What I'm Reading: The Beauty of Japan's Lonely Vending Machines

Updated: Aug 6, 2019

"Every now and then I get a little bit lonely and you're never coming 'round" -Most Japanese Vending Machines

As humans, we like to personify things. Its in our blood. The photography of Eiji Ohashi (and this article) capitalizes on this. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Hong Kong. While there, I became very aware of the subtle (and not so subtle) differences in which the locals acquired and consumed media, fashion, and food. Speaking to the last point, I was frankly surprised with how valued convenience was for the people of Hong Kong. "Convenience stores" like 7/11 and Circle Ks could be found on every street corner. This is not an exaggeration. Having spent so much time in Brazil, this got me thinking: What would I find on every street corner in Brazil? The simple (and obvious) answer to this question is churches, which to some people may be the same thing as a convenience store.

As we move to bus stations or further out of the "city" in Hong Kong, convenience store density plummets and vending machines offering a wide array of foods and beverages reign supreme. This is something I would never see in Brazil. Why? Because the Brazilian culture favors human interaction. If given identical offerings and the opportunity to purchase from a machine or a human, Brazilians will choose the human every time. This is why the bus station, and the rest of any Brazilian city for that matter, is littered with food vendors which, now that I think of it, would offer an equally intriguing photo project. But back to the topic: beautiful, lonely, vending machines.

While most of us see a vending machine as something to kick when your order gets stuck on the coil, to some Japanese, these back-lit beauties serve as a lighthouse as they navigate treacherous back country roads. From the photographer:

"At the time, I was living in a town in the north of Japan that would get hit by terrible blizzards during the winter months. I'd drive my car in (these) conditions and use the light of the vending machines to guide me."

Wow. *slow clap* Vending machines. Not only sources of nourishment but a guiding light to those in peril. Watch out man's best friend, you have some competition. This of course makes the maintenance men, the "keepers of the light". How many lives have been saved by simply replacing a fuse in a rural Japan Coca-Cola vending machine? Ponder on that for a moment. The images featured in this article are stunning and interestingly juxtapose the bright, modern machines with dark, beautifully plain surroundings.

You might ask "But what is the meaning behind all this?" Well, my friend, that's really up to Eiji to decide, however, I think this deeply poetic quote from the photographer may help you better understand:

"I think in some ways I'm comparing modern-day people to vending machines. In our daily lives, we are also like vending machines that can withstand blizzards but ultimately go unrewarded."

Click on the Eiji's image above to check out the article on CNN! If you are blown away and have money to blow, you can see more images like this in his book "Roadside Lights," which can be purchased here. I don't know if the images are film or digital however they are beautiful nonetheless.

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