No family is the most important thing

Off on a Sunday afternoon walk through the suburbs of Tokyo… what’s this interesting cabinet?

A condom vending machine?

I assume that according to the machine’s designers, a “Happy Family Life” is one without any new additions.

I have seen exactly one condom vending machine in public sight in all my travels around Tokyo, and it’s this one in my neighbourhood. It’s just inexplicably sitting there on a completely unremarkable backstreet. It feels like finding a glow-stick vending machine in a public library.

No candy until you finish your booze

We’ve all enjoyed or made fun of wine in a box, but have you ever seen its more petite Japanese cousin?

Yes, these cheap and possibly nasty boxes of booze come in the same form as juices for kids.  Of course, that includes a straw.  The perfect size for lunchboxes, and compact enough to still leave room for loose cigarettes for contraband deals in the playground.

Just for the record, these wouldn’t be sold to kids, but obviously I’m not the only one who finds this mis-mash of adult drinks in kid-size portions disorienting.  The purple label beneath the shelf warns “THIS IS ALCOHOL”, suggesting this has caused problems in the past.

Blurry childhood memories

The cut-throat restaurant competition in Tokyo is great for diners.  Well-designed, tasteful restaurant interiors.  Relatively low prices for very generous, high-quality servings.  And my favourite, the need to stand out from the pack by making out-and-out bizarre culinary creations.

Yes, to separate your yakatori (meat-on-a-stick) shop from all the other nearby meat-on-a-stick shops, you’ll want one or more signature dishes or drinks to set yourself apart.  One of my favourite pastimes is ordering these dishes with not a lot of idea of what they comprise of beforehand.  Eighty percent of the time, I’m pleasantly surprised.  The other twenty percent, I’m surprised and delighted:

A popsicle immersed in generous helping of booze – something the whole family can enjoy together.  Once the sweet flavours of the ice have infused into the alcohol, Dad can hand it off to his son as a very special treat.

This was perhaps the perfect summer drink.  After two weeks of temperatures in Japan well over 30 degrees, flavoured ice floating in some kind of mysterious liquid was just the thing to escape.  The popsicle sends you back to your childhood; the alcohol lets you believe you used to be a lot more attractive back then.

Viable panty lies

“Hey, is this true, this thing I heard about Japan?”
“What?”, I say, “What is that thing you heard about Japan?”
“I heard you can buy used schoolgirl panties from vending machines! Honest! A guy I know read it on the Internet!”

I think the “used panty vending machine” story is up the top of the list of questions I get about Japan. While having all the hallmarks of an urban myth, it’s true!

That is, it was true. Maybe. Some claim it was a strictly ’90s phenomenon before the machines got shut down. Others claim the reports come from illiterate Westerners, who can’t tell the difference between clean and used underwear being vended. In any case, if used panty vending machines still exist today, there’s no obvious evidence of them in Tokyo.

Or is there? Spied last weekend: an ordinary-looking vending machine in plain sight near my house:

Which on closer inspection – yes – contains panties!

Oh, regular pantyhose. That’s probably kind of convenient. I guess it’s a little quirky. Sort of.

How disappointing.

It’s alarming how charming I feel

On the man-made entertainment island called Odaiba in Tokyo Harbour, Toyota have a massive monument to themselves called Mega Web.  I’ve been several times, and it’s well worth visiting – simulators, race cars, prototype cars, driver reflex testers, and even a track you can drive a small eco-car around.

Of course, Toyota don’t run a massive warehouse of fun for naught – they’d rather like it if you bought one of their cars one day.  The commercial cars they have on display change quite often, but it’s never been too interesting for this dedicated subway rider.

However, their latest exhibit showing off the iQ compact car range is a corker.  I’m assuming these will never see the light of day outside Japan. The motif seems to be “The Car Your Strongly Culturally-Themed Grandmother Might Drive If She Disregarded All Principles Of Aerodynamics And Abnormally Loved Doilies”:

Lovely, but really – the lack of wheel-arch tassels on the last model shows a lack of craftsmanship I can’t abide.