Whenever a general question about Japan is posed, such as Japanese Culture: What things can you do in Japan that you cannot in the USA?
someone invariably brings up vending machines. E.g. Jon Mixon's answer to Japanese Culture: What things can you do in Japan that you cannot in the USA?
and James Pan's answer to Japanese Culture: What things can you do in Japan that you cannot in the USA?
It seems that the idea of vending machines selling anything and everything fits in with the image of Japan as this technologically advanced nation dominated by robotics or something. But if you go to Japan in 2013 expecting to see a bewildering array of vending machines selling everything you can imagine (and a few things you can't), you will be sorely disappointed.
For one thing, the big vending machine boom in Japan was in the late 1970s to the late 1980s or early 1990s. This was when you could find big vending machine parlors all around the country, where you could buy everything from magazines to hot and cold drinks to hot meals and more. There were also tons of little unmanned vending machine shops on street corners. I remember stopping for a hot steamed bun at one of these every Saturday on the way home fron kendo practice when I was in junior high school.
Here's a video of a big vending-machine parlor that still exists in Saitama prefecture. It's called an 'auto-restaurant' (they're also called 'coin restaurants', 'auto-parlors', etc.). The machines sell hamburgers, toasted sandwiches and more. Rather reminiscent of the American automats of yesteryear, this too is a nostalgic vestige of bygone days (the Showa period, which ended in 1989) in Japan.
Here's another one, also in Saitama prefecture, that specializes in noodle vending machines. The old man shown there is the owner. He says the machines haven't been in production for years, but he can still get the serviced by a guy who used to be an engineer at Fujitsu before retiring.
Again, these types of vending-machine parlors are a dying breed. You do still see quite a lot of vending machines in Japan, but nowadays the vast majority of them sell beverages...and that's about it. Even cigarette vending machines are dwindling in number, due to increased concerns about underage smoking.
Here's a fairly typical big bank of vending machines in front of a liquor store, circa 2013. Exciting, what? Well, they all sell beverages. Not that exciting after all, except maybe for the variety. (Since they're in front of a liquor store some are probably selling alcoholic beverages such as cold beer and hot and cold sake. Hey, maybe you find the idea of alcoholic beverages sold in vending machines really exciting.)
Some unusual vending machines do still exist but they're few and far between, so you'd have to seek them out. This one for instance sells vegetables. (That's a head of cabbage, sold for 150 yen.)
This one in Okinawa sells fresh eggs. You can even select double-yolk eggs.
This is a vending machine selling access minutes on the local wifi.
The most unusual vending machine I ever saw was one that sold water from an onsen (hot spring) by the gallon, to local residents only. People would bring big tanks to the vending machine, hook it up, put in some coins and hot, mineralized water came flowing through. It was a bit like a self-service gas pump.
Here's a video someone took recently at a highway stop. It shows a vending machine selling hot bentos. The uploader notes that he felt really nostalgic - because such vending machines have virtually disappeared. Note the rusty old state of the machine itself too.
As for those patented Japanese People are Perverts(tm) vending machines, like the ones selling used panties...they may exist, but only in or around shops selling 'adult' paraphenalia. I have never seen one myself, but then I don't go to a lot of such shops. They are not on every street corner as some would like you to believe. As for magazine vending machines selling porn or other types of magazines, they have virtually disappeared from Japanese streets.
The main reason why a big variety of vending machines are not so prevalent anymore is the popularity of convenience stores (see: Japan: Why are there so many convenience stores in Japan?
) You can stock a convenience store with a lot more merchandise than you can a row of vending machines. Plus, you can change the stock around a lot more easily, if something isn't selling or to change with the weather and s on. And who knows...maybe people prefer to buy things from human beings rather than from machines after all.