Those who have visited Japan know that the Japanese value convenience and accessibility. The popularity of vending machines reflects the country’s fast-paced lifestyle. Home to 5.52 million vending machines, Japan is the country with the largest vending machine to land mass ratio. There is a large variety of vending machines in Japan, from machines selling instant noodles to machines selling umbrellas. However, vending machines that sell drinks are by far the most common.
During my travels to Tokyo and Osaka in the summer of 2013, I found that vending machine drinks were perfect for relieving thirst in the humid and incredibly hot weather. Whether it be browsing the bustling streets of Tokyo or hiking up famous castles in Osaka, I always seemed to have a canned or bottled drink in hand that I would purchase from a nearby vending machine. Below, I have listed some of my favorite Japanese vending machine drinks. These drinks made traveling in the humidity more bearable and kept me hydrated throughout my travels.
10) The Premium Calpis
For those who have tried the popular Calipco uncarbonated soft drink, there is a premium version of the drink available in Japanese vending machines. Calpico is the world’s first lactobacillic drink and has been a popular drink for 85 years. It claims to help maintain healthy blood pressure, immunostimulatory activity, and contains many other physiological benefits. The Premium Calpis version of the drink is a little pricier than the original drink, which can also be purchased in these vending machines. Although I see the original Calpico often in the United States, I had never seen Premium Calpis until I traveled to Japan. Premium Calpis is thicker than the original Calpico, so this is for those who enjoy the taste of Calpico and would like to experiment with a different texture of the drink.
9) Ito En Green Tea
This well-known drink is available in Japanese vending machines in various flavors. Ito En tea is unsweetened and has a pretty strong taste, and is great for those who need a pick-me-up during the day. It does not contain any calories and has more than 100% RDA of Vitamin C, so it is a healthy alternative to sweetened tea. Also, there are approximately 60 mgs of caffeine per 16.9 fl oz bottle, which makes it a convenient source of caffeine in the workplace or classroom. For those who rarely drink tea unsweetened, don’t be afraid to try this drink! Although it is not sweet, the distinct flavor of the tea is enough to keep your taste buds satisfied. Popular flavors of Ito En tea are green tea, dark green tea, jasmine green tea, and dark roasted green tea. All of these flavors are available in Japanese vending machines.
8) Fujiya Nectar Peach Juice
For those with a sweet tooth, Nectar Peach Juice is great refreshment in the heat. Its consistency is a little thicker than most juices, but that doesn’t stop it from being a popular drink in Japan. It is one of the sweetest drinks on this list though, so stray away from it if you prefer to avoid consuming too much sugar. This drink is 30% juice, and contains fruit puree, and has a syrup-like texture. When I usually drink this, I always have a bottle of water on hand. Even though I really enjoy its taste, the drink is honestly too sweet for me to drink by itself.
7) Kirin Afternoon Tea Lemon Tea
This tea is perfect for those who prefer their tea with citrus flavors. I absolutely enjoy drinking Kirin’s Lemon Tea because it is light and very refreshing. I particularly enjoyed this drink when I was walking in the Osaka Castle. The lemon tea definitely made the humid and long trek towards the castle much more bearable. Additionally, this drink only has 28 calories and 0 grams of fat, so it is a healthier alternative to other sweet teas.
6) Kochakaden Royal Milk Tea
There are a great variety of milk teas available in Japanese vending machines. Personally, I believe the Kochakaden’s Royal Milk Tea is one of the best options among all of the brands. It’s manufactured by the Coca Cola Company and has recently been gaining popularity outside of Japan. I enjoy the perfect balance of tea and milk, and the thick texture of the drink. Also, this brand of milk tea isn’t too sweet, which is a problem I find with other canned milk tea brands. For those who love milk tea, Kochakaden Royal Milk Tea is a must try! I find this milk tea amazing when paired with a small slice of cake. It’s perfect for an inexpensive afternoon tea!
5) Teas’ Tea Green and Red Apple Tea
This fruity tea is absolutely amazing during hot summer days. I personally find this to be my favorite drink from Teas’ Tea. I bought this drinks so many times in Japan because the balance between the tea and the fruity flavor was perfect. To my knowledge, it’s pretty difficult to find this Teas’ Tea flavor outside of Japan (I’ve tried to find it online to no avail). I regret not buying a couple of these to bring back to the U.S. with me. If you are in Japan or thinking about traveling to Japan, you should definitely give this drink a shot!
4) Suntory Gokuri Grapefruit Soda
This is one of my favorite Japanese drinks in general. Suntory’s Gokuri Grapefruit Soda is carbonated grapefruit juice with pulp. I don’t normally prefer carbonated drinks, but Suntory’s Gokuri Grapefruit Soda has been an exception. The carbonated nature of the drink makes it much more enjoyable and very unique compared to other on-the-go grapefruit alternatives. The grapefruit taste is very strong and the pulp is a nice addition to the carbonated nature of the drink. You should definitely try this if you enjoy tart and fruity drinks.
3) Georgia Canned Coffee
I’ve always been more of a tea person than a coffee person, but occasionally, even I need coffee to keep myself awake. For those who need caffeine to keep them energized, Georgia’s canned coffee is a great pick-me-up. It’s manufactured by the Coca Cola Company and is named after the company’s home state. Most vending machines in Japan carry a large selection of different flavors of Georgia coffees. Examples include Emerald Mountain Blend, Black and Low Sugar. I usually choose to drink the Emerald Mountain Blend, but I’ve also heard great reviews about the black and low sugar variations of the drink.
2) Suntory Vitamin C.C. Lemon (Mildly-Carbonated)
Suntory’s C.C. Lemon drink is very popular throughout Asia, and is one of my favorite carbonated drinks. It is advertised a drink with plenty of Vitamin C, and is a very healthy drink option. Although I can’t really attest to the health benefits that this drink claims to have, I can say that this drink is both tasty and refreshing. My friends in the states, even those who have never been to Japan, are in love with this drink, as it is sometimes sold at our local Mitsuwa. It can be likened to a carbonated version of lemonade, so you should definitely consider trying C.C. Lemon if you enjoy citrus drinks. This drink is very popular in media, as C.C. Lemon is also known for having The Simpsons as a mascot in commercials and merchandise.
1) Pocari Sweat
Pocari Sweat, and Japanese sports drinks in general, are a hit-or-miss for most people. Variations of this drink often appear in Japanese media – in sports events, television shows, and even Japanese anime. For me, this popular drink was definitely a hit when I first tried it. The appearance of this drink can be likened to Gatorade Frost’s Glacier Cherry. Unlike Gatorade’s Glacier Cherry however, Pocari Sweat has a citrus taste that is light, yet very distinct. It claims to be absorbed quickly into the body because its fluid movement is accelerated by the electrolytes and sugarsthat are in the drink. It also claims to be effective than water in preventing in-flight hypovolemia on long flights, which is low blood volume. This makes it my favorite drink for traveling and flights because it keeps the body hydrated while tasting delicious and refreshing.
I hope you enjoyed my list of 10 vending machine drinks you should try in Japan. Some of these drinks are available at Japanese markets, so they’re more easily accessible to the international market. However, some drinks, like Teas’ Tea Green and Apple Tea have been so difficult to find outside of Japan.
Traveling to Japan was one of my most exciting experiences thus far, and I highly recommend making a trip there if you’ve never been there before. Make sure you try these drinks if you ever get the chance to travel there!