The Association of Vending Machine Makers boasted recently that the Japanese public is served by 5,168,320 automats - one for every 23 people, more than can be found in any other country.

Cold drinks, hot coffee, instant noodles, cigarettes, bags of rice, contraceptives and fishing bait may be had at any hour, not only on city pavements but on pleasant country roads and at scenic spots. Now the vending machine firms have been thrown on to the defensive by a series of mishaps suggesting that extreme convenience is sometimes the root of social evils. The machines are accused of corrupting adolescent morality, encouraging alcoholism, or even of accidentally killing people.

November sees the Tokyo police supported by parent-teacher associations, trying to persuade the operators of magazine machines to put the purity of youth before their profits.

The easy availability of alcohol is also the subject of an outcry. In October, an advisory group to the Health Minister blamed vending machines for encouraging drunken driving and drinking by minors. There are 162,000 dispensers of Sake and beer the length and breadth of Japan which has 220,000 alcoholics.

In its report, the advisory group calls for tougher restrictions to be imposed on operators of these machines, not a few of whom have ignored official directives to switch off the liquor-sellers from 11 pm until 5 am. They are a magnet in the night, and for alcoholics at all hours, says the report, which points out that there are few countries in the West that allow liquor vending machines.

The Guardian, November 2004

Vending Machine

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