To abuse one of the oldest and most tawdry opening lines you can ever read, Japan is a land of contrasts; at once, the embodiment of patience and tranquility, and yet the land of ruthless, dogmatic efficiency. Almost everything in Japanese society has been tweaked and tweaked again to be as convenient, efficient, and simple as it can be – either through high technology, or intricate artisanal craft.

Perhaps the greatest symbol of Japan’s culture of efficiency is the vending machine. From ramen, to lettuce, to used knickers – if it’s, ahem, consumable, the chances are that you can get it at the touch of a button. Japan’s vending machines take in around $46 billion a year at last estimates, with the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association claiming that there’s roughly one vending machine for every 33 Japanese citizens.

There’s now one more classic convenience food available through automation: the humble pizza. In Hiroshima, placed strategically next to a video rental shop (remember them?), you can now get yourself a vending-machine pizza. Available in either plain-jane margherita or sumptuous quattro formaggio, a ‘Pizza Self’ pizza will set you back around ¥980 – about £7 – and comes with its own box, bag, and pizza roller.

Strangely enough, despite their innovative reputation when it comes to portable consumables, the Japanese did not invent the vending-machine pizza. That illustrious title falls to the pizza’s homeland, where in 2009, Claudio Torghele answered the question that nobody in Italy was asking with his Let’s Pizza machine. Unsurprisingly, he faced universal derision in the land that prides slow food and tradition beyond all other cuisines. However, in freewheeling Japan, his concept is already proving far more successful.

Despite competing with the local Domino’s and Pizza Hut branches, the Pizza Self holds its own, drawing a curious crowd by wafting the scent of bubbling cheese and dough down the street. Its dispensable pizzas cook in only five minutes, leaving you ample time to go in, select your movie, and come out to a boxed-up, freshly-cooked mass of mozzarella. It’s one-part magic realism and one-part dystopian fiction: an irresistible pizza printer that lures in the hungry and helpless on a Hiroshima street corner. Who says the future hasn’t arrived?

The header image, of a series of vending machines in Tokyo, is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


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