Japan is such a fascinating country, with the bright lights in the cities, the culture and history, even the extreme adoration for anime. There are not many other countries that come close to having such an interesting vibe like Japan.

If you haven’t heard already, the Japanese Pachinko Machine is a fascinating, and vital piece of Japanese gambling history.

The Japanese Pachinko Machine is often thought of as a ‘vertical pinball machine’ and looks like an over the top pokies machine.

If you have been to Japan you would have likely seen those seedy, dimly lit, and cheaply built rooms – often find yourself wondering “what are these places?” – the last thing you would have expected is a noisy, smoky, hypnotic type of gambling that is massive in Japanese culture – the Pachinko Machine.

Is this the first time you are hearing about Pachinko? Well if so, keep reading because this guide will give you everything worth knowing about this odd way that Japan goes about getting around its tightened gambling laws.

What is a Pachinko Machine?

While gambling is illegal in Japan (they are working on it – thanks to the big boost it will provide to the economy) the Japanese find their way around the tight legislation with their favourite, and most addictive of games – Pachinko.

Think of the Pachinko Machine as a pinball machine that is standing upright and involves small steel balls that are about 11mm in size. What is interesting is, players purchase or otherwise rent these steel balls by the Pachinko Machine operator so that they can use these to play the machines in Japan’s famous Pachinko parlours.

What do you do with the steel balls in Pachinko?

These steel balls are used instead of money or coins. Pachinko players shoot the steel balls along a metal track – like you would with a pinball machine.

The balls then make their way around the metal track until they slow down enough and drop into the ‘field of play’. Throughout this field are pins, bumpers, traps and cups – just like pinball machines – which act as deterrents and deflectors to manipulate the steel balls.

Once your ball lands in a cup you win a prize, but if the ball doesn’t land in a trap or cup – it will end up in the ‘catcher’ and the Pachinko Machine wins, thus the player loses.

What do Pachinko Machines look like?

These Pachinko Machines are really cool-looking, and if you think of a fusion of pokies and anime, you will have a general idea about how they look.

This is the perfect way to think of Pachinko because it is widely understood as having a similar aficionado as the pokies do for Western Culture – even the addictive nature.

In the modern day Pachinko parlours, the machines are infused with screens and their features are linked to cool anime themes, just like video pokies. Up until the late 1980s these machines were completely mechanical – it is hard to decide what were louder though – the mechanical machines with steel on steel clanging, or the Japanese culture anime blaring Pachinko Machines of today!

Check out this video to get an idea of just how popular the Pachinko Machine parlours are and what it’s like to play a game of Pachinko – just be ready for the sensory overload!

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History of Pachinko

With an estimated 10 million regular players of Pachinko, the industry in Japan earns more than the combined revenue that is generated by all the casinos in Las Vegas – crazy for a country that made gambling illegal!

This at least gives some perspective into the game; the history of Pachinko can be traced back to the early 1920s, the first rendition of the game was called the “Corinth Game” which was initially supposed to be a children’s toy like bagatelle – which was a French import and had the same premise of a spring launching balls into traps to score points.

In 1948, after World War II – the very first Pachinko Machine parlour opened and allowed adults to play the game in a larger format. Fast forward to the 1990s and the game of Pachinko was at its peak, with more than three times the current player base – the Japanese were spending over 30 trillion yen each year on Pachinko (that is $411 billion AUD), as well as causing huge social problems all over Japan.

There were even highly publicized cases of children suffocating and dying in cars while their mum’s played in Pachinko parlours.

The phenomenon of Pachinko in Japan is so popular that players are still spending 23.3 trillion yen each year. This success, although still technically illegal, has seen police take a much more relaxed approach to the back door antics of the Pachinko industry.

Gambling in Japan

As we said, gambling is widely illegal in Japan, however, horse racing, bicycle racing, and boat racing are allowed – they are also overseen by the Japanese government. This is because the Japanese Criminal Code 1948 legislates that gambling activities not under control of the government are forbidden – so casinos, lotteries, and even games of chance.

Pachinko on the other hand, is much more tolerated with the Government. Although it is considered a dirty business, many of the Pachinko Parlour owners are in fact operated under Korean ownership.

There is even a conspiracy that claims that Japan’s biggest parlours are funnelling the profits to the North Korean government.

For a society that is so interested in gambling and love to play Pachinko, it does lead to a hard proposition for the Japanese government to make. The legalisation of gambling in Japan will boost their economy and benefit the tourism industry a lot – but this does run the risk of damaging the social fibre of that economy itself.

In a similar sense this is what we see in Australia, with the Australian Gambling Statistics painting a grim picture of the average loss per capita of over $900 each year from gambling.

It is interesting though because the Japanese government clearly know there is a lot of money to be generated through the legalisation of gambling. While the discussions surrounding the legalisation of gambling are ongoing – their government passed a bill to start the process towards the end of 2016; the matter will take some time to work out properly.

It is clear the country wants a gambling landscape. They’re also considering making it legal due to the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, even if this is just temporary for the games!

Pachinko Etiquette in Japan

Pachinko Machines are such an odd pastime, even the socially accepted etiquette for Pachinko is peculiar. Check out these three unwritten rules and make sure you stick to them when playing Pachinko in Japan:

  1. You need a poker face

Players must not show any emotion, whether you win or lose – it needs to look the same, especially with the dense and packed in nature of Pachinko Parlours. A far cry from the hootin’ an tootin’ that us Aussie’s do on the pokies, even for $20!

  • Never pick up a full tray

You just don’t do it, there is a button which calls over an attendant and they will help you with your steel balls.

  • Watch where you walk

It’s tight in these Pachinko parlours, so be careful where you walk because if you kick someone’s tray over – you will not be a popular person.

Kevin Wellington
Kevin Wellington is a freelance writer whose favorite topics are casinos (online and land-based), travel, and food. When he’s not contributing to Planet 7 Oz, he’s out trying to convert Millennials from phone zombies to surfers, mainly by chucking them into the sea, smartphones and all.
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