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.

What kind of clouds did you see today?

In early July, just before the end of the rainy season,  I went to Biwako (Lake Biwa), the largest fresh water lake in Japan, and was struck by some cloud formations on that hot, humid afternoon.  My friend Mr. Ikeda told me that the cloud I was admiring has a name,  入道雲.

It’s a towering type of cloud formation associated with summer,  imposing in the way a bodybuilder might be, muscle bound and commanding attention.  Even with these attributes,  I probably only noticed the にゅうどうぐも and pointed them out because I was at a lakeside BBQ party and was taking the time to just relax and chat and breath in new surroundings.

Mr. Ikeda taught me the word’s kanji as we gazed at the sky, which, as is so often the case, really helped me to set the word in my mind. And after I got home, my dictionary informed me that 入道 can refer to a bald-headed monster.  This is not a cloud that’s used to being ignored!

Then, just a couple days later, as I strolled by a gallery exhibition on my way to do some shopping, I noticed a painting through the glass and there was ‘my’  cloud!

I walked in and admired various scenes of small town life.  Mr. Aikawa, the man behind the paintings, happened to be there and I told him about my new friend the 入道雲, and how we were introduced just days before and here, by chance, I’d just noticed  those columns of clouds again his warm, nostalgic work.

If I hadn’t taken the time to see the clouds and comment on them at Biwako, I wouldn’t have even suspected they had a name other than their scientific term.  And in turn, if I hadn’t known that name, I wouldn’t have taken the time to take that refreshing detour and enter the world of Mr. Aikawa’s work and be afforded a glimpse of what his childhood in the castle town of Hikone outside of Kyoto must have been like.

This was my second introduction to a cloud. Late last year a yoga lesson mate spontaneously pointed to the sky out the window as we stretched and chatted before class and told me that we were looking at an 鰯雲, a sardine cloud.  If the 入道雲 is the musclebound, imposing type,  the いわしぐも might be his skinny kid brother.  Named for their resemblance to a fish’s scales,  they’re fixtures in the fall sky.

Japanese people  seem surprised when I tell them that I don’t know what to call various cloud formations in English.  There are scientific names, of course, and I came across the term ‘thunder cloud’ when I looked this topic up in writing this post, but I’d never heard it myself.  Japanese people seem to take for granted the  widely known, richly descriptive language they’ve inherited that’s attached to so many natural phenomena.

As so often happens when I learn a new Japanese word,  my eyes are opened to something that was there all the time, that I didn’t notice or know what to call in either Japanese or English in many cases.  Living in Japan gives me ample chances to use the  language that I learn, and time spent studying has obvious practical payoffs.  Beyond that though, instances like this remind me of what a wonderful lens to see the world through my studies have become.

You can find more of Mr. Aikawa’s work at his website, in Japanese.   The rikaichan popup dictionary can be of help if you’re interested in reading some of the content.

And while I’ve got my head in the clouds, I’m reminded of a thought provoking, engaging article written by William Reed that uses the sky to pose some interesting questions that you can find here. It includes thoughts on the kanji character 空(くう) and its various levels of meaning in relation to Buddhist thought and Japanese culture.  Mr. Reed’s columns are a great resource for those who have an interest in Japan, whether you’re studying the language or not.

I’m curious about what other words there are to describe clouds in English and Japanese.  Do you know of any?

Originally posted 2012-08-08 08:45:28.

Brother, can you spare a…………

合鍵 金物 スペアキー

Use the rikaichan popup dictionary on the text I’ve transcribed just below the photo if you need help reading the sign.
I liked the look of this quaint old sign in front of a small shop in Kyoto that might not even be in business anymore.  I hadn’t realized that the katakana version of ‘spare key’ was Japanese,  so I snapped the photo.

Then, when I used the rikaichan popup dictionary just now as I transcribed the words on it,  I confirmed the reading あいかぎ,  as I had never really been sure about how to pronounce that.  That’s the Japanese word for ‘spare key.’

And though I go to hardware stores now and then, I didn’t know what to call one in Japanese!  the answer is also on this sign.

I’ve seen the characters 金物 and understand that it refers to ‘metal things’ or hardware. But there are various common ways to pronounce these two characters and I’d never been sure about how to read them together. Now I know that if I’m looking for a place to get a key made, I should ask where the nearest かなものやさん is.

It so happens that I need a spare key made, and have been procrastinating about it.  Maybe this will nudge me to get it,  just to have the chance to use these new words before I forget them! I wonder if Mr. Okada is still plying his trade.


Originally posted 2012-08-04 07:20:34.

Kana Kanban



If you’re studying hiragana and katakana, try reading this crate. Use the rikaichan popup dictionary or your favorite reference tool with my transcription below the photo if you need help.

At 7800 yen(about $80 USD) these watermelon aren’t cheap but the novel name and packaging should make for a memorable summer gift. Even if you can’t read the katakana and hiragana, the illustration will tell you that this is in fact not a melon,  it’s Godzilla’s egg!  Run while you still can!

These are from Hokkaido(北海道)and are distributed by Japan’s biggest agricultural cooperative, JA. – Learn Japanese with Free Daily Podcasts

Originally posted 2013-07-29 13:05:04.

Katakana Japanese Reading Practice #8: Bistro’s Sign

Bistro's sign in katakana Japanese alphabet


If you’re studying katakana, try reading this sign.  It shouldn’t be much of a challenge with the English word written above it, but I couldn’t resist sharing this.

Despite my apprehensions I went there for dinner and the couple who run it were nothing but welcoming and served up some tasty dishes, too! – Learn Japanese with Free Daily Podcasts

Originally posted 2013-07-27 02:59:39.

Katakana Japanese Reading Practice #10: Ramen Shop’s Poster

Ramen shop's sign in katakana Japanese alphabet



If you’re studying katakana, try reading this  restaurant’s poster. Use the rikaichan popup dictionary or your favorite reference tool with my transcription below the photo if you need help. – Learn Japanese with Free Daily Podcasts

Originally posted 2013-07-05 07:24:58.

Katakana Japanese Reading Practice #11: Restaurant’s Menu Board

Restaurant's sign in katakana Japanese alphabetDSC09152




If you’re studying katakana, try reading this Italian restaurant’s menu board. Use the rikaichan popup dictionary or your favorite reference tool with my transcription below the photos if you need help. – Learn Japanese with Free Daily Podcasts

Originally posted 2013-06-28 03:21:19.