Retro vending machines offer tastes of yesteryear at a used tire shop outside Tokyo
On a dirt and gravel road outside Tokyo, not far from the U.S. Army’s Camp Zama and Sagami General Depot, you’ll find a battalion of rusty vending machines waiting to dispense food and fond memories.
Some people are drawn to the Used Tire Market in Sagamihara for a set of retreads or discounted rims. Others come for the hot noodles, toasted sandwiches, glass-bottle Cokes and odd knicknacks offered by scores of vintage vending machines surrounding the shop.
“We started this service so that customers who come to the store to change tires can enjoy the waiting time,” says a note on the shop’s website. “May your waiting time be filled with nostalgia and fun.”
On my first visit, I spotted a grinning old man enthusiastically popping coins into a 1960s-era Japanese curry machine. Nearby, a young couple leaned against a wooden railing, slurping steaming ramen from the same yellow plastic bowl.
My fellow diners on a later visit included a pair of Japanese celebrities -- a comedy duo known as Wagyu -- filming a segment for television.
When eating my way through a portion of the shop’s seemingly countless offerings, I was particularly taken with the toasted sandwiches (300 yen or about $2.75) that, after a 60-second countdown, pop out tightly wrapped in piping hot aluminum foil. Tongs are available to keep you from burning your fingers.
There are two kinds available, corned beef and ham and cheese. I enjoyed the corned beef’s peppery flavor so much, I decided to have another. A colleague preferred the ham and cheese, describing its familiar taste as “comfort food.”
Less impressive, for me anyway, were the instant noodles. You’ll likely find better quality at any Japanese convenience store, though those won’t come close to matching the Used Tire Market experience.
My colleague and I tried the udon with deep-fried tofu (350 yen) that, unfortunately, proved to be a “blah” experience. The noodles were soggy, the soup was bland, and I couldn’t even bring myself to touch the tofu. A bowl of chashu ramen (also 300 yen) I shared with my 10-year-old son on a subsequent visit was superior by leaps and bounds.
Speaking of my son, he’s a big fan of the freshly popped American Popcorn (150 yen), which comes in three flavors: salt, barbecue and chocolate. The machine keeps you entertained with an infectious ditty while you wait for a microwave inside to do its thing. The same machine sells a Japanese version of Pop Rocks (30 yen) that my son likes to shake into the popcorn bag before munching away.
Other options include tiny but meaty hamburgers served in a box, hot dogs with mustard, shrimp tempura, fried rice and something called “bread in a can.” No Michelin Star candidates here, but all are cheap, fast and fun.
Hot food isn’t all you’ll find at the used tire shop. There are also rusty machines selling candy cigarettes, AA and AAA batteries, medical masks, umbrellas, toy robots, plastic models and photos of teen singing sensations whose fame has long faded.
My favorite is a cardboard box that dispenses green apple-flavored gumballs with the push of a plastic button. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the one red gumball waiting inside.
Need coins? You’ll find a change machine inside a small room near the tire shop’s office crammed with classic arcade games. Many of the machines were inoperable during my visits, though several classics were up and running, including Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Frogger.