Meet the Japanese grandmother who manually operates vending machines in the countryside

A unique place where there really is a person inside the machine.

In Japan, dagashiya are old-fashioned candy stores filled with cheap candies known as dagashi. Loved by children and adults who like to relive their childhood candy days, these old shops can be found scattered all over Japan, but in Tokyo’s neighboring Chiba prefecture you can find a particularly unusual one, called maboroshido.

Located in Yachiyo City, Maboroshido merges the retro vibe of a candy store with some rather unusual entertainment elements. It’s a bit far from public transport, services, as the nearest bus stop is one kilometer (0.6 miles) away and the walk from the nearest station, Yachiyo Midorigaoka, takes about 40 minutes .

▼ The remote location means that most people who stop in Maboroshido do so by car or motorbike.

The entrance to the store is rather unusual, as it looks like an abandoned storage area.

Once inside, however, you’ll see the store standing quietly in the middle of a bamboo grove.

With the gravel crunching under our feet, we approached the store, which seemed completely unstaffed.

No sign of people here, but this cut out photo board for the store’s original character, a kappa water spirit called Kappa Yappe, promised us that we were going to enjoy ourselves, with the words “I Laughed at Maboroshido!!” written on.

▼ Outside the store we could see some retro vending machines…

▼ …and some nostalgic arcade games.

▼ The building appeared to house a candy store, but the actual entrance was hard to find.

After looking around a bit, we spotted a small window next to one of the vending machines.

Sticking our head around the corner, we heard a rustle and suddenly another head popped around the corner, staring at us.

▼ Kappa Yappe!

Startled by the surprise appearance of the mascot character, our pulse quickened, then kappa started talking.

The kappa spoke with a voice that sounded mechanical, as if someone was speaking through it using a voice-changing microphone. When he asked us how he could help, we told him we wanted to buy candy, and the kappa told us we could do it at the red vending machine.

▼ The Coca-Cola-esque logo here reads “Egao Maboroshido Dagashiya” (“Smile Maboroshido Dagashi Store“)

Once we approached the machine, we saw that it was unlike any other we had ever seen before. Using it involves a mix of talking and pretending to use buttons, and we also had to put money in a coin tray, because this distributor was completely manual, and operated by a person behind him.

▼ To see the vending machine in action, watch this video below.

Our 500 yen (US$4.37) dagashi set was hand-delivered from the vending machine tray, and when we opened the paper bag, we found this wonderful array of snacks and sweets.

Strangely, these manual vending machines were much more fun to use than everyday vending machines, so we decided to try the hamburger machine as well.

▼ The burgers offered here were…”Burger at Guten”!?

Kappa Yappe came out to walk us through the purchase process, asking us to hit the ‘push’ button and put our money in the bin like before.

▼ After a minute of waiting, our Guten Burger mysteriously appeared in the collection bin!

We later found out that the advertised Guten Burger was no longer made – that’s the age of these machines – so the burger we received was an original burger that was supposed to replicate the same retro flavor as closely as possible.

▼ There was one more machine to try — the Coffee stand

▼ Kappa Yappe popped up again, this time from a different opening, which made us laugh out loud.

The hardworking kappa who came back and forth to help us advised us to put 250 yen in the tray for a cup of coffee.

After a short while, our coffee magically appeared and was dropped onto the table on an elevator-like platform.

There was also the option to buy instant noodles so we bought a pack of those too.

▼ Your daa! Like watching a magic show.

Our arms now full of food, treats and coffee, we headed to the outside table to enjoy our vending machine feast.

▼ The Guten burger burger turned out excellent!

▼ And the filter coffee, known to be popular with passing bikers, was also fantastic!

Feeling replenished after the meal, we called to ask the friendly kappa if we could look behind the curtain and find out more about what’s going on behind the machines. The kappa kindly agreed, and we were granted access to the mysterious control room.

Like the Wizard of Oz, Kappa Yappe had a human behind the controls, and the human here was the store owner, Yasuko Murayama.

She spends her working days here at her desk, waiting for customers to arrive in front of a screen that displays exterior images of the store.

As soon as a customer shows up in front of one of the vending machines, Murayama springs into action, channels the spirit of Kappa Yappe with his microphone, and manipulates the mascot through the window.

Maruyama’s passion for his work is truly impressive, but the real reason this idea was born is the crippling effects of the coronavirus pandemic on his business. Maruyama originally ran a small dagashi shop at the site until the pandemic hit, but when the government started asking businesses to restrict their hours and adhere to countermeasures like social distancing , she had to find another way to stay afloat.

▼ Maruyama’s dagashi store remains as it was.

As of this writing, Maruyama says he’s unsure if she’ll ever be able to resume running her store as usual.

Still, Maruyama is determined to keep going, delivering drinks and snacks to visitors in a different way – a way some would say even more passionate and memorable.

Maruyama and Kappa Yappe aren’t alone here in the peaceful bamboo grove, as the owner’s daughter is also there to help, and she’s the one making the coffees bikers love so much.

As our shoes began to creak on the gravel as we made our exit, we turned to give Kappa Yappe one last wave, and as we did, found ourselves realizing the truth behind the words on this photo board.

▼ “I Laughed at Maboroshido!!”

We really laughed at Maboroshido, and we’re sure you did too, as it’s one of the most unusual places you can stop for a bite to eat in Japan. It’s also a great place to enjoy the company of a friendly kappa, and the good news is that this one won’t suck your soul like all the others.

Store Information

Dagashiya Maboroshido / 駄菓子屋まぼろし堂
Address: Chiba-ken, Yachiyo-shi, Sonohashi 116-3

Photos ©SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]

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