MIYAZAKI (THE JAPAN NEWS/ANN) - Vending machines are not just for buying drinks. These days, specialised versions selling products such as desserts and sports paraphernalia are popping up. These machines, which have seemingly appeared on every street corner, have even managed to thrive as convenience stores.
Upon hearing that Miyazaki Prefecture has a number of such vending machines, I set out to explore them.
Kisakihama beach, south of central Miyazaki, is a popular surfing spot. Along a nearby main road, you can find a vending machine bearing the images of a blue sky and a red surfboard.
The machine sells wax, screwdrivers and screws. These items, which cost from 300 yen (S$3.70) to 1,000 yen, come in plastic containers. At first glance, I could not tell what they were.
"These things are indispensable to surfers," says Mr Yuichi Ikeda, who set up the machine in front of his New Wave shop in February.
The machine is for surfers who arrive before the shop opens at 10am, but who have forgotten to take along important gear. Having been a surfer for 24 years, Mr Ikeda said he has experienced such frustrations.
Mr Takahiro Itai, a company employee from the town of Aya in Miyazaki, said he used the machine after running out of wax one early Sunday morning. "I don't have the time to buy stuff on weekdays, so it's convenient," he says. "I think many surfers find it useful."
I headed next to JR Miyazaki Station to visit a machine selling seven varieties of crepes. As I excitedly checked out the line-up, I was joined by a boy in school uniform. "Wow, there's still a lot today," he says joyfully, adding that he regularly visits the machine to check for new offerings.
Each variety costs 200 yen. Today, the boy pushed the button for fresh strawberries and condensed milk. Out popped a container with his choice of crepe inside.
The crepes are made by Ms Yukari Sakoda from Ebino in Miyazaki. She operates similar vending machines at four other locations in Miyazaki, changing their contents every two days.
She used to sell crepes by mobile catering, but she switched to vending machines about nine years ago because they "make it easier for many people to eat crepes whenever they want".
I eventually decided on two varieties: chocolate and banana, and kinako soya bean flour and mochi.
The cold crepes had a pleasantly firm texture, while the mix of fresh cream, kinako soya bean flour, mochi, chocolate and banana created a harmony that was much more delicious than I expected.
The Ota district of Miyazaki operates a vending machine that sells amulets next to a small unmanned temple called Ota Kanzeon.
Managed by the locals for generations, the temple offers amulets that are popular among expecting mothers seeking the blessing of Kanzeon, considered a deity of safe birth. A local resident once sold them from home, but had to quit due to old age.
Locals discussed alternative ways to sell the amulets and settled on installing the machine. Each one is purified in the traditional way and contained in a box. They cost 500 yen each and about 130 are sold each year.
"We grew up watching our parents honour local traditions," community leader Eitaro Shimizu says. "We can't let them fade in our generation."