In Japan they say that the customer is God and even a machine is expected to pay its respects.
It’s a saying that supports the idea that Japan is the land of the vending machine with perhaps more machines per person than anywhere else in the world. In Japan’s cities they can be seen on most street corners dispensing sodas and hot coffee, but also more far-out items like ice cream, french fries, umbrellas and clothes.
They’ve even made it to the top of Mount Fuji, providing hungry hikers with hot, steamy instant noodles at the summit.
The country even has its own association of vending machine manufactures, the JVMA, which notes that the number of automatic dispensers in Japan, including ticket machines, amounts to over 5 million. That's a human-to-machine ratio of around 24 to one.
One of the latest hi-tech additions can be found on a train station platform in Tokyo. First unveiled last year by the East Japan Railway Company it’s a machine that “recognizes” the customer and suggests what he or she “should” have.
Looming large with a slick 47-inch touch screen panel, the drinks vending machine is equipped with a face-recognition sensor that gauges information about the customer age and gender. Other sensors in the machine measure the outside temperature and help the machine come up with the recommendation depending on the time of the day and the season.
Yet the evolution of vending machines will not stop there.
Takashi Kurosaki, the secretary general of the JVMA predicts that all vending machines, no matter how lowly, will eventually be equipped with interactive screens.
Acting as much as social information devices, he can see the day when they will dispense weather forecasts or local community news as much as provide thirst-quenching drinks and refreshments.
But why did Japan fall so in love with vending machines in the first place?
"I would say that it comes from the trust the people have towards the machines," Kurosaki says. " In America or in Europe, it often happens that the purchased good isn't delivered properly. In Japan, that is simply unacceptable."
Vending machines in Japan are not faultless, as anyone who has had a bad experience with a machine can attest. Yet the trust Japanese purchasers have towards the machine and its manufacturers remains, and is one of the main reasons why they are ready to get their lunch or drinks recommendations served up by a machine as much as a person.
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