Japan's latest vending machines conveniently try to read your mind-This Won't Work For Female Customers!


Danielle stands in front of a vending machine.


It stares at me. I stare back. I can almost hear it thinking: "Aha. A woman. Perhaps in her 30s. She's a bit hot today and probably running late. Maybe she needs an ice-cold oolong tea to revive her?"

Welcome to the world of 21st century vending machines. My encounter with the "Vending Machine That Can Read Your Mind" takes place one hot sunny day on a busy platform at Shinagawa Station while dashing between meetings.

As salarymen rush onto nearby trains, the touch-screen device calmly weighs me up using state-of-the-art facial recognition technology before gently suggesting that I need some tea.

I am pleased (and cooled) by the thoughtful machine's refreshment of choice -- but I am not particularly surprised, given Japan's world-renowned status as a leading mecca of the vending machine world.

Japan, home to the world's highest concentration of vending machines, has an impressive average of one machine for every 24 people dotted across the country, statistics from the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association show.

For me, the novelty of these illuminated, glowing beacons of light at the end of every street, which offer not only cold but also hot drinks, has not disappeared after nearly four years living here.

My amazement at their widespread presence hit new heights during a trip to the remote island of Taketomi in Okinawa -- where I was surprised to see vending machines sitting happily next to old wooden houses on quiet country lanes that most likely hadn't changed for hundreds of years.

Even at the peak of the nation's midsummer energy saving efforts, despite many vending machines being dimly lit or having limited operating hours, I have not once failed to find somewhere to buy a cold bottle of water when I needed to.

In my native U.K., we do, of course, have vending machines. But, in my experience, they are nowhere near as many, nor are they as efficient and convenient as in my adopted home.

In fact, my most enduring memories are those annoying chocolate machines on London Underground platforms, which always seemed to get jammed when I insert coins -- without delivering the chocolate.

Back in Japan, the convenience factor plays a big part in their popularity -- although some might question the point of such machines in a country already famous for its convenience stores that stay open 24 hours a day.

Defenders may argue that vending machines are still popular because sometimes, people just don't feel like communicating with other human beings and prefer an anonymous, easy, uncomplicated machine that doesn't expect you to smile or be polite.

And for that very reason, as soon as I finish writing this sentence, I plan to pop out to the always-inviting vending machine at the corner of my street and pick up a hot bottle of "Royal Milk Tea." (By Danielle Demetriou)

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