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Baked sweet potato vending machine in southwest Japan to link agriculture and welfare

Sunao Matsuoka of Nofuku Sangyo holds a pack of baked potatoes taken out of a can in Miyakonojo, Miyazaki Prefecture, on April 8, 2021. (Mainichi/Shunsuke Ichimiya)

MIYAKONOJO, Miyazaki -- A vending machine stocked with baked sweet potatoes was placed in this southwestern Japan city on April 8 in a project linking agriculture and welfare.

    The rare vending machine introduced by Hyuga-based company Nofuku Sangyo is stocked with potatoes baked and canned by disabled people working at factories in the prefectural cities of Hyuga and Nobeoka, who receive a portion of the profits.

    It is located along Route 10 at 3 Kamikawahigashi, Miyakonojo, Miyazaki Prefecture. In March, the company also set up another machine at the Oita Matsuoka rest stop on the Higashi-Kyushu Expressway in Oita.

    Yuji Kodama, 66, president of Nofuku Sangyo, was thinking about how to utilize the approximately 1 hectare of farmland he had inherited from his late father. Then he came up with the idea of selling baked sweet potatoes from a vending machine, which would allow disabled people to work even on rainy days without incurring additional labor costs. With the cooperation of Sunkey Co., a vending machine sales company based in the city of Kagoshima, he built a special machine.

    It looks like an ordinary vending machine, but when you put money in it and push the button, an aluminum can with a pack of baked Beniharuka sweet potatoes inside pops out. Buyers can choose between hot and cold products, priced at 500 yen (about $4.5) for the regular 190 grams and 400 yen (about $3.6) for the 110-gram portions. Empty cans placed in the collection box next to the vending machine are reused.

    Sunao Matsuoka, 66, a sales representative of Nofuku Sangyo, commented, "People could use the canned potatoes as preserved food or gifts, as they have a shelf life of one year."

    (Japanese original by Shunsuke Ichimiya, Miyazaki Bureau)

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