Conspicuous consumption: Eco vending machines in Japan

LED照明点炉中 LED照明を使用しています。

Use the rikaichan popup dictionary on the text I’ve transcribed just below the photo if you need help reading the sticker on this vending machine.

I took this shot because I’m interested in the ways that vending machines are promoting their latest energy saving features in this era of reduced power generating capacity, when 節電(せつでん), electricity conservation,  is suddenly closer to an imperative than a lifestyle choice.

When I uploaded it I was surprised to see a familiar word used in a way I hadn’t seen before!  消費税(しょうひぜい),  consumption tax, is a word that’s everywhere these days, with the proposed increase in the consumption (sales) tax from 5% to 10% a very hot political potato. 消費者(しょうひしゃ)is a consumer.

When I read this sticker,  I understood that it refers to power consumption, and was happy  to discover a new usage.  I was also a bit intrigued by the order that the kanji are in, with 消費 coming before電力(でんりょく),the opposite of what I would’ve expected.  I can imagine using the phrase ‘消費電力が少ない to talk about energy related issues, or maybe when I go to an appliance shop to buy something.


The Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association has a spiffy, recently overhauled website that greets you with a bit of animation that depicts an idyllic countryside scene with rolling hills, frolicking kiddies with butterfly nets, smiling adults and yes, vending machines, that makes it worth at least quick visit to get a sense of how far public opinion and buying habits still allow them to go.

If you like to get a little authentic reading practice in now and then, you might enjoy exploring the site a bit more with a popup dictionary like rikaichan to help keep your flow going.

My interest in language aside, I can’t help but marvel at how the makers of these machines have managed to position themselves as part of an environmentally friendly vanguard in Japan,  selling the notion of ‘eco’ or environmentally friendly vending machines, a term which to my ears at least, is an oxymoron.  The JVMMA website was revamped with this focus in mind, it seems.

It’s one thing to tout energy efficiency for an appliance that has some reasonable level of utility. But when vending machines are as ubiquitous as they are here(Japan has the most vending machines per capita in the world according to their website) and often are just a stone’s throw from a just as common convenience store,   I have to wonder why more people don’t see them as simply unnecessary and a waste of resources in this new era of tough choices and decide to stop feeding them, to stop voting for them with their coin shaped ballots.
Some folks promote carrying your own thermos, etc. as a way to reduce the use of cans and plastic bottles as well as conserve electricity,  and the number of people who do that is likely growing.  But for the vast number of people who don’t,  convenience stores and other markets would seem like a convenient enough option in most cases,  even if it means passing up a vending machine and waiting an extra two minutes or so until you come upon one.

In the spirit of saving energy, namely our own as language learners, I’ve included the picture below.  Can you think of two ways,  standard and abbreviated, to say ‘vending machine’ in Japanese? This weather worn Kyoto shop sign has the compact, energy saving version of the word written on it.   Give it a go and meet me under the photo!



We all have memories of certain words that give us fits when we’re first learning Japanese, and even after we get some study time under our belts.  I remember ‘vending machine,’ 自動販売機 (じどうはんばいき), was a real mouthful for me to say at first, especially before I understood what the components meant, what the kanji stood for.  At some point I picked up the shortened version that’s in the sign above, じはんき。At this ‘vending machine corner’ you’ll find a cigarette machine, among others, according to the vertical sign below it.

And here’s an old sign I saw attached to a beautiful old wooden building in Kyoto with the longer version…….

What words that seemed hard to remember and use because of their length and unfamiliar sounds stand out in your mind from the early days of your studies?  Do you know any other energy saving abbreviated forms of words?

Originally posted 2012-08-10 07:51:36.

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