This is easily in the top ten questions I always get asked about Japan- “Do they really have those vending machines for used girls’ underwear?” The closest I ever came to seeing one was on a Japanese TV show. In a dark corner of Kabuki-cho, a legendarily sleazy part of Tokyo, the show did find an example of said vending machine. I’ve never been to Kabuki-Cho (Roppingi is sleazy enough) and I have never tried to buy used underwear, but I’ll take it on faith that the show wasn’t lying, because… is it really that weird?
I’m absolutely certain there are used underwear sniffers in the USA, and that if I looked hard enough I could find a woman to sell me a pair. Probably on Craigslist, but I’m just going on what I hear. (Am I throwing out too many qualifiers here? If I had a kink I might admit it. Maybe.) Maybe the only important difference is that Kabuki-Cho is a physical space and presumably anyone could walk up to a vending machine and buy stinky underwear, whereas with Craigslist you’d have to email someone and negotiate price and err, size? style? fragrance? Who knows.
Maybe this is an obvious thing, but people latch on to funny things when it comes to other cultures, and until you’re outside your own, it doesn’t really occur to you. If someone had run a TV special about underwear sniffers in the USA and I got questions about it while I was living in Japan, I’d be bemused to say the least. My response would be- “Yeah, so? There’s kinky people everywhere.” I mean, yeah, underwear vending machines, that’s weird, but only because no one I know admits to being a panty sniffer.