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Vending machine selling handmade crepes in west Japan creates layers of online buzz

"Somen" noodle restaurant owner Hideyuki Kato shows off his crepe vending machine in Sakurai, Nara Prefecture, on Dec. 20, 2021. (Mainichi)

SAKURAI, Nara -- A vending machine that sells handmade crepes in west Japan's Nara Prefecture has created a social media buzz, prompted by popular YouTubers introducing it in their videos.

    The rare vending machine that sells out of crepes almost every day is located along the approach to Oomiwa Shrine in the Nara Prefecture city of Sakurai. It was installed by Hideyuki Kato, 53, the owner of a nearby "nagashi-somen" restaurant, where the noodles are placed in flumes that carry cold water and diners pluck out the noodles with chopsticks to eat.

    Hideyuki Kato makes a crepe at his "somen" noodle restaurant's kitchen in Sakurai, Nara Prefecture, on Dec. 20, 2021. (Mainichi/Yusuke Kato)

    Kato opened the noodle restaurant in August 2017 and set up the vending machine in around autumn of the same year. He came up with the idea of a machine selling food that would attract people's attention in order to cover a revenue drop during winter, when somen restaurants tend to see fewer customers. Kato thought about selling crepes because they are liked by a wide range of generations even though he had never made one before. He learned how to make them from a chef friend.

    Since installing the vending machine, popular social media influencers have posted videos on YouTube introducing it. The location has become widely known primarily among young people, and has become a notable spot where tourists from in and outside the prefecture visit.

    The machine offers about 10 types of crepes, including chocolate-banana, no-bake cheesecake and caramel, and they are priced between 250 yen (about $2.20) and 300 yen (approx. $2.60) each. Kato adjusts the texture of the whipped cream so that they will not break while customers are walking with them in their hands. He begins to make them at 6 a.m. every morning at his somen restaurant kitchen. Kato then rolls the crepes in transparent plastic wrap, packs them in jars, and refills the vending machine at 8 a.m. He makes 30 to 100 of them daily, and they apparently sell out almost within the day.

    When the Mainichi Shimbun visited the site in late December, tourists from outside the prefecture were in front of the vending machine.

    Haruka Akiyama, 22, who was visiting from the west Japan city of Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, purchased a caramel crepe and said with a smile: "I knew on social media that this vending machine exists, and finally I've gotten a taste of it. Raw cream and caramel are a great combination."

    Kato commented: "I'm truly happy that the vending machine has prompted people to visit Nara for sightseeing. I'd like to make efforts to keep offering delicious crepes."

    (Japanese original by Yusuke Kato, Nara Bureau)

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