A unique place where there really is a person inside the machine. 

In Japan, dagashiya are old-school candy stores stocked with cheap candy known as dagashi. Loved by children, and adults who like to relive their childhood candy days, these old stores can be found dotted around Japan, but over in Tokyo’s neighbouring Chiba Prefecture, you can find one that’s particularly unusual, called Maboroshido.

Located in Yachiyo City, Maboroshido fuses the retro feel of a candy store with some rather unusual entertainment elements. It’s a bit of a trek from public transport, services, though, as the nearest bus stop is a kilometre (0.6 miles) away and the walk from the nearest station, Yachiyo Midorigaoka, takes around 40 minutes.

▼ The remote location means most people who stop by Maboroshido do so by car or motorcycle.

The entrance to the store is rather unusual, as it looks like a derelict storage area.

Once you step inside, though, you’ll see the store standing quietly in amongst a grove of bamboo.

With the gravel crunching under our feet, we approached the store, which appeared to be totally unstaffed.

No sign of people here, but this cut-out photo board for the store’s original character, a kappa water spirit called Kappa Yappe, with the words “I came to Maboroshido!!” written across it, promised us we were in for a real treat.

▼ Outside the store we could see a couple of retro vending machines…

▼ …and a few nostalgic arcade games.

▼ The building looked like it could be home to a candy store, but it was hard to find the actual entrance.

After looking around for a bit, we spotted a small window next to one of the vending machines.

Poking our head around the corner, we heard a rustle and suddenly, another head was poking around the corner, looking back at us.

▼ Kappa Yappe!

Startled by the surprise appearance of the mascot character, our pulse rate quickened, and then the kappa started talking.

The kappa spoke with a voice that sounded mechanical, as if someone was speaking through it using a voice-changing microphone. When it asked us how it could help, we told it that we wanted to buy some sweets, and the kappa told us we could do that at the red vending machine.

▼ The Coca-Cola-esque logo here reads “Egao Maboroshido Dagashiya” (“Smile Maboroshido Dagashi Shop“)

Once we got up close to the machine, we saw it was unlike any other we’d ever seen before. Using it involved a mixture of speaking and pretending to use buttons, and we also had to place money in a money tray, because this vending machine was entirely manual, and operated by a person behind it.

▼ To see the vending machine in action, check out this video below.

Our 500-yen (US$4.37) dagashi set was delivered by hand into the vending machine tray, and when we opened the paper bag, we found this gorgeous array of snacks and sweets.

Strangely, these manually operated vending machines were a lot more fun to use than everyday automated ones, so we decided to try out the hamburger machine as well.

▼ The burgers on offer here were…”Guten Burgers”!?

Kappa Yappe popped out again to guide us through the purchase process, instructing us to press the “push” button and place our money in the tray like before.

▼ After a minute’s wait, our Guten Burger mysteriously appeared in the collection tray!

We later discovered that the Guten Burger advertised is no longer being made — that’s how old these machines are — so the burger we received was an original hamburger that’s said to reproduce the same retro flavour as closely as possible.

▼ There was one more machine left to try — the Coffee Stand

▼ Out popped Kappa Yappe again, this time from a different opening, which made us laugh out loud.

The hard-working kappa that was running back and forth to help us out advised us to place 250 yen in the tray for a cup of coffee.

After a short while, our coffee magically appeared, and was lowered to the table on a lift-like platform.

There was also the option to buy some instant noodles, so we bought a pack of those too.

▼ Ta daa! Like watching a magic show.

Our arms now filled with food, treats and coffee, we headed over to the outdoor table area to enjoy our vending machine feast.

▼ The Guten burger-style hamburger turned out to be excellent!

▼ And the drip coffee, said to be popular with passing motorcyclists, was also fantastic!

Feeling replenished after the feed, we called out to ask the friendly kappa if we could peer behind the curtain and find out more about what goes on behind the machines. The kappa kindly obliged, and we were allowed access to the mysterious control room.

Like the Wizard of Oz, Kappa Yappe had a human behind the controls, and the human here was the owner of the store, Yasuko Murayama.

She spends her workdays here at her desk, awaiting the arrival of customers in front of a screen that displays outdoor footage of the shop.

As soon as a customer appears in front of one of the vending machines, Murayama springs into action, channelling the spirit of Kappa Yappe with her microphone and manipulating the mascot through the window.

The passion Maruyama has for her work is truly impressive, but the real reason why this idea came about is the crippling effects of the coronavirus pandemic on her business. Maruyama originally ran a small dagashi store on the site up until the pandemic hit, but when the government started asking businesses to restrict their hours and adhere to countermeasures like social distancing, she had to find another way to stay afloat.

▼ Maruyama’s dagashi store remains the way it was.

At the time of writing, Maruyama says it’s uncertain whether she’ll ever be able to resume running her store as usual.

Still, Maruyama is determined to power on, delivering drinks and snacks to visitors in a different way — a way that some would say is even more impassioned and memorable.

Maruyama and Kappa Yappe aren’t alone here in the quiet bamboo grove, though, as the owner’s daughter is also on hand to help out, and she’s the one who makes the coffees that bikers love so much.

As our shoes began to crunch on the gravel as we made our exit, we turned to give one final wave to Kappa Yappe, and as we did, we found ourselves realising this destination was worthy of its commemorative photo board.

▼ “I came to Maboroshido!!”

Maboroshido really is a destination worth visiting, as this is one of the most unusual places you can stop for a bite to eat in Japan. It’s a great place to enjoy the company of a friendly kappa too, and the good news is, this one won’t suck your soul out of your bottom like all the others.

Store Information

Dagashiya Maboroshido / 駄菓子屋まぼろし堂
Address: Chiba-ken, Yachiyo-shi, Sonohashi 116-3

Photos ©SoraNews24
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