自動售貨機也象徵著日本的經濟大問題：通貨緊縮。15年 來，自動販賣機里的汽水價格巋然不動。現在，喬亞咖啡(Georgia Coffee)、寶礦力水特(Pocari Sweat)或麒麟檸檬汽水(Kirin Lemon soda)一般每罐120日元，約為1.2美元（約合7.3元人民幣）。在一些有折扣的自動售貨機上，每罐可以低至80日元，低於20世紀80年代的價 格。
日本機器服務公司(Japan Machine Service)在全東京約300台自動售貨機上以80元每罐的價格出售罐裝飲料。該公司負責人片桐重雄（Shigeo Katagiri，音譯）說：「市場競爭很激烈，如果我們先漲價，我們就不要做了。」
儘管早期的跡象令人振奮，但是這些舉措是否有持續效果，他 的目標能否實現，還要拭目以待。一些經濟學家懷疑，他是否真能在兩年內實現他的2%通脹目標。對於多數國家來說，這個目標不算大，但是對日本來說，卻高的 離譜。迄今為止，在日本這個僅15%家庭持有股票的國家，股市回暖並未過多影響工資及財富。而且，儘管經濟行情見漲，消費者卻仍然節儉；周五的政府報告 稱，消費者支出已經冷卻了下來。
東京海上資產管理投資株式會社(Tokio Marine Asset Management)的首席資金經理平山賢一(Kenichi Hirayama)稱：「收入的增加依然僅限於一部分人。」
日本自動售貨機工業協會(Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association)稱，現在，日本街頭有約380萬台自動售貨機，換句話說，就是每33個人就有一台。約三分之二的機器出售飲料，由飲料廠商或第三 方銷售者維護。（其他機器出售從香蕉到文具等各種商品。）
朝日飲品(Asahi Soft Drinks)賣的最好的飲料是Wonda早咖啡(Wonda Morning Shot Coffee)、三津屋蘋果酒(Mitsuya Cider)及十六茶(Juroku-Cha)綠茶系列。該公司表示沒有漲價計劃。公司在東京的發言人板野明美(Akemi Banno，音譯)稱，「我們想在別的地方削減成本，這樣就不必把高價轉嫁給消費者。」
有些改變的跡象。去年，飲料生產者札幌飲品 (Sapporo)及百佳合并，提高了市場鞏固的信心。然而，這兩家公司一起，也只佔到仍然支離破碎的飲料市場的不足3%。業內領袖麒麟及三得利此前的合 并洽談以失敗告終。周三，三得利啤酒及食品公司(Suntory Beverage and Food)獲批在東京股票交易所(Tokyo Stock Exchange)上市，給以海外擴張為目的的首次公開募股鋪平了道路。
One Obstacle Won’t Budge in Japan’s Fight With Deflation
June 04, 2013
TOKYO — Vending machines stocked with sodas are ubiquitous here, tucked away, it seems, in every nook and cranny of the country. They are found along Omotesando, the tree-lined shopping avenue known as the Champs-Élysées of Tokyo, and their glow lights up the back streets of hot spring towns like Hakone. They are even atop Mount Fuji, Japan’s 12,000-foot, snow-capped mountain.
The vending machines are also a symbol of the country’s big economic problem: deflation. The price of a soda in a vending machine has stubbornly remained the same for 15 years. Now, as back then, a can of Georgia Coffee, Pocari Sweat sports drink or Kirin Lemon soda typically sells for 120 yen, roughly $1.20. Some discount machines sell cans for as little as 80 yen, less than the price they fetched in the 1980s.
Since taking office in December, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made fighting deflation a priority, pumping the Japanese economy with cheap money and bolstering public spending in a bid to kick-start growth.
Such moves have helped stoke the prices of luxury goods like Ferraris, golf club memberships, prime real estate and vintage wines. But so far, the government’s efforts have not had much effect on everyday items, like a can of soda.
Despite the rising cost of raw materials and energy, beverage companies cannot easily raise prices without risking profits. Competition is fierce and consumers remain reluctant to spend.
