Approximately 10 percent of people in Japan play Pachinko (パチンコ). In a market valued at 250 billion dollars a year. There’s rarely a street across the cities that doesn’t have it, and you’ll often hear it before you see it. This is pachinko – A loud, confusing, and a national obsession.
If you’ve never set foot in Japan, there’s a good chance you’ll have never heard of pachinko. I had no idea what it was until my first day in Japan, when I accidentally stumbled into a pachinko parlor, in central Tokyo, and was subsequently deafened by the noise of hundreds of shrieking machines, and thousands of ball bearings being blasted, in every direction.
I think the best way to describe pachinko is: It’s part arcade game, It’s part gambling, and it’s part… noise. It’s just *agh* to so unbelievably noisy.
I don’t really have the answers to these questions I’m awful at it. Uh, so today I’ve enlisted the help of a good friend who is a retired veteran of pachinko. And he’s going to share with us the secrets to success. Isn’t that right?
Pachinko has its roots in Chicago, in the early 20th century. When gaming manufacturers started selling the Corinth game. A children’s version of Bagatelle pinball.
in the 1920s the game made it to Asia, becoming a hit in Japan. Where it became a staple of Japanese sweet shops, as a means of getting children to stick around, and stuff themselves with more candy.
And it soon got the nickname of “Pachi Pachi”, an onomatopoeia referring to the noisy, popping and snapping sounds of the game.
In the 1930s the game found a more mature audience, When the board was turned upright and made larger. However World War II began, and most of the machines were scrapped for metal. For a time the game disappeared, and didn’t reemerge until the late 1940s.
But it wasn’t until after World War II, that pachinko became really popular, with a surplus of metal ball bearings and factories across the country. and an entertainment sector, desperate to be filled. It wasn’t long before pachinko, Took the country by storm.
Typically most pachinko parlors, each ball represents four yen. with players depositing 500 yen into the machine, in return for 125 balls. For the first 30 years for pachinko is very mechanical, it all depended on the amount of force you put on the lever. This will dictate the direction of force, put on the ball bearing. And using the lever you launch them, around the pachinko machine with the aim of getting them into a pocket, known as the start chucker.
In the simplest games, this would lead to a jackpot. And a flood of ball bearings which flow down, Into your container at the bottom. and at the end of the game you redeem the ball some prizes. the more ball bearings you have, the bigger the prize.
And things got a lot more colorful, a lot more noisy, a lot more chaotic. Pachinko is since morphed into a slightly more complex game, the aim of landing balls into the start chucker remains.
However doing so opens up more holes to aim for, to increase your jackpot, and triggering some rather crazy-looking minigames, which are more reminiscent of arcade machine.
But, there’s more to pachinko than just a flood of ball bearings, and a dizzying array of colors. It is by far Japan’s biggest gambling market.
Gambling in Japan is technically banned, however pachinko parlors have found a way around it. At the end of a game you receive a coupon or ticket depending on the size of your winnings, You can then leave the pachinko parlor, and head around the back of the building, or down a nearby street. To a neighbor counter, Where you’re able to redeem the ticket, for a cash reward. And because it’s on a separate building, the gambling laws, they’re easily circumnavigated. I remember the first time I heard about this loophole on how comical ridiculous it sounded,
but, when you’re talking about a market worth 200 billion dollars, or four percent of Japan’s GDP. Well, it’s a lot of government tax revenue isn’t it? Pachinko parlors are typically difficult to film in, with the sort of strict policies you’d find, in a casino. But, we’ve been given access to film inside, a pachinko cafe in Takayama, in Gifu. In the heart of the Japanese Alps.
With a colorful noisy machines, stand in contrast to the town’s traditional, Edo era streets. The Ebis Cafe is part of a growing movement, to throw off the image of pachinko being a gamble or sport. Here you can’t redeem your winnings for money, but you can turn them into prizes. Like food, sweets, toys, or local sake. They’re keen to get the message out that pachinko isn’t about money. It is genuinely a fun, exciting, fast-paced game. And what better way to see it in action, than by finding out if Natsuki, The Pachinko Veteran. lives up to his reputation, of being a pro.
We’re not gambling here today because gambling is wrong (mainly because I always lose). What we are doing, is giving Natsuki 1,500 pachinko balls. And we gonna see how many balls you can turn this into.
If you can get 6,000 pachinko balls, in thirty minutes we can win the prize:
Takayama’s Number One Sake.
Natsuki: Takayama Sake?
Chris: Yeah, Natsuki, can you do it?
Natsuki: I can do it.
Chris: Yeah? Do you have balls?
– Natsuki: Of course. – Chris: Absolutely.
Go win me some sake!
Chris: I mean us. Us.
Natsuki (off camera): Ah Sake! Sake! I want a sake!
[Natsuki yelling about something]
[Natsuki saying something]
Watching Natsuki play I can understand how the game can be addictive, with the intermittent waves of ball bearings pouring down into the players inventory. Even if I understand the basics of pachinko, I’ll be lying if I said I completely understood what’s going on.
So Natsuki just done his first machine, he seems to win.. quite a few, quite a few balls, I don’t really know how he did it, I’m not sure even he knows, but, there seems to be some kind of technique.
Chris: Why do you think the pachinko so popular in Japan? What is it about Japanese culture?
And pachinko that go hand in hand. When most people think of pachinko, they think of noisy crowded rooms filled with smoke. However to counter that, the Ebis Cafe has a no smoking policy.
They have a restaurant area where you can sit, socialize, and eat and drink your winnings. and for foreign customers bewildered by how to play, there’s even detailed instructions, on how to learn, and master pachinko. As Natsuki hits the halfway mark in his quest to win me,
I mean uhh… Us, some-some… sake, I sit down with Keisuke Shindo, the manager of the store, who reveals perhaps the biggest change to conventional pachinko parlors. So, we’re now counting out Natsuki’s winning.
Chris: Three thousand four hundred and eighty eight!
Over twice the amount started, 1500, and finished on 3488.
Natsuki: Thank you!
Chris: Yeah, nice one.
Chris: Well done Natsuki!
Natsuki: Kampai! Chris: Cheers.
Natsuki: Kampai! Chris: Cheers. Kampai.
We did well, we did, so well.
Natsuki: Winning. Taste.
Chris: winning taste, it does taste like victory.
The taste, of teamwork.
Good job mate.
Well, it turns out pachinko isn’t as much of a mindfuck as I expected it to be. And Natsuki lived up to his word of being a glorified pachinko veteran. To learn more about Japan’s biggest game, to find out where we played, You can get all the details in the description box below.
– For now guys.. – Great! Great! Great! Great!
– As always… – I’m winning, I’m winning!
Quick Natsuki drink in we gotta, you’ve gotta get back in there and get some more balls!
Natsuki: Ahh! Good to see you!
Chris: You destroyed the whole, cup of sake.
Oh, you’re not gonna have a good night mate.
[Chris laughter] “I’m a drunkard.”
Ah… The confessions of a drunkard. What a way to end the session.
Credit to Abroad in Japan