Noodle soup for the soul…served by a machine!

According to our illustrious reporter Mr. Sato, noodle vending machines used to be common sights near game centers in the suburbs of Japan about 20 years ago. As game centers have become less and less common over the years, the number of remaining noodle vending machines has also diminished in their wake.

But much like drive-in movie theaters and other nostalgic holdovers from bygone days, you can still find them holding out in the present era if you know where to look. One home to such relics happens to be a cluster of peculiar vending machines at the Kinmeikan Vending Machine Corner on the outskirts of Iwakuni City in Yamaguchi Prefecture. As it so happens, Mr. Sato and Yoshio were recently paying a visit to the famous Musashi ice cream shop (home of ramen ice cream!) in Yamaguchi, so they were ecstatic to discover the existence of this corner, which was easy enough to spot along the side of road.

▼ The area is also equipped with toilets, making it a perfect rest stop for weary drivers.


Even by Japanese standards, the corner included an abundance of both old and new vending machines, giving it a particularly rustic vibe. Our reporters were overcome by a sudden wave of nostalgia, and Mr. Sato fondly reminisced about the hours and hours he spent killing time at game centers in his younger years.


▼ Some of the really old machines didn’t function anymore,
such as this UCC canned coffee and tea machine.


The real draw of the lineup was the two noodle vending machines stationed at one end of the line. One vending machine sold ramen for 350 yen (US$3.27) and tempura soba for 300 yen…


…while the other sold niku udon (“meat udon”) for 350 yen and tempura udon for 300 yen.


Which to buy, which to buy…our reporters found themselves in a real pickle. The two of them had gotten up quite early and hadn’t had a proper meal yet, so any of the choices would be sure to hit the spot.


Finally, Mr. Sato decided on niku udon. He inserted some coins, pushed the button, and was again hit by a pang of nostalgia watching the orange timer start counting down the 25 seconds until the noodles were ready. But when the timer hit 20 seconds, it suddenly jumped to nine–and then at zero jumped back to four. Definitely strange, but the noodles were done and that was all that mattered!


Upon closer inspection…huh? Wasn’t this supposed to be meat udon? Where was the meat?? Despite feeling a bit letdown, Mr. Sato magnanimously forgave the non-sentient machine and picked up some noodles with his wooden chopsticks…


…only to discover slices of meat hiding beneath the noodles. It seems that the vending machine was constructed to first dispense the meat, and then to put the noodles on top.


As for the taste, everything was a bit stiff and the broth was a tad sweet — but for vending machine-dispensed food, it was pretty darn good. In this case, the experience was half the fun anyway.

Once Mr. Sato had made his pick, Yoshio decided to try the tempura soba. He experienced a similar initial twinge of disappointment upon seeing his bowl full of soba with not a tempura in sight:


But the feeling was short-lived, because the tempura was also hiding at the bottom of the bowl again.

▼ This bowl of soba is a real emotional roller coaster ride!


More so than the udon, the flavor of the soba’s broth seemed particularly pronounced. The only way to make the experience more pleasant would be to visit the noodle vending machine on a cold winter night instead of a sticky, early summer day.


▼ Here’s a short clip introducing the noodle vending machine and Mr. Sato’s reaction upon trying his bowl of niku udon.

Their stomachs and their minds refreshed, Mr. Sato and Yoshio bid farewell to their nostalgic stop at the Kinmeikan Vending Machine Corner and continued on their travels in the southern part of the country. With any luck, they’ll be back and slurping down noodles again next year.

All images © RocketNews24
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