Photo Essays

The Eerie Allure of Japanese Vending Machines

Across the country, the vending machines stand as points of illumination and testaments to convenience.

Eiji Ohashi, from the series Roadside Lights (all photos courtesy the artist)

For the past nine winters, photographer Eiji Ohashi has been keeping an eye out for a very specific scene while traveling around his home base of Hokkaido: a quiet, often snow-covered landscape at night, illuminated by a single vending machine. His resulting series, Roadside Lights, highlights the ubiquity of vending machines in Japan, which has over 5.5 million of them; beyond offering quiet, beautifully lit images, the photographs speak to Japan’s strong culture of convenience. Published in book form by Shashasha this year, the series will be exhibited from December 7 thorough 30 at Galerie &co119 in Paris.

Unlike vending machines in many other countries, those in Japan sell everything from drinks to ramen to floral arrangements. As Ohashi’s work emphasizes, the gleaming boxes are familiar sights across Japan, at stores, in the woods, and even in the middle of a field — they are literally part of the nation’s landscape. The fact that they are often outdoors, where they largely remain clean and functional, also stands as testament to Japan’s reputation as an orderly and secure country.

Eiji Ohashi, from the series Roadside Lights

“One thing I would like you to know that Japan is a very safe country,” Ohashi told Hyperallergic. “At the same time, I would like to consider how convenient life makes us happy. I thought about what happiness a vending machine gives to us … as part of Japanese spirituality we always ask for convenience in our lives.”

His sentiments are clear in these lonely photographs, which are devoid of people and all have an ambience that lacks liveliness. While these roadside lights certainly provide comfort to many people, they also question when the pursuit of convenience might lead to an over-reliance on resources that are not necessarily sustainable.

 

Eiji Ohashi, from the series Roadside Lights
Eiji Ohashi, from the series Roadside Lights
Eiji Ohashi, from the series Roadside Lights
Eiji Ohashi, from the series Roadside Lights
Eiji Ohashi, from the series Roadside Lights
Eiji Ohashi, from the series Roadside Lights
Eiji Ohashi, from the series Roadside Lights
Eiji Ohashi, from the series Roadside Lights
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