Are you fascinated by bright, shiny, objects?
Do you feel that you have been using your brain too much recently?
Are you frustrated by games of skill?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then Pachinko may be the hobby that you have been looking for.
Pachinko, often described as ‘Japanese Pinball’, is a game in which the player buys a large quantity of silver balls and feeds them into a sort of vertical pinball machine where the balls cascade around, their paths determined by small metal pins. If any of the balls land in a small hole in the center, the player wins more balls, which he can feed back into the machine or exchange for prizes.
The chances against winning are, for the average person, ridiculously small, and it is easy to lose a thousand yen (US$9) in just a few minutes. For those lucky few who win, there is always a little shop behind the Pachinko Parlour that will exchange the prizes for cash (this is to circumvent Japan’s gamling laws).
WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY?
Why do otherwise intelligent people sit in smokey Pachinko Parlours listening to a cacaphonic soundtrack played at ear-splitting levels? What is the fascination with watching little silver balls disappear into a machine?
In the old days, during the 1950’s, people could control the force with which the ball was shot up into the machine, giving the game an element of skill, but in the Pachinko parlours of today, the participant need only pour his balls into the machine and watch passively as they bounce around and disappear.
Here’s an interesting email I received in response to this page:
I just wanted to take a few minutes to comment on your site. First, my name is Bob and I lived in Kurashiki city, Okayama-ken from 94-99. I’ll return in about a month to do some part time work while I’m on Summer break from an Australian university where I’m working on an MA in TESOL.
Anyway, I really enjoyed clicking through your site. I feel you have done an outstanding job of showing a bit more of the authentic day to day life and amusements of living in Japan that other sites rarely get into.
I wanted to make a few comments on one thing in particular. The pachinko comments seemed a little dated.
Actually, much to my shame to admit, I happened to know a few young Japanese that showed me how to win at pachinko, and I spent quite a few days in these places over one particular winter. Why? Though I agree it is basically a mindless pursuit (I often told people that I could duct tape my dead grandmother to one of these machines and she would be “playin’ pachinko!”) it has changed quite a bit from what you described. The days of hoping that the balls will drop into multiple holes for a few extra balls have changed dramatically.
The purpose of getting the balls to drop into ONE particular hole on the board is to cause the small video screen in the middle to spin, like a Vegas slot machine, and hope for triple whatevers to come up. If you get the trips, then you go through a fifteen round video session where you will win one bucket of balls equivalent to about 5,000 yen.
If you happen to be on a “good” machine, you can hit triples every 100-200 spins and walk out with quite a profit. Which is where the appeal, like any gambling, ultimately lies.
The men and women, who taught me how to play, used a whole system of hand held computers to collect data on the machines. The key to getting those “good” machines was based on knowing how the computers in the machines worked and on what days they were likely to hit. To keep it short, while hanging with this bunch I often experienced days where I walked home, after eight hours of play, with anywhere from 50 to 80,000 yen for about a 20,000 yen investment. On my best weekend, I pulled in a 160,000 yen profit in two days!
Mindless? YES! Do people off the street have much chance of doing the same without knowing a bit? Possibly, but probably not. Can you make a living doing this? Hell yes! In that particular winter I was pulling in more in a week than my job was paying in a month.
So, if it was so profitable, why did I quit? Back to the mindless part again. I grew tired of sitting in one position for eight hours a day; keeping track of all the number crunching on which machine should have a good day; sucking in hard core second hand smoke; coming home with my ears ringing from the cacophony of sound and so on. I have to admit it was quite a ride though. Some of that leftover cash has paid for my education now and funded some seriously festive nights back in those days.
I just wanted to try and give some insight on the pachinko craze. I in no way condone it because, again like Vegas, I’ve seen far many more losers pumping in the family savings than I’ve seen people who were willing to put in the time, effort and knowledge it took to try and come out ahead. People who thought they could beat a computer program by shear will. Additionally, I’ve never met any fellow gaijin that took this particular road during their experiences in Japan and I sometimes try to explain some things to people who thought pachinko was just flipping balls in a machine to win a box of tissues.
Again, great, fun, interesting site and I enjoyed the trip.
Photo credit: Travis Nep Smith