Holy ground for parishioners and vending machine lovers at this off-the-beaten path destination. 

There are many shrines in Japan, just as there are many vending machines, but as it so happens, some of the rarest examples of each can be found together in one location, at Sakurai City in Nara Prefecture.

We stumbled upon the vending machine along the approach to Omiwa Shrine, which is believed to be the oldest shrine in Japan.

The approach is lined with shops and food stalls, but what alerted us to the vending machine was a sign that read, “Crepes & Sweet Potatoes”. Following the sign led us to Miwa Somen Nagashi, Kansai’s first Nagashi Somen specialty store.

There are two vending machines at the front of the store, each filled with a variety of crepes.

The machine on the right sells regular crepes, ranging from classics such as Chocolate Cream and Banana Cream through to slightly more unusual varieties such as Cookies & Cream and Mascarpone Cheese.

▼ However, what interested us was the machine on the left and its selection of “Chewy Mochi Crepes Wrapped in Mochi”.

The two choices on the top row, priced at 250 yen (US$1.68) each, were Red Bean Whipped Cream and Coarse Red Bean Strawberry, the latter of which is limited to just nine pieces per day, so that’s the one we went for.

The machine also sold hot baked sweet potatoes, with a high sugar concentration of 50 percent, but unfortunately those were out of stock.

That was a bit of a blow to our sweet potato-loving bellies, so we consoled ourselves by purchasing a can of Sweet Potato Milk for 190 yen.

Our purchases looked fantastic, with the crepe perfectly protected in a glass jar, which we returned to the crate as requested.

Despite it being a rainy morning, one crate was already filled to the brim with returned jars and another was over half full, indicating the machine was attracting a lot of interest from visitors.

▼ With the crepe now in our hands we could feel how delightfully soft it was.

The slightly transparent mochi, used instead of regular crepe dough, reminded us of the thin layer around mochi ice cream.

▼ Looking at the ingredients, glutinous rice flour is used to make the mochi crepe.

We loved this Japanese take on a traditional crepe, and it looked kind of like a daifuku sweet, only with a long and thin shape.

While it looked absolutely beautiful, it tasted fantastic as well, with the strawberry pulp in the centre of it all delivering surprisingly tart and fruity flavours to the palate. This contrasted wonderfully with the rich sweetness of the red bean paste and cream, while the chewy texture of the mochi wrap had us gobbling it all up in no time.

Perhaps because the crepe was so good, the sweet potato milk, which had a warm sweetness, felt a little lacklustre by comparison.  It was a perfectly good drink, but it seemed too heavy on the milk and light on the potatoes.

Still, it didn’t take anything away from the experience, which turned out to be one of the most memorable we’ve had at a Japanese vending machine.

▼ Plus, for some reason, there was even ketchup available, priced at three yen, perhaps as a side for the cheesier crepes.

We love vehicles as much as we love our vending machines, so the three-wheeler parked in front of the store was another highlight of our visit.

▼ We’d love to see this delivering crepes and noodles around the neighbourhood.

If we were to choose our neighbourhood solely on the novelty of the vending machines, we’d move to this area of Sakurai any day. There’s a lot to love about this city — not only is it home to divine crepes, it’s home to a divine shrine that’s so unique it ranks in the country’s top 10 favourites.

Vending machine information
Miwa Somen Nagashi / 三輪そうめん流し
Address: Nara-ken, Sakurai-shi, Miwa 460-24

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