Serving up unusual items with a side of generous customer service.

Recently, we’ve been hunting down some of the weirdest vending machines in Japan, but so far our discoveries have been concentrated in and around the Tokyo region.

However, that all changed this week, when our roving reporter Haruka Takagi heard about a machine in Osaka that’s been making news for its unusual products, and so she headed out there to check it out in person.

▼ The vending machine is located on the premises of Sushi Kappo Shidashi Nangiku in Tondabayashi City, Osaka Prefecture.

From the front, this family-run sushi restaurant looks like any other you might find in Japan, but if you let your gaze wander over to the left-hand side of the building, you’ll spot the unusual vending machine.

▼ A sign on the side of the machine reads “普通の自販機ではないのです”, which translates to: “This is no ordinary vending machine“.

So…what makes this vending machine so different to all the others? Well, this one sells sea urchins, and it’s said to be the first sea urchin vending machine in Japan.

The display at the front of the machine reveals there’s a lot more than just sea urchins on offer here — there are options for dry-cured ham, beef skirt steak, ponzu (soy and citrus) sauce, and fish cured between layers of konbu, a preservation method known as “kobujime“.

▼ Haruka was here for the sea urchins, though, which are sourced from Rebun Island, Hokkaido, and priced at 1,500 yen (US$13.20) per pack.

This was the most money Haruka had ever fed into a vending machine, but considering these sea urchins hail from the cold, pristine waters of Rebun Island, located northwest of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture, this really was a bargain.

Haruka ran into problems when she attempted to insert her second 1,000-yen bill into the machine, and that’s when she saw a sign, partially hidden behind a sticker, that said only one 1,000-yen bill can be inserted when purchasing the sea urchins. The remaining 500-yen had to be paid in coins, and thankfully Haruka had the right amount with her.

Old machines are known for having weird quirks like this, so it’s best to have some change on hand whenever making a purchase from them. Once Haruka inserted her extra coins into the machine, she gleefully pressed the button for sea urchins, and out they came!

▼ Beautifully presented in a faux wooden box.

Haruka couldn’t resist trying a pack of yellowtail kobujime while she was here, as it was priced at only 500 yen, which is a bargain for kobujime prepared by a sushi restaurant.

▼ According to this sign, there’s a chance to receive a free present if you’re lucky enough to find a winning ticket with your purchase, but Haruka wasn’t a winner that day.

The yellowtail kobujime came with a cute ice pack adorned in a baran grass pattern, mimicking the plastic baran grass usually served with sushi bento boxes. The sea urchin, however, came without an ice pack, so you’ll want to bring one with you if you want to keep it fresh during the journey home.

Haruka was keen to eat her purchases straight away, though, so after lining them up next to each other for a photo…

▼ …she opened up the pack of sea urchin, which is said to weigh around 50 grams (1.7 ounces).

Initially, she was a little concerned that 50 grams of sea urchin wouldn’t amount to much, but she needn’t have worried because there were plenty of juicy morsels here for her to enjoy.

Haruka only started really liking sea urchin a couple of years ago, so she was pretty impressed that she was now not only able to eat them from a vending machine, but actually eager for it. And as soon as she popped one of the sea urchins into her mouth, she let out a satisfied “mmmmm”, as it was smooth, creamy, and delightfully fresh.

▼ Fellow sea urchin lovers will know this feeling.

▼ Next, Haruka reached for her pack of preserved yellowtail.

▼ There were half-a-dozen or so pieces of fish here, all thinly sliced.

Each piece was covered with a sticky gel-like residue from the kelp preservation process, which let its presence be seen in tantalising strands as she picked them up with her chopsticks. It was her first time to try preserved yellowtail like this, and it was a revelation for her taste buds. If this is how good it tastes from a machine, she’ll definitely be looking for this on the menu the next time she visits a sushi restaurant!

Haruka was suitably impressed by the high quality of the items she’d purchased from the machine that day, and after enquiring at the restaurant, she learnt that the unusual sales method was the brainchild of the owner, Yoshihisa Minami. According to Minami, sales decreased during the pandemic, so he installed this machine after being inspired by an acquaintance who used a vending machine to sell roasted sweet potatoes.

Originally, Minami mainly stocked the machine with kobujime products, but after customers asked him to add sea urchins to the machine, he gladly obliged. Now that a “red tide” is currently causing problems in Hokkaido, the price of sea urchins is rising, but the owner is doing his best to avoid raising the price for customers, despite barely making a profit on them.

This is a great example of thoughtful customer service that we’re happy to get behind, so once you’ve bought your coriander at this vending machine and stopped by this machine for mega clams, don’t forget to make the trip out to this humble machine to stock up on preserved fish and sea urchins!

Vending machine information
Sushi Kappo Shidashi Nangiku / 寿司割烹 南喜久
Address: Osaka-fu, Tondabayashi, Wakamatsuchonishi 2-1726-6
Vending machine open 24 hours a day, seven days a week

Photos ©SoraNews24
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