“If we raised prices first in this cutthroat market, we’d be finished,” said Shigeo Katagiri, who runs the Japan Machine Service, a company that sells canned drinks for 80 yen at about 300 vending machines across Tokyo.
It’s a dynamic that’s playing out in retail, consumer electronics and other industries — and one of Mr. Abe’s biggest obstacles in his efforts to fight deflation.
In theory, Mr. Abe’s economic plan makes sense. More money circulating in the economy should lead to higher prices, and help generate a positive cycle of more investment, profits, wages, spending and growth. It also weakens the yen, which helps exporters sell more goods overseas and raises the price of imports. The prices of Apple iPads, for example, have jumped.
While the early signs are encouraging, it remains to be seen whether such efforts are sustainable and his goals are achievable. Some economists doubt that he can really meet his target of 2 percent inflation in two years. It’s an unspectacular rate for most countries, but a tall order for Japan. So far, the rally in Japan’s stock market has not significantly rubbed off on wages or wealth in a country where just 15 percent of households hold shares, according to a recent Bank of Japan survey. And despite the rising economic sentiment, consumers remain thrifty; the government reported on Friday that consumer spending had cooled.
“Income is still rising only for just a limited number of people,” said Kenichi Hirayama, chief fund manager at Tokio Marine Asset Management.
In many ways, the evolution of vending machines represents the country’s promise and its problems.
In the 1960s, as Japan’s postwar economy boomed and income rose, Coca-Cola brought the first vending machines to the country, selling cans for about 50 yen. In 1973, the Japanese upstart Pokka developed the first vending machine to sell hot drinks.
After that, the price of a can jumped 10 yen each for three consecutive years, as surging oil prices caused inflation. By 1983, cans were selling for 100 yen, and by 1998, they went for 120 yen.
Then Japan’s economy burst, and the country fell into deflation and economic stagnation. Most drink companies did not lower prices, preferring instead to live with lower profits as consumers cut back on spending. But a flurry of third-party vending machine operators, like Mr. Katagiri’s Japan Machine Service, started to source soda on the cheap and sell cans for less than the manufacturer’s suggested price.
By the mid-2000s, even the discount drinks market had become saturated. The beverage market research and consulting company Inryou Souken estimates that about 30 percent of vending machines in Tokyo currently sell cans for less than 120 yen.
Today, some 3.8 million vending machines line Japan’s streets, or about 1 for every 33 people, according to the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association. About two-thirds of the machines sell drinks, and are maintained by the drink makers, or third-party sellers. (The rest sell items as varied as bananas and stationery.)
With more than a dozen national drink makers and countless sellers, crippling rivalries and razor-thin profits have become the norm of doing business.
Asahi Soft Drinks, whose top-selling drinks are the Wonda Morning Shot Coffee, Mitsuya Cider and Juroku-Cha green tea series, said it had no plans to raise prices. “We intend to make cuts elsewhere so we don’t have to pass on higher prices to our customers,” said Akemi Banno, a Tokyo-based spokeswoman for the company.
To bring supply and demand back into balance, analysts say the industry needs a shakeout, through mergers, takeovers, exits and perhaps even failures.
But that has been slow to happen. Mass layoffs of full-time workers are unheard-of, thanks to rigid labor laws. Mergers and takeovers are still relatively difficult. And shareholders do not pressure companies to exit businesses with razor-thin margins or even ones that lose money.
There are some signs of change. Drink makers Sapporo and Pokka merged last year, raising hopes for more market consolidation. The companies together, however, represent less than 3 percent of a still-fragmented soft drink market. Earlier merger talks between industry leaders Kirin and Suntory ended in failure. On Wednesday, Suntory Beverage and Food got approval from the Tokyo Stock Exchange to list, paving the way for an initial public offering to raise funds to expand overseas.
Some companies have had success in charging higher prices for drinks that claim to have medical benefits, tapping into a Japanese obsession with health. For example. Kao’s Healthya coffee contains special polyphenols that the company claims assist fat burning, and sells for 150 yen each.
“That’s one way to go,” said Kazuhiro Miyashita, a drinks industry expert. “Only companies that can raise prices can thrive.”