Step back in time with retro meals from the past but be warned — contents are hot!

When it comes to unusual vending machine finds, you can’t beat what’s known in Japan as a “retro vending machine corner“. There are a few of them scattered around Japan, usually located in rural areas where you can step back in time and enjoy nostalgic snacks in a laid-back environment, and one we came across recently is located in Midori City in Gunma Prefecture.

Known simply as the Marumiya Vending Machine Corner, this is a popular spot that came to fame when it appeared on TV a long time ago, and since then it’s been attracting vending machine enthusiasts from all over the country.

Located along National Route 122, the vending machines are housed in a shed about a 10-minute walk from Hanawa Station on the Watarase Keikoku Railway. The windows on the shed are covered in an array of original stickers, left by car and motorcycle lovers who’ve visited during their travels.

As soon as you enter the shed, you’ll be greeted by a collection of vending machines that look like they’ve been transported here from the past. Handwritten operating instructions are taped to the machines to help guide you in using them.

Surprisingly, the old and the new sit side-by-side here, with a selection of current models on the premises as well. There are no change machines around, and the retro vending machines don’t accept bills or 500-yen coins, so if you find yourself stuck, you can make a purchase at the more modern vending machines to get the change you need.

Retro vending machines love to gobble up 100-yen and 50-yen coins so you’ll want to be sure you have plenty of them on hand during your visit. Out of all the machines in the shed, three in particular caught our eye, with signs that read:

▼ Soba/Udon, Udon/Ramen, and Toasted Sandwich

All the dishes served seem to be homemade, and since the vending machines are in operation 24 hours a day, stocks are replenished several times every day. It’s surprising that even after all this work the meals are still incredibly cheap, priced at around 250 to 300 yen (US$1.70-$2.03), and what’s more surprising is that they actually taste good too!

▼ Let’s take a closer look at each of these retro machines below, starting with the Soba/Udon variety.

Looking at the signs here, both the udon and soba options come with tempura, but because Gunma is known as “udon noodle country” in Japan, we opted for the Tempura Udon (300 yen). After inserting three 100-yen coins and pressing the “Tempura Udon” button, the “cooking” lamp lit up, counting down the seconds until completion.

▼ Tempura Soba (left), Tempura Udon (right), and 22 seconds left in the cooking process.

The total wait-time turned out to be only 25 seconds, which was extremely fast, even by modern-day standards. As a special bonus, this machine appears to have a “winning lottery” function, with a medium win resulting in pumpkin and sweet potato tempura being added to the noodles and a big win serving up a shrimp tempura on top. In the case of a no-win, only the standard kakiage tempura will be served up, and that’s what we received when we picked up our noodles.

Taking the udon over to the small eat-in area, we had to be careful holding the bowl as the noodles were piping hot. Taking a slurp, we were pleasantly surprised by the taste of the meal — the noodles were slightly thick, with a chewy texture, and the tempura added some complexity to the simple soy sauce-based broth.

It was a good purchase for 300 yen, and now we were ready to try another machine. However, by this stage it was now just past 11 a.m. and the place was beginning to fill up with lots of other visitors.

We no longer had the place to ourselves, so we had to act fast to make sure we didn’t miss out on trying the foods we wanted. But first we needed some cold liquid refreshment after the hot meal we’d eaten in the hot shed, and this machine serving up retro bottles of Coca-Cola saved the day.

▼ Nothing beats drinking Coke from a glass bottle, and it was a bargain for 120 yen.

▼ Next up, we headed for another bowl of noodles at the Udon/Ramen machine.

This machine offered two types of toppings: fried chicken and char siu pork. We opted for the ramen with fried chicken, seeing as they had a hand-drawn image of it on the machine, and it was another bargain, at 300 yen.

The fried chicken ramen looked to be freshly made, and it was really tasty, like an old-fashioned soy sauce ramen, with not one but two pieces of fried chicken on top, and they were soft and juicy. Like the other noodle vending machine, this one also had a “winning lottery” function, with winners receiving a boiled chicken egg and non-winners receiving a quail egg.

▼ We got the quail egg.

It was a little disappointing to miss out on a win at both machines, but the thrill of experiencing a lottery at a retro machine outweighed any feelings of disappointment.

▼ Lastly, let’s try the Toasted Sandwich vending machine.

The design of this vending machine was particularly gorgeous, with the poster featuring an image that was reminiscent of a Showa-era (1926-1989) coffee shop. The photo suggested this toasted sandwich would be like one you’d get an old-school Japanese coffee shop, so we had high hopes for it.

The price of the “Toasted Ham and Cheese” was 250 yen, which was 50 yen cheaper than the udon and ramen, making it a great deal. This machine also had a light-up “Toasting” button to let you know your sandwich was in the process of being toasted, and it took 40 seconds to be ready, which was slightly longer than the noodles.

Once toasted, it came out wrapped in aluminium foil, and we were ready to receive it with a hand towel to avoid burning our hands, because the sign on the machine cautioned that it would be “Chooooooo Atsui!!”, which means “Suuuuuuper Hot!!”

The warning sign on the machine was no joke, because we could feel the sandwich was so hot it would burn your hands if you picked it up as is. Even the foil was hot as we unwrapped it, and when we laid eyes on the sandwich inside, it was golden brown from the toasting process.

It certainly looked appetising, and when we carefully lifted a corner to inspect the filling, we could see that the hot toasting process had worked its magic in melting the cheese to a nice, gooey consistency.

Just looking at the melty cheese was enough to make us salivate, and when we bit into it after it had cooled a little, we found the toast was nice and crunchy, perfectly complementing the soft cheese and mild ham.

It was so delicious we were tempted to buy another one, but by this stage we were now full after our three-course retro vending machine feast. Looking around, we could see everyone else was just as sweaty as we were on this hot summer’s day in the shed, but they all had smiles on their faces as they too filled their bellies with food and their hearts with nostalgia, thanks to this gem of a find in the countryside.

If you get a chance to visit the area, be sure to stop by and at least try the toasted sandwich — you won’t regret it. And if you’re looking for more retro vending machines, you can always stop by the mecca at a used tyre market that contains 100-plus machines or visit the Japanese grandma who manually operates machines in Chiba Prefecture. All these machines might serve up different products but the one thing they have in common is a sense of heartwarming nostalgia, and that’s something you can’t put a price on!

Site information
Marumiya Jihanki Corner / 丸美屋 自販機コーナー
Address: Gunma-ken, Midori-shi, Azumachohanawa 1966-11
Vending machines open 24 hours every day

Photos © SoraNews24
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