Vending machines have taken over Japan. About 6 million of them stand bored on street corners, station platforms and even on top of Mount Fuji. 6 million machines. That is about one for every 20 people, or about two for each schoolroom. Looking back, I think I can remember the two in my class: both good at maths but crap at drama.
Vending machines do amazingly well considering the utter filth they flog. They must use secret potions to convert a nice drink, water, into ditchwater. The ditchwater comes straight – black or green and hot or cold; with sugar; or with sugar and milk – this last concoction is also known as Royal Milk Tea. It is less a drink than an insult.
In the northern city of Hirosaki last week I came across a talking vending machine. That is not unusual. Many vending machines have mastered basic greetings. But this particular machine spoke in Tsugaru-ben, an indecipherable dialect that floats between Japanese, Korean and pre-pubescent Welsh boy. None of the machine`s spiel made any sense to me.
Vending machines with accents are not far from machines with personality. Cheeky machines that shortchange you. Sensitive machines that offer you a shoulder to cry on. English machines that grunt and refuse to work. Flirtatious machines that pester you for a date.
Flirting? Now that could be interesting. Yes, you choose the prettiest machine. You flirt between sips of Royal ditchwater. You concentrate on appearing sophisticated and not gagging. After a few drinks, you begin to understand each other. You start visiting morning and night, borrowing money to feed your habit. Late one night, desperate to talk, you go to her. Fumbling in your pockets you realise you have no change. Her lights are flashing but she blanks you. She is only after your money. Bugger.