The Pachinko, a place and especially an addiction for many Japanese that can be found almost everywhere and in every city of the country of the rising sun. A kind of game of chance, with marbles, and above all, a place that makes a LOT of noise when you pass by. But what is it? This is what we will see today.
What is a Pachinko?
To define a Pachinko quickly: it is a mix between an arcade and a casino, with games based on the use of metal balls that you have to send in holes in order to win a maximum of points.
It is very complicated to define, but to make it simple, you have to buy marbles, insert them in a machine with lights and noise everywhere, and hope that the marble falls in a place with a good multiplier. If you are lucky, you get a lot of marbles at once.
There is a big part of chance, but also a part of talent: in Japan, gambling is forbidden, so you can exchange your won marbles for prizes once you have managed to get off these super addictive machines.
But Pachinko is much more than that...
Noise and lights everywhere
If there's one thing that will grab your attention when you arrive in Japan, it's when you walk past what appears to be an arcade, but makes a crazy noise while there are 3 levels of closed doors.
It's extremely noisy: imagine, tens of thousands of metal balls banging around, machines running at full speed, and super loud sounds/music when someone wins something.
These are features that are similar to a casino, but believe it or not, a Pachinko is much worse than that: the lights are super aggressive, the noise forces you to speak very loudly, while being overhung by a thick cloud of smoke on the ceiling.
A game on the edge of legality
In itself, the games in these Japanese casinos are not illegal, but it is the principle that comes very close. In Japan, gambling is forbidden, and Pachinko is a big part of it. In order to get around the law, you can't win money, you have to exchange your marbles for prizes, or keep them.
However, most of these casinos have a second building nearby, which is owned by another company, which buys back balls in exchange for a ticket of a certain value. And this ticket can be exchanged for money!
A juicy industry
If we talk in terms of gross revenue over a year in Japan, the Pachinko industry reached a peak in 1995 with more than 330 million dollars. Today, the industry still brings in about $200 million a year: it's a juicy business that accounts for over 4% of Japan's market value!
Today, Pachinkos are still widely used by Japanese people, mostly men with a small portion of women. Some go with a set budget to have fun, but most are in it for the addiction and fun of making risky bets in a fast-paced environment.
How does a Pachinko Slot work?
We will try to explain in a few lines how a Pachinko Slot works (the machine used), because in spite of our many hours of efforts to try to understand every secret of the Pachinko, it remains a universe specific to Japan that sometimes even the Japanese do not understand.
Between Pinball and the arcade machine
First of all, you have to understand what it looks like: basically, it was a kind of pinball machine as we know it, which sent a ball and naturally went back down the slope by passing through obstacles.
With time, it has been enlarged and tilted upwards so that the game goes much faster, and you don't see the time passing. The principle remains the same, make the ball tumble down hoping to hit a place that gives a lot of points!
The manual machines
Pachinko machines gained popularity from the beginning of the 20th century, but it was in the late 1940s that it really started to take off in Japan. These had a lever on the right, which is still found on some machines, that will throw the ball up when pressed and make it tumble down. Very noisy, with mechanisms that sometimes failed, but it was similar to the Flippers of the time.
Today, they've added a bunch of options, colors, sounds and more. The switch to electric has kept the lever on most machines, but it's also often a simple button to press to send the ball up. There are a lot of game modes, which have only one objective: to make you addicted to it!
How to play Pachinko?
First step before playing, you have to buy the material to play: go to a machine that will be able to exchange your coins and banknotes for these famous metal balls, generally at the rate of ¥4 (€0.031) for one ball.
Generally, players will buy several hundred of them to play for hours.
Find a slot machine
The Slot Machine is the machine on which you play Pachinko. That's why you can often see on the front of these seeming casinos "Pachinko & Slot" written. It is often very full, so you may have to wait a few dozen minutes to find your seat.
Insert the balls, and play!
Now it's all about luck, skill and above all addiction. You will be able to put your marbles in a space provided for this purpose, and press the lever or button generally on the right to send them into play.
Watch them scroll through the arcade, and if it hits a spot that has a big multiplier, bingo, it's an avalanche of balls that will fall!
Retrieve your batches
Collect your bags or basins full of marbles, and head towards a machine made to count the number of marbles you have won. Depending on the number, a ticket will come out, which you can exchange for prizes at the Pachinko reception.
Where to play Pachinko in Japan?
There is nothing complicated about it, Pachinkos are absolutely everywhere. Even in small towns lost in Japan, you will find them without worries: just walk in the streets, and you will hear the machines as soon as you pass the entrance!
If you go there, prepare yourself well: a lot of hours ahead of you, a wallet that is not afraid of spending money, and clothes that will be a hit in the casino!