One of the things that I had heard about Japan before I visited there was the ubiquity of the vending machine culture, but even knowing that I was surmised by the ubiquity of vending machines and the lack of diversity at the same time.
Hot and Cold
This picture shows one of the most common vending machines that I saw in Japan. Everything in this vending machine is a liquid but it is a combination of water, green tea, coffee drinks, juices and sodas. It is also a combination of hot drinks (labeled in red) and cold drinks (labeled in blue). I would estimate that 70% of the vending machines that I saw were of this general type. Some vending machines would also mix in soups into the. Where were all the weird and wonderful ones I had heard about?
Vending Machines Everywhere
In Nikko, Japan I stayed at a Ryokan at the edge of town, the second to last building on the road… and there was a vending machine outside. If you stood at that machine you could see another one just like it a few houses down. But of all the vending machines I saw about 80% of them sold liquids, maybe 15% of them sold cigarettes and two sold snacks. Had I realized how relatively rare the ice cream vending machine was at the side of this picture I would have taken a picture of it. It seemed odd to me that with so many vending machines I could never get a snickers bar or a bag of Doritos, but if you are in Japan you need never die of thirst if you have enough coins and small bills.
I visited Japan in the Winter so while I enjoyed the occasional cold green tea, I was more partial to the warmer drinks as I was hiking through the snow. The chocolate drinks were fine, the hot lemonade was only so-so but the hot milk tea was a favorite. Some drinks are labeled in Japanese only so you may be left guessing at the contents from the picture.
(Speaking of guessing at the contents, many noodle bars have a vending machine outside where you would choose your type of soup, but you had better be able to read some Japanese as I never saw any with English nor even pictures I could decipher. You might be better going to one of the many places with plastic food displays instead.)