From corn soup to gold soda cans to stag beetles , you can find almost anything in vending machines situated on approximately every street corner in Japan. And not too long ago in Showa-era Japan, it was pretty common to see restaurants staffed entirely by vending machines serving bland, but hot food at an affordable price. Some savvy business owner decided to cash in on this nostalgia and recently opened up an automat diner where customers can relive a time when “dining out” meant putting coins into a vending machine and waiting for your food to pop out!
Automat Diner, or Jihanki Shokudo in Japanese, is located in Isesaki City in Gunma Prefecture, about an hour and half drive from Tokyo. After hearing about the diner, we sent one of our reporters to make the trip up there and see how the vending machine-produced food stacks up to our memories of the past.
Walking into the diner, you are immediately greeted by a row of vending machines that look like they were just rolled out of a time machine.
▼Gunma Prefecture’s very own Automat Diner
▼ Say hello to the cooks for the day!
The machines offers a variety of options including hamburgers, soba and ramen. And this isn’t just your typical, bare-bones food from your grandfather’s automat. You can even get ramen with barbecued pork on top and a burger with a sesame-mayonnaise sauce. With so many choices, it took our man a while to read all the options and make a decision.
▼ Some of the sandwich options, with a helpful warning to use the provided tongs to avoid being burned by the hot and ready food
▼The many burger options including a special one with sesame seed mayonnaise and tiny dried shrimp
With all the gourmet options, our reporter decided it was best to go with the simple double cheese burger to judge how the diner can handle the basics. He put his money in, pressed the button and heard the familiar whir of the machine heating the food and saw the lamp light up indicating his burger was on its way.
▼ The red lamp that tells hungry customers their gourmet vending machine meal is just moments away
The cheeseburger popped out and the taste test was ready to begin. Of course, you don’t expect much from a vending machine burger, but still, our reporter eagerly took it out of its handy box and gave us his unbiased culinary opinion.
▼ The cute box that makes it clear this burger is double the cheese (チーズ)
▼The back of the box lists the ingredients for the burger: bread, hamburger patty, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, demi-glace sauce, “natural” cheese and mustard-flavored margarine
▼The double cheese burger unboxed
▼ The bread barely looks like it just came from a vending machine
▼ The burger in all its saucy and cheesy glory
After narrowly avoiding third-degree burns from the incredibly hot steam that escaped as the burger was unwrapped, our reporter took a bite and began his evaluation. The bun was very soft, the meat had a great texture and the sauce complimented the burger nicely. All in all, this was much better than the vending machine burgers that used to be commonplace in Japan. Even though the restaurant itself looks like something straight out of a picture from Showa-era Japan, the food itself tastes much better than many of us remember.
If you are planning a trip to Gunma, we recommend you make a stop at this automat diner to take a step back in time. The restaurant now even has a game corner featuring arcade games from the time period that cost just 10 yen (US$0.08) to play!
▼ The retro gaming corner with arcade games that cost just 1/10 the price of most modern ones!
Let us know if you plan on stopping by the Automat Diner and what you think of the food there. The burger left our reporter feeling pretty full, but he says the ramen is next on his list of things to try out!
Automat Diner (Jihanki Shokudo)
Address: 293-3 Tomizuka-cho, Isesaki City, Gunma Prefecture
Hours: 9:30 AM to Midnight
Holidays: check Twitter
[ Read in Japanese ]