LONDON: Imagine a city with vending machines that unlock during earthquakes and other natural disasters, providing free food and supplies.
That is exactly what is happening in the Japanese coastal city of Ako, in Hyogo prefecture, as the country steps up its natural disaster preparations.
On Friday, Japanese news outlet The Mainichi reported that the city had launched a trial run with two emergency vending machines.
The machines usually sell snacks and drinks, but will also distribute items for free during major earthquakes or typhoons.
As well as 300 bottles of soda and 150 emergency food items, the lifesaving machines contain lockers filled with essential sanitary items, such as portable toilets and masks, the news outlet said.
The vending machines unlock when an evacuation order is issued after a quake or other natural disasters.
The “hygiene supply disaster prevention stockpiling vending machines” have been installed near buildings designated as evacuation shelters.
Ako is located in an area that is vulnerable to severe earthquakes.
The emergency vending machine project is a collaboration between the municipality and Tokyo-based pharmaceutical firm Earth Corp., which has research and production facilities in Ako.
The company has signed agreements with 17 municipalities across Japan since 2020 to help solve local issues, with the machines in Ako said to be the first of their type in the country.
A company representative said: “We would like to spread this throughout the country as a socially oriented project.”
Vending machines can be found on almost every street in Japanese cities and sell a wide variety of items — some as unique as bear or whale meat.
In a similar initiative, a vending machine with a radio that automatically broadcasts emergency information was installed in a Tokyo park earlier this year.
The radio will be activated by severe earthquakes, and transmit evacuation and other vital information from a local community station.
Japan is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world. On May 26, a 6.2 magnitude quake struck east of Tokyo.