Japan has a fascination with vending machines.

Japan is notorious for its fascination with vending machines — as of 2008, there were 5.5 million of them across the nation. And these aren’t merely the candy bar and soda variety, either — Japan has vending machines that sell live crabs, grow lettuce, are covered in moss, and dispense smart cars. And by this time next year, it will have 10,000 vending machines that charge electric cars.

Here’s the AFP:

Ten Japanese companies said Monday they plan to install electric vehicle chargers at the sites of beverage vending machines across Japan in a cost-cutting tie-up. The consortium includes Forking Co., a major vending machine operator … Forking has business ties with companies which own a combined 1.2 million vending machines across Japan, or about a half of the national total, company official Reiko Kobayashi said. The firms plan to install some 10,000 electric vehicle chargers at the sites of the vending machines in the first year of the project, which is due to start at the end of March, she added.

Smart. Pick a cultural touchstone and ease in the new technology (remember, even in Japan, conventional wisdom is that electric cars are far from a sure bet) at highly-visible, much-used nodes that the public is intimately familiar with. I guess the domestic analog would be something like installing EV charging stations at fast food drive-thrus, or TVs showing Jersey Shore.

Charging infrastructure remains a major concern for the market analysts bent on determining electric cars’ viability, and allegedly, for their prospective buyers as well. ‘Range anxiety’ — a term used most stridently by those analysts — would be relieved by a major initiative to install charging stations, at least in the sense that marketers would be satisfied that they were out there.

It will be interesting to see what happens in Japan, where the electric LEAF is already available. Let’s see if the existence of a heavy away-from-home charging infrastructure helps boosts sales of the electric car, or draws perception of them further into the sphere of normality.