Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Click on the picture to see a larger size one which is relatively readable.

Pachinko is one of those parts of Japanese culture which you hear a lot about back in the west. In the past, there was mainly fascination with the way in which the game works since it's relatively unique. These days, we tend to hear a lot more about parents who are addicted to pachinko whose children suffer injury or death due to neglect.

Technically, pachinko is a game and not a form of gambling but, in reality, it is gambling. Cash cannot be paid out directly for wins but people can take their wins around the corner to a shop and exchange them for cash. This is one of the reasons the game is so addicting.

The fact that this sort of back door gambling occurs right under the noses of the police is an indication that this is another one of those illegal activities that the Japanese just look the other way on. This sort of thing happens a fair amount in Japan. It follows the cultural trend of dealing with problems in a "case by case" fashion. They can enforce laws when they choose to but don't choose to unless they have a compelling reason.

I've been in a pachinko parlor exactly once and I hated the experience. I tried the game but couldn't see the appeal and the places are very noisy and full of smoke. The atmosphere and environment feel very seedy and they definitely have a Las Vegas slot machine feel to them.

While I don't go into pachinko parlors, I often walk past two local ones. One of the things you can't help but notice about them is that they frequently remodel. Part of the reason for this is that they change the machines but a larger reason may be they just want to offer a gaudy new design so people will not get bored with the environment. Perhaps a new look makes people feel like they're doing the same thing for the thousandth time in a new place.

The local pachinko parlors have gone through a kaleidoscope of themes and name changes but the business is always the same. The flyer pictured above was in our mailbox announcing changes to one of those places. It reminded me that one of the things that often goes hand in hand with Pachinko is cartoon characters of scantily clad and/or women with breasts that would make Dolly Parton feel inadequate about her upstairs. On this flyer, the cartoon seems to be reflecting the current fad in Japan of "maid cafés". I guess it seems to be trying to appeal to the otaku crowd that gets off on subservient cosplaying women. The black triangle in the corner is a coupon for a free drink.


Roy said...

Shari, you've been consistently blogging everyday since you began last year. And it's not just filler stuff like I do sometimes. I'm impressed! I'm actually starting to cut back on my blog time. It seems like the revenue is still increasing though. Can't understand why.

Anyway, about Pachinko. I knew a couple people who went to a Pachinko Semmon Gakko and actually made a pretty good living just playing pachinko. One guy consistently made more than I did every month. He'd "work" a few days until he made his quota and take the rest of the time off. Another friend plays pachinko to kill time and he ALWAYS makes about 50-70,000yen in just a few hours. Pachinko would interest me more if it weren't so smoky.

Shari said...

Hey there, Roy. It's always a pleasure to receive your comments both because you're so nice to me *and* because you always add something of interest related to the topic.

I had heard that there are people who can make a living at Pachinko. In my former job, we had a lesson which was devoted to gambling and many students wrote essays or discussed Pachinko with me in regards to the topic. They occasionally mentioned that some people make enough to live on from it and they always disapproved. I say, more power to them. If you can make a living at it and you're not hurting anyone, that's fine by me.

I had no idea, however, that there is a Pachinko college though. That really tickles me for some reason. :-)

BTW, I haven't forgotten the suggestion you made to me awhile back. I've been rolling the idea over in my mind for some time but I'm still torn.

I'm very pleased to hear, btw, that your revenue is growing. I think it's just compensation for past effort.

CMUwriter said...

When i was in high school a friend and i bought a pachinko machine from a yard sale for like $35 and tried to get it working. I think for the most part we were just enjoying the tinkering aspect with that. Also having tons and tons of shiny ball bearings was fun to play with too.

We got the think working for about 2 days before we fried the electronics in the thing, then during college it say in my friends house at his school, until he sold it to someone.

I found the game to be kinda like pinball. I am a huge pinball fan, and not to toot my own horn, but a skilled player for the non-pinball age. I read that in some european countries pinball is considered gambling, even though there is actually skill to it. Believe it or not you can control that shiny metal ball, although i don't use my sense of smell when i play.

Luis said...

I remember when my next-door neighbor got a machine; that was back in the 70's, when pachinko was a short but strong fad in the U.S. (remember Bob Newhart and the pachinko machine?). I also recall that owners of machines were very reticent to let others touch the things, probably because said guests would then detach from social interaction in a particularly noisy way.

In any case--you think the constant remodeling might be because regular patrons get to know the existing machines so well that they start winning too much? The thing about pachinko is, patrons usually search to find a machine (not just a brand or model, but a specific machine) which, if the launch lever is pulled just-so, will consistently win more balls. They will stick a coin between the lever and the machine to keep it in place. You can often see players just sitting there motionless, watching the thing go. It's kinda disturbing--probably one of the least interactive games you can imagine.

Shari said...

cmuwriter: I have a vague recollection of pachinko machines being sold in the U.S. but the ones I saw were relatively small, I think. I think pachinko does require skill to play and actually may be more complex than regular pinball though I honestly can't say for sure given my brief encounter.

I am surprised that pinball can be considered gambling in any way since there is no way to win money or prizes, at least on the machines I've seen.

I enjoyed the allusion to the song. :-) Thanks for your comment.

Luis: Though I mentioned changing the machines in my post, I don't think that's the main reason for the remodeling. They actually change the machines more often than they remodel the design. When I was regularly going home from JR station, I'd see them swap them out sometimes but that was some time ago. I'd be surprised in this day and age if there isn't a way to change the way the machines work electronically rather than to go through all that manual labor.

Oddly, I don't recall a Bob Newhart episode with a pachinko machine though I guess I will once that season comes out on DVD and we buy it. ;-)

Thanks for your comment.

lostinube said...

When I used to go out to my regular bar there was always this guy who would come in and his mood and how much he drank (or, to be more precise how much he could afford to drink) always depended on how his day at the pachinko parlor went.
Pachinko is a big business, what with the magazines and tv shows that give you tips on how to play and the video game versions (especially for the PS2) that people use to practice at home. The machines themselves can be hints as to what WAS hot recently -- it takes time to develop a new game (trying to develop new ways to have flashy リーチs and whatnot) so they lag a bit behind popular culture but the sheer variety of things used as the basis for a game is staggering. I've played on a Star Wars one before and you know the old ladies went crazy for the Winter Sonata one when it came out. By catering to the more otakuish crowd I think the machines have become more entertaining - you don't just have to sit there staring at the balls, there are animated scenes to watch if you do well and the machines go nuts when you do hit the bonus stages.
Here's one well known pachinko maker: http://www.fujimarukun.co.jp/
Some of their machines are based on the Thunderbirds and the Ring movies. Warning, the site is flash heavy and may make your computer cry.

Shari said...

Thanks for the link. My computer is new enough that it didn't even sob. ;-) It was very interesting to have a peek at. The designs are somewhat surprising.

There are a lot of people out there who would very likely love to get their hands on a Star Wars machine. I was thinking that it was too bad you don't have any pictures of it but then I remembered that this is the internet and came across this link: Star Wars machine

I don't know if this was the one you played but clearly, one can see how changing the designs might bring in the fans.

Thanks for your comment. :-)

lostinube said...

That's the one I saw. It was a while back when it came out..I think I was in Hokkaido in '05 or '06.
I live near a pachinko parlor so I often see the advertisements for the latest machines. Some of them make me want to go inside just for a look but I know that I'd want to start playing just in the off chance I might win money. Actually, the parlor is so bright that when it's closed it leaves the street almost totally dark and you feel a bit lonely.