Kyoto Shimbun 2010.5.17 News

Search for Showa "Auto-Restaurants"
Jazz Guitarist Making Inquiries

In former years when there were few convenience stores, there were many 24-hour automatic vending machine facilities, which were called "Auto-Restaurants," or "Auto-Snacks." "Shinya-zoku," or people who are active late at night, filled their stomachs on the offerings of various kinds of vending machines, selling items such as noodles or hamburgers, but those machines are now rapidly disappearing. How many "Auto-Restaurants" are still in active service around the Kansai Region, including Kyoto and Shiga Prefectures? One man continues to search for this endangered "Scenery of the Showa Period."

At "Uho, Ritto-ten," an auto-restaurant located along Route 8 in Ritto City, Shiga Prefecture, there is a noodle vending machine with a sign saying homemade taste. After inserting 200 yen into the vending machine, a bowl of hot udon noodles accompanied with a slice of "kamaboko," or steamed fish paste, and seaweed is served in 30 seconds. The store manager said, "There are always fresh noodles refrigerated in it. Up to seven or eight bowls of noodles are sold from it every day. The machine often has some troubles, including boiling water, however, I fix the period-piece machine by myself and maintain it in good condition."

At "Drive-in Daruma," a restaurant located along Route 178 in Maizuru City, Kyoto Prefecture, there is a row of vending machines, including a ramen vending machine. They have been in operation since its opening about 35 years ago. Despite being submerged in the nearly 1-meter flooding when typhoon 23 hit in 2004, the machines were undamaged. A salesperson said, "Some people buy these items out of curiosity, but the number of users has dropped off."

This type of vending machine came into existence during the 1970s, and facilities with them opened along highways one after another. Other variations included machines that served hamburgers heated about one minute in a built-in microwave, or served foil-wrapped sliced bread warmed by a heater. However, as a result of the increase in convenience stores in the 1990s, a lot of these facilities have been closed and manufacture of many of the machines was discontinued. In many cases, as there were no longer any parts when the machines broke down, they had to be removed.

Yusuke Uotani, a jazz guitarist, from Tokyo, has recorded vending machines photographically and visually across-the-country as valuable folk materials of the Showa Period, and published them on his website. He has already journeyed to approximately 100 spots between Hokkaido and the Koshinetsu districts. He is planning a journey around the Kansai area this summer, and hopes local people can offer him information on old-fashioned vending machines, if at all possible. His site is named "Guten burger: Ajiwai-no-jihanki-corner," or rich-tasting food provided by vending machines, after the popular vending-machine hamburger in the 1980s.

He recommends the allure of a vending-machine journey, saying, "We can soak in the ambiance of slipping through time. Regardless of the taste, we can feel the human energy of the Showa Period seeking economic growth, and the currents of those times at these deserted ancient corners."

(translated by Galileo, Inc.)

Photo= An auto-restaurant with an active noodle-vending-machine service. Hot udon noodles were served in a plastic bowl in 30 seconds (Ritto City, Shiga Prefecture)