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  • (Vending machines)

  • (Everywhere)

  • There is a vending machine for every 23 people in Japan.

  • That's the highest vending machine per capita on the planet.

  • After the business card fiasco, I started to become keenly aware of all the vending machines that I saw here in Japan.

  • I noticed... they are everywhere!

  • Indeed, what we're looking at here is a Japanese institution.

  • Behind me sits an entire shop dedicated to chopsticks.

  • Yes, I'm about to go inside.

  • The first thing you have to know, in order to understand vending machines, is that Japan is an aging country.

  • The average age here is 46 years old, which is almost double the world average.

  • And the fertility rate is 1.4, which means the population is actually shrinking.

  • This is actually a looming crisis for Japan generally, but one of the effects of it is that the labor market is very expensive.

  • There's a scarcity of low-skilled labor.

  • So, instead of paying a sales clerk to sit and collect your money when you buy a piece of gum, they just putting a machine and automate the whole thing.

  • And the same goes for real estate.

  • Japan is one of the densest countries in the world, 93 percent of the population lives in cities.

  • People literally live in apartment smaller than your SUV.

  • So instead of paying a lot of money for a store front, retailers will just slip a little machine into an alleyway to save a lot of money, and they can still turn a really good profit.

  • According to one essay that I read from a Japanese economist here in Tokyo, the bigger explanation for the vending machines is a fascination or even an obsession with automation and robotics.

  • Everything that can be automated here, is automated.

  • When I go into order like ramen or breakfast, more often than not, I order on a machine and I give a little ticket to someone.

  • It's indicative of a broader cultural trend, of wanting to automate every system you possibly can.

  • Every taxi in Tokyo has automated doors that the driver controls.

  • Now, I don't want to overstate this.

  • There's still a major appreciation for handcrafted, artisanal goods here in Japan.

  • A good example of this is the seven-year-old coffee shop I just got out of, where they literally use a weighted scale to weigh their coffee beans before grinding them and brewing them to order.

  • To cool down their coffee, they put it into a metal vessel and spin it around a giant ice cube.

  • So yes, they love automation but they're still very much in touch with the handmade.

  • So another thing that totally contributes, is this: Coinage.

  • So much coinage.

  • The one big caveat to the whole automation thing is that they haven't really gotten on board with credit cards yet.

  • Everything is cash based.

  • And because that you always have coinage, one of their highest coin is worth like five dollars.

  • And let's be honest, there's nothing more satisfying than unloading some of the change in your pocket into a vending machine for some yummy treat.

  • My personal favorite item is hot green tea, comes out wonderfully warm and you just wonder how you got so lucky.

  • So Japan is an aging nation with expensive labor and a love for robots and too many coins in its pocket .

(Vending machines)

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