Akihabara’s oden vending machines

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    For some reason, oden is very popular among Japanese geeks.  TV shows and reports love to mention the otaku’s love for oden, labeling it as the official food of the akibakei.  What is oden?  Let’s ask wikipedia:

    Oden (おでん) is a Japanese dish consisting of several ingredients such as boiled eggs, daikon radish, konnyaku, and chikuwa cooked in konbu or katsuobushi based dashi broth. Mustard may be used as a condiment. In Nagoya, it may be called Kanto ni (関東煮) and miso is used as a dipping sauce.

    Sounds great, doesn’t it?  If you want to try some oden, you can probably buy it at a convenience store.  Although I don’t seem to see much oden where I currently live(Saitama), I used to see it for sale all the time at the Family Marts and Lawson Stations of my previous home, Nagoya.  I will probably always associate the scent of oden with the many nights I went to Nagoya convenience stores looking to drown my sorrows in whiskey.  Anyway, enough about my alcoholism, here are some pictures of oden vending machines in Akihabara:

    One of Akihabara’s famous oden vending machines.  A warm can of oden will set you back 200 yen.

    A can is opened, revealing its oden-tastic contents! (9000 cans are sold each month!!!)

    This otaku says that he buys and eats 2 or 3 cans each time he goes to the vending machine.

    The cameraman spots a woman purchasing oden!

    When confronted, she states that she will be bringing it home with her.

    That’s all for the pictures, here is an article about wacky Japanese vending machines that I located on google (the newspaper that published it has since deleted the article, but it remained in google’s cache):

    Vending machines offer plenty in Japan
    The Yomiuri Shimbun

    TOKYO – Vending machines usually bring to mind canned soft drinks and cigarettes, but in Japan recently they’ve started to change, offering such things as hot oden – a dish including slices of boiled daikon, balls of processed minced fish and hard-boiled eggs – and sushi.

    The uses of vending machines in Japan have increased. There are now machines designed to reduce garbage, offer drinks free of charge after an earthquake or talk to customers.

    A vending machine in Akihabara, Tokyo’s electronic appliances quarter, is one of these special machines. Insert two 100-yen coins and a large can containing hot oden will emerge (a can of oden including beef sinew costs an extra 50 yen).

    In 1985, Tengu Canning Co. in Nagoya developed the canned oden, which was sold mainly to tachinomi stand-up bars.

    In 1995, the oden vending machine was set up in Akihabara and it soon found favor, selling 10 million yen worth of canned oden a year.

    A television program touted the vending machine as the top money-making vending machine in the country.

    Last year, the vending machine also appeared in a TV drama titled “Densha Otoko (Train Man),” a story based in Akihabara about a man who sought advice on an Internet chat room about approaching a woman he met on a train.

    With the cold spell striking the country in December, two such vending machines set monthly sales records – a total of 14,000 cans of oden were sold.

    Kenichi Ito, 44, an assistant section chief at Tengu Canning, said it is hard to control the quality of oden; the quality falls if the canned oden is heated too much.

    “The Akihabara site is perfect because the canned oden is constantly purchased, preventing it from becoming too hot,” he said.

    Vending machines on the ferries of Tokyo-based Ocean Tokyu Ferry Co., which link Tokyo with Tokushima and Kitakyushu, sell one serving of eight frozen sushi pieces topped with deep-water shrimp, tuna, scallop and other seafood, for 500 yen.

    When it is thawed up in a special oven, the rice with vinegar becomes hot but the toppings remain cold.

    Passengers can purchase the sushi with food cards that are distributed free of charge when boarding or with cash.

    The company often sells all of the machine’s 120 meals in a single trip during the busy season.

    While the product would seem to have a wider appeal, allowing vending machines selling it to be installed on streets, an employee of Sundelica Co., a Tokyo-based food company which makes the sushi, insisted that the product sold well only on those ferries because they do not have restaurants onboard.

    According to the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association, there are about 5.5 million vending machines, including those selling tickets, in the country.

    About 2.6 million of them sell soft drinks, making Japan the second largest vending machine country in the world after the United States.

    In terms of number, vending machines have already reached saturation point, but now vending machines are being designed to improve our living environment.

    In November, a “My Cup” vending machine was installed in the annex of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry building in Tokyo.

    People use their own cups to buy juice and coffee in order to reduce the use of paper cups.

    A ministry official said that if the experiment at the ministry went well, the ministry would encourage companies to install such vending machines in their offices.

    Starting in 2003, Coca-Cola Japan Co. installed vending machines that can be remotely controlled to provide drinks free of charge in case of a disaster.

    It has already installed about 1,000 such machines in various parts of the country. The vending machines in city hall of Nagaoka, provided bottles of tea and water to residents after an earthquake struck the Chuetsu area there.

    Vending machines equipped with security cameras and emergency buzzers have recently been installed along school routes to protect children.

    Vending machines that sell alcohol are gradually being replaced by models capable of checking the age of a customer by scanning a form of ID, such as a driver’s license, thereby preventing minors from buying spirits.

    In 2008, cigarette vending machines equipped with a system that can verify the age of a customer by reading a data card – issued to only adults – will be introduced.

    Some vending machines can even communicate with buyers.

    DyDo Drinco Inc. started in 2000 installing vending machines that can say “Konichiwa” (Hello) and “Itterasshai” (Have a nice day).

    The company has also installed vending machines that can say, “Sorry, I’ve run out of change” in the Kansai dialect.

    During the first three days of the New Year, the machines said, “Thank you, we’re counting on you this year.”

    Fuji Electric Retail System Co. has developed a makeup vending machine that can not only talk to a customer but also features a camera that can help women choose what type of makeup suits them best.

    The machine, which has yet to be put into practical use, displays an image of the customer’s face on a screen with a mocked-up image of what they would look like wearing a certain shade of lipstick.

    The Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association predicts that in the future, vending machines capable of offering advice based on users’ preferences and health status will be invented.

    Tsutomu Washizu, 61, who authored a book titled “Jido Hanbaiki no Bunka (The Culture of Vending Machines)” said that it would become much more convenient for people to get what they liked at a time and a place they wanted.

    “But it could lead to a culture of disposability, leading people to discard things when and wherever they want. Vending machines can make our life convenient, but they can also ruin our lifestyles,” he said.

    I’m still waiting for vending machines that sell candy bars and chips.  Unfortunately, Japan’s anti-trashcan/pro-litter policy would probably work against such an idea.

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