You can get everything out of a Jidohanbaiki in Nippon -- Food, drink, entertainment. Fried Squid, cold beer, hot tea (in a can) and... panties. In case you're missing what I just said, let me say it again for added emphasis: You can buy panties from a vending machine in Japan.

Vending machines that dispense panties, so called "white machines", have existed apparently since the late 1980's. For the yen equivalent of $10 USD you can be dispensed a fresh sealed and folded pair of white panties complete with a seductive saying or message -- lingerie fortune cookies, if you will.

Now this is all well and good and there is nothing so odd about it, but there have been some rather inflammatory and unsavory rumours regarding a certain type of "white machine" that dispenses not only panties, but used schoolgirl panties. What can one make of this scurrilous hearsay?

Well, it is completely true. At least, it was completely true.

In the early 1990's there began a enterprise involving three business men. They positioned and stocked about 90 vending machines in outer Tokyo with used underwear that was "guaranteed to have been worn by a Japanese schoolgirl." The price was about $29 USD. The authorities were not amused.

After doing some creative searching of the laws, the police finally charged the three entrepreneurs with violating something called the Antique Dealings Law. This law stipulates that antique dealers need a license to do business. But are used panties antiques? The police say that some of the underwear was obtained from second hand clothing stores and thus can be classified as antique under the law. In addition, the group may also be charged with false advertising fraud if it can be proved that the panties on sale had not actually been worn by female students. News of this crackdown was first reported to the western world by the The Economist in 1993 (October 18, 1993 issue, page 76).

Is this the end of the world? Nah, it's just the trailer.

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