In all the time I have been here, I played pachinko once to see what the fuss was about. I put 500 yen in the machine, flicked a lever for about ten minutes and walked out puzzled.
I remember I was on my way to work one morning at around 07:30 and I noticed a huge queue spanning around corners! I initially thought “hmm must be a free 1cm sample of cake” but to my surprise / shock / horror and disbelief, it was a queue for pachinko!!
Pachinko, what does it mean?
Before world war 2 it was named pachi pachi which represented the noise it made. It was used for kids to play especially at candy stores where they would stay longer to play the game and eat more candy! Around the 1930’s the game was introduced to a more mature audience when the board was turned upright. Then the war started and most of the machines were scraped for their metal. The game didn’t really come back until the late 1940’s.
After the war there was a huge amount of metal (ball bearings) and a massive gap in the entertainment industry. Pachinko was back and took the country by storm.
Playing pachinko was quite simple to play. One ball was 4 yen and you would pay 500 yen to get the balls which was 125 of them. You would use the lever to dictate the amount of force to hit the bearing with and try and get the ball in the pocket which was called the start chucker. This would trigger the jackpot in the simple machines, and you would get a lot of ball bearings which you would change for prizes. The more ball bearings you have, the bigger the prize.
Then, in the 1980’s the machines got a lot more noisy, bright and electronic! The aim of the game remains the same but nowadays hitting the start chucker will open more holes to increase your jackpot as well as starting a sort of arcade machine to increase your winnings even more.
While Pachinko is Japans biggest gambling market, it is illegal to gamble in Japan! So, what’s that about? Simply you exchange your ball bearings for vouchers and then leave the building and go down a shady alley to a little place called “Tuc Shop”
This is where you exchange your vouchers for money. How is this legal? The Tuc shop is not in the same premises as the pachinko parlour so there’s your loophole!
Pachinko parlours are very easy to find. In fact, if you don’t see one within 500 yards of walking out of a train station, there is something very wrong!
Now you may think how insane that is, but the amount of money Pachinko parlours make across Japan is around 4% of Japans GDP and that’s a lot of tax revenue for the government…. Isn’t it!!
So, while it sounds like harmless fun, it is extremely addictive, and people have lost their homes and families to this game. It is gambling no matter how you look at it. Japanese people love to try their luck, from lottery, scratch cards to fortune telling. It is that feeling that is the drug. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
The problem like any drug is that when you start spending 10 – 30,000 yen at a time and constantly lose, you need to win, you must win. You must prove to yourself you can win and then it is dangerous. Even if you win a big amount one day, have you really won anything? The amount you lose building up to the win will rarely equal out. Then of course you think you will win big again, so you go back and pretty much waste all you won and back to square one (or worse)
For me I was very shocked during the huge earthquake of 2011. Everywhere the power was shut off to conserve the power needed for the government etc and it was crazy. Candlelight dinners were back LOL. But the pachinko parlours were still open, and can you imagine how much power was needed for all those machines?!?! Why I hear you say, simply put by the government “we will keep the pachinko parlours open for MORALE. Excuse my language but what a crock of sh&%. They kept them open for tax revenue and that’s all.
So, before you go wasting your money at these places, get a scratch card instead!