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Japan is a wonderland of vending machines, and in many ways they’re great. They’re well-maintained, almost always take bills on the first try, and never judge you as pay for a bottle of hard liquor entirely in 10 yen coins.

Sometimes, though, doing a complete end run around human contact can make the purchasing process feel a little lonely. So when we heard about a restaurant where the vending machines had a human element, as well as delicious yet cheap hamburgers, we knew we had to check it out.

Our trip took us to Horikiri in Katsushika Ward, on the far side of the Arakawa River from downtown Tokyo. On the first floor of a weather-beaten concrete building, you’ll find the vending machine enclave/restaurant called Tateishi Burger.

The glare off the windows, coupled with the dim lighting inside, meant we couldn’t get a good look at the interior while still out on the street. That didn’t bother us, though, since the real show is outside, where there are a number of coin slots set into Tateishi Burger’s exterior wall, each of which accept payment for different menu items, none of which cost more than 300 yen (US$2.90).

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The most eye-catching was the “hand delivery” vending machine, so we dropped a few coins into it. After waiting a few moments, we got our sandwich, and a surprise to boot.

After our coins plunked down, we could just make out the employee inside the restaurant pull on a string, which caused the cover of the vending “machine” to swing forward, revealing a hand clutching our burger.

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While we were still getting over being served by a disembodied hand, we noticed another machine selling something called “jumping bread.”

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A peek inside revealed an ordinary-looking loaf of bread, but our curiosity at the name was too strong to ignore, so we put our money into the machine, only to have the cover slide open and our bread plop right out onto the ground.

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▼ Thankfully, it’s wrapped.

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There was another machine that delivered our burger with a song, plus one that promised to do so by balloon.

▼ The “balloon-style” vending machine

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Our semi-automated dining experience hit a snag when we tried to use the bright red machine to the left of the entrance, however.

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We dropped in our hundred yen coin, but nothing happened. After waiting for a few moments, we followed the direction written on the machine telling us to his the button if our sandwich didn’t come out. When this failed to have any effect, we wandered into the restaurant itself, where we found the restaurant’s owner in the process of cooking our order.

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“I don’t really make up that many ahead of time,” he explained to us, so we sat down while he prepared our burger.

As we glanced around, we saw that Tateishi Burger’s interior is just as unique as its exterior. For one thing, they sell monster masks.

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There’s also a board on which customers stick pieces of paper with their wishes on them, such as their hope for a healthy baby or tickets to see their favorite band.

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▼ We particularly liked this section of the board, where the top note says “I want a boyfriend,” and directly underneath it is one from a man saying, “I want a girlfriend.” We really hope they find each other.

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Writing your wish down on a wooden board and hanging it at a shrine is common in Japan, but we’d never seen it being done in a burger joint before. Did the property have some sort of religious or spiritual significance back in the days before the restaurant was built?

Not as far as the owner knows. “People seem to be under the impression that the spot is blessed or something, but they’re mistaken,” he told us, good-naturedly.

Before long our burger was ready and it was time to head home. Honestly, there were so many other memorable things about Tateishi Burger that we can’t remember much about how the food actually tasted, except that for the price we paid, we had no complaints. Even still, it’s worth a trip to see some of the most novel vending machines in a country that’s already bursting with variety in that area, plus to have a chat with its eccentric yet jovial owner.

Restaurant information
Tateishi Burger /立石バーガー
Address: Tokyo-to, Katsushika-ku, Horikiri 3-17-15
Open 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

Photos: RocketNews24
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