You won’t find items like this at any other vending machine in the area!

Shinjuku is one of the largest places in all of Asia, so there’s no end to the hidden gems you can unearth in the area. Just this week, our roving reporter Mr Sato stumbled upon one of these gems hiding in plain sight at the station, and while it looked like an ordinary vending machine from a distance, it was what was inside that surprised him.

The vending machine is located in the underground area outside the Isetan Shinjuku store and close to the ticket gates for the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line and Fukutoshin Line.

▼ To find the machine, head straight ahead at the underground entrance to Isetan, and proceed towards the Marunouchi Line ticket gate.

As you head towards the Marunouchi Line Isetan ticket gate, you’ll see a black machine on the left.

When you walk around to the front of the machine, you’ll see that it’s stocked with food and drinks.

However, when you look even closer, you’ll find that the food here is unlike anything you’re used to seeing inside a vending machine, because here you can purchase…

▼ …bottles of nori seaweed! 

These aren’t just any bottles of seaweed, either, as they’re from the family home of popular Japanese comedian Tetsuro Degawa. Degawa’s family runs a long-established wholesale seaweed business in Yokohama, and the comedian has happily put his face to the products, helping to promote the family business.

The machine also sells onigiri rice balls wrapped in Degawa’s seaweed, which are sourced from the Suzuno Omusubi main store in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward. While there are usually around ten types of rice balls available, when Mr Sato visited, all but one variety had sold out.

▼ A surefire sign of popularity.

Mr Sato is familiar with this particular brand of seaweed, as some of the team taste-tested them back in 2018. Back then, the seaweed had been purchased at a specialty store in Odaiba, which sold limited-edition packs featuring a very young Degawa.

▼ Degawa as a youngster (left and right) on the Odaiba nori, and a more current Degawa (middle), promoting the wasabi-flavoured nori.

Back in 2018, these packs cost 550 yen (US$3.72) for the regular variety and 648 yen for the wasabi flavour. However, the wasabi flavour is now priced at 950 yen, and all other products are priced at 850 yen, meaning there’s been a price increase of around 300 yen in five years.

▼ Like many places in the world, rising prices are a problem in Japan

Mr Sato has been feeling the pinch himself lately so he purchased just two packs to try — the regular grilled nori and the wasabi nori.

While the package design might look a little gimmicky, the seaweed inside is serious business, as the family-run company, known as Tsutakin, has a longstanding history that stretches back to its founding in Yokohama in 1897. As you might expect from a business with so much experience, the seaweed they produce has a beautiful colour, shape, and aroma.

On the package where he’s seen displaying a serious expression, Degawa says: “It’s tasty because it’s real” and ”Seriously real”. When Mr Sato bit into the seaweed, he understood what the fuss was about — it really tasted like real, unadulterated seaweed with a focus on craftsmanship in its creation, and there was attention to detail in the flavour, which was crisp, fresh and delicious.

The wasabi variety was particularly tasty — it was crispy, with a strong wasabi flavour that went well with rice, and Mr Sato reckons it would be a great appetiser to pair with sake, especially when wrapped around cream cheese.

Mr Sato had no idea he could get Degawa’s nori seaweed to go in the middle of a Tokyo train station, but now he knows he exists, he can’t wait to go back for more…and to see if he can try the rice balls. It just goes to show it pays to look around when you’re out and about, because sometimes even the most ordinary-looking vending machines can turn out to be surprising.

Related: Tsutakin
Photos © SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

[ Read in Japanese ]