Rows of young people standing shoulder-to-shoulder, calling out for contributions are a common sight around Japanese train stations and storefronts at year-end. Now, another familiar row of characters is joining in the call, albeit more quietly: Vending machines around the country are now accepting charitable donations.
The “Heartful Vendor” drink machines were developed by the Red Feather Community Chest Movement (赤 い羽根共同募金), a 64-year-old nation-wide nongovernmental organization dedicated to suppporting social welfare. The vending machines are one idea to try to counteract an overall decline in donations. The organization says giving, which peaked in 1995, started to slide as organizations became more scattered and incidents of charity scams hit the headlines.
The vending machines, of which there are more than 600, make donating to various causes as easy as pressing a “keep the change” button. The last two buttons on the bottom row of drinks are marked “donate ¥10″ or “donate ¥100.” Put in your coins, pick your drink (hot or cold, of course), and then press one of the buttons. A little sterile? Well, it won’t hand you a red feather like the usual money collectors do, but the machines do chirp “arigatou gozaimasu.” It’s also possible to simply donate money without buying anything. (But how could you pass up a hot, canned drink on a cold, winter’s day?) Each machine puts up a sign each month with the previous month’s collected total.
In addition to the Community Chest’s usual causes, some machines’ proceeds are earmarked for specific causes. Recipients include animal preservation projects like the famous deer in Nara and the storks in Hogo, J-League soccer clubs and the breast cancer awareness organization Pink Ribbon.
They’re mostly in workplaces and universities, though some have been spotted on the streets. Would you donate through a vending machine?