese do that, so it’s not so normal. That’s just too beige and too vanilla for China. The only thought that selling cars from a vending machine would require is how big the machine would have to be. Our opening gambit in the ‘No, You are mad’ category of conversations is “Hey, you Chinese are crazy with your vending machines selling live crabs”. Yes, vending machines, live crabs, any questions? Unfortunately, for a conversation to take place, you need another dissenting voice from China. “No,” says the Chinese man (to the Japanese man) “you are mad. You know those arcade amusements with the metal grippers that you aim to drop down and grab the iPod or fluffy toy or, more often, nothing? You have those. We have live crabs as prizes. And your vending machines only sell live beetles. And live lobsters.”
This is all true by the way. Chance your arm and win a live crab. Or skip the luck element and just buy the crab from the crab vending machine. Oh, and while the strange vending machine contents are being thrown about, what about toilet paper vending machines? Toilet paper in a public toilet isn’t always put out as courtesy in the Far East. Don’t forget that.
The Sino-Japanese axis of fruitcakes does have its rivals, it perturbs me to say. In Abu Dhabi, they have machines selling gold bars and coins, why? You tell me. In Miami, you can buy a penthouse from a vending machine. Again, what? Looking at stereotypes a bit more closely, everyone has their particular vending machine, the Italians have their pizza machines, the Israelis their prayer book machines, the Swedish have machines for Ikea spare parts, the French go with pommes frites dispensers and… you get the picture.

Tony Bevan is a well-travelled blogger who has eaten mashed potato and gravy from a Singaporean vending machine. This made him the perfect person to write an article for

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