How To Order With Meal Ticket Machines

Have you ever seen a meal ticket machine? There are a lot of machines here and there in Japan. Have you tried one before? Was there a multi-language display? If you don’t read any Japanese, don’t worry about it. Most of them are used in the same way. I’m sure it will be fun once you get the hang of using them. Let’s take a look at it.

*A multi-language display

 What’s a meal ticket machine?

According to Wikipedia, the first ticket machine for buying train tickets came out in Japan in 1911. Now we can see them in a lot of places like stations, theaters, and restaurants. Why do you think they are popular in Japan? In my opinion, you can save time by using it because you don’t have to chat with staff for a long time. The process is really simple–you order, enjoy eating, and you may go. Of course, you can get a good meal. On the flip side, business owners can save time because you don’t have to order in person. You can handle the operation of the restaurant with less staff. Also, this machine can collect a bunch of data such as the busiest hours every day and month, and which menu items are popular. The data can be used to develop new menu items.

Where are they?

You often can see them at Japanese fast food restaurants like soba-ya, udon-ya, gyudon-ya, ramen restaurants, curry stands, etc. 

How to use the machine? 

For buying, it’s a breeze. First of all, check the menu of the restaurant where you want to go because there are no photo displays or multi-language displays sometimes. When you can’t really decide on the meal, please choose the corner button. In most cases, it works well.

You can choose the corner button. That’s an easy option.

One more thing. I can give you tips for Japanese below.

  • 「大人気」:Most popular meal
  • 「お得な:オトクな」:Reasonable menu
  • 「オススメ:お勧め:店長オススメ」Recommended menu
  • 「限定」:Seasonal limited menu
  • 「大盛り」:Extra portion

Then you put your money into the machine’s slot like the one in the below photo.

Don’t forget to get your change.  

Sometimes JPY10,000 and JPY5,000 are not acceptable for the machine. You can ask the restaurant staff to change it to smaller bills. They will be happy to change it to smaller bills.

*This type of machine will accept any type of bill.

After buying a ticket, the next step varies from place to place. You’ll see what people do. You need to find where you are going to pass your ticket to the staff. In most cases, it displays “Order,”  “ご注文,“ or “御注文.” Or the staff might guide you. Let’s say you are in soba-ya. The staff might ask you if you choose soba or udon because most soba-ya serves both.  Some small restaurants also don’t have many buttons for you to choose from.  Then, they might ask you if you choose cold or hot food. Another example is that you are in a ramen restaurant. They might ask your preference of the softness of noodles. You can tell them your preference. If you feel like it’s a hassle, then you can just say “futsuude” which means “normal.” This word is a magic word. Please check below for the most useful Japanese words for these restaurants. 

“Soba-ya, Udon-ya”
  • Soba:「そば/蕎麦」
  • Udon:「うどん」
  • Hot:「あたたかい/温かい:Atatakai
  • Cold:   「つめたい/冷たい」:Tsumetai
“Ramen restaurant”

-The softness of noodles 

  • Soft:「 やわらかい/柔らかい」:Yawarakai
  • Normal:「普通/ふつう」:*Futsuu
  • Hard:「硬い/かたい」:Katai
  • Hardest:「超硬い/バリかた」:Barikata

-Soup taste

  • Rich: 「こってり」:Kotteri
  • Light:  「あっさり」:「Assari」


  • Garlic : 「にんにく」: Ninniku

*They might ask you if you want to put garlic into your ramen bowl. You just say “yes”: Ireru or “no”: Irenai in this case. In my opinion, putting garlic into it is really good.

Lastly, after you finish eating, look for where to return your dishes. It will display “return counter,” or ”返却口.“ Most restaurants that have meal ticket machines have to return your dishes, so please remember that. When you are out at the restaurant, you can say “Gochisosama” which means “thank you.” You don’t need to say it, but people in Japan will think you are familiar with the culture.

For advanced users; other machines

*This vending machine is selling horse meat.

This is not a meal ticket machine. You can buy anything at vending machines here and there in Japan. This is a basashi vending machine. “Basashi” means horse meat. Other than that, there are unique machines all over Japan that sell fish soup stock, t-shirts, and small toys. Why don’t you try it if you find one?

That’s all for today. If worse comes to the worst, the staff will help you. If you get the hang of it, I’m sure you can get to know about a more local Japan. Thank you for taking the time to read my article to the end. See you next time.

2 Comments on “How To Order With Meal Ticket Machines”

  1. This is a really interesting article. Well done. Do you know what year meal ticket machines started in Tokyo? I lived in Japan from 1990 to 1997 and I only remember beer and cigarettes being sold in vending machines. Thank you.

  2. Hi Anne, thank you for reading my article! Looking back, I remember there were meal tickets machines at soba stand restaurants in the 1980’s. I hope it helps you.

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