Japan possesses a ridiculous number of ‘jihanki‘ (vending machines) equating to one for about 22 people or something like that. The majority of them sell drinks and cigarettes but other things are available such as newspapers, flowers, condoms, bananas, ice-cream, tissues, toys, rice, snacks, apples, eggs and perhaps the most famous story overseas is of used schoolgirl undies being sold in these vending machines but I think that may just be urban myth. I am certainly aware that new underwear can be purchased from these vending machines as I have seen that.
With all that in mind it really should be no surprise that a vending machine stand like this one in Shimbashi exists! After the Rambling Northerner (a.k.a. Jack) and I returned to central Tokyo from our day at the races for the Japan Cup we decided to experience this unique place for eating out!
It’s located about a ten minute walk from Shimbashi station and is called Vender Stand which when written in katakana script actually reads as Benda Sutando! Yes, really!!
Whilst doing some research on a more restaurant-like vending machine place up in Gunma prefecture, I came across this tiny standing-room only hang-out. It’s about as glamorous as drinking in a launderette but is seemingly quite popular with businessmen needing a quick smoke, beer and chat after work. During our 90 minutes here a fair few men came and went. Lord only knows what the two guys in this place on our arrival were thinking when we walked in and continued to snap away. Jack wasted no time in purchasing a bottle of beer whilst I went for the lighter chūhai (alcoholic drink made with shōchū and carbonated water) though I mistakenly bought a grapefruit flavoured one rather than my intended lemon one!
Whilst there we thought we should sample some of the culinary delights it had to offer and there was one particular machine selling hot dishes for 370 yen a pop with each item heating up for a minute or two before being ready to take out. Basically a vending machine that’s like a microwave! Yaki-soba noodles were put to the taste test first and were pretty good to be fair and set the benchmark for the various dishes that followed.
The hamburger set was next which also included a karaage chicken piece and three chips. The latter tasted fairly awful but I’d expect that coming from a machine! The chicken was fine and the burger was ok but certainly didn’t justify the price tag when one can get such a thing for about 100 yen in any convenience store.
Next up was the takoyaki which are upside down in the box so that the tops can more easily be coated in sauce. There was a packet of seaweed flakes in the box to be sprinkled on too but I didn’t even notice that until we’d almost polished them off.
Overall, there’s over a dozen machines with other ones I’ve not mentioned yet selling cup noodles, tea, coffee, nuts, waffles, crisps and other such beer snacks.
Our final purchases were some smoked mussels and yakitori in a can. Food in such containers is never the best but both were better than expected, particularly the latter one which I thought would be awful…..or maybe the alcohol was talking and I could’ve eaten anything at that time and been satisfied!
What was perhaps most surprising to me was that there are actually toilets in this tiny place and, though I don’t plan to make a habit of dining out in such places, it was good fun experiencing such a uniquely Japanese place.
Vender Stand is located at 2-5-14 Higashi-Shinbashi in Minato-ku
Click here to read Rambling Northerner’s post about this experience