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You can’t walk more than half a block in Japan, it seems, without passing a public vending machine, or a bank of 2 or 3. They are on the streets, in stations, in shopping malls, in office block lobbies, in big hotel lobbies—you name it.
Many different companies are involved in supporting and sponsoring these—Kirin, Asahi, Pokka, Snow, Coca Cola and Calpis are some of the main ones. They dispense all kinds of snacks, soft drinks, many types of coffee drinks (both hot and cold), green tea, cans of beer and sake sometimes. Nowadays, apparently, less alcohol is dispensed than in previous years. Each item is clearly labeled with prices in Arabic numerals, so even foreigners can use them. Prices are reasonable and change is given, but it’s wise to carry a stash of coins if you plan to use these machines. (BTW, I figured out the Japanese yen coins quite easily—yay!)
The water from the taps is quite safe to drink in Japan, but many locals prefer to have bottled water or one of the drinks from these vending machines.