Pachinko - Uniquely Japanese
Take a walk near any major train station in Tokyo and you’ll likely stumble upon a colourful façade with flashing signs and a million tiny lightbulbs. As you approach, the sliding doors open and the noise hits you like a ton of bricks. This is the Pachinko parlour, a National pastime and a mindless recreational activity that leaves Westerners dizzy and confused.
Pachinko is a kind of upright pinball machine and it’s very existence might explain the low divorce rate in Japan. More time spent watching balls fall through slots means less time spent at home arguing about who is going to wash the rice.
As you enter, you are confronted by a vending machine where you insert cash or prepaid cards in return for hundreds of steel ball bearings. Proceed with your balls to a vacant machine and check out the stats up top. Carefully check the needles to pretend you know how to spot a machine that pays out. They say the needles do play a part, and it is true, the wider apart they are, the more balls they will catch (duh!). At the end of each day the parlour staff twiddle the needles with a ball on a chopstick and tweak the code so it is hard to predict which machines pay out big.
Once you have found a machine you like, sit yourself down, pull out a mandatory cigarette and start puffing. Alternatively just breath the Japan Tobacco infused air around you. Take a cup of balls from your tray and place them in the machine. Pull the lever and maintain it in a position where it shoots the balls up with just enough strength that they come down and hopefully enter the winning slots with frequency. Once you have found the perfect trajectory, take out a JPY 100 coin and slip it in the trigger to hold it in position. This is a practice that might be banned in some parlours, and if so, just keep your hand in the same position for hours on end. Now when the balls enter the slots they will trigger wheels to spin, usually on a screen in the center, and much like a slot machine, get three sevens in a row, or three clown fish, or whatever and you win more balls! Much like slots, about $50 bucks could last five minutes, it could last a whole day. If you are lucky, you will end up with stacks and stacks of balls and a courtesy headache. Do a bit of mental arithmetic assuming that each tray full of balls is worth about $40, and there you have your winnings.
Now the dodgy part. Take your balls to the counter where you will see lots of prizes that you can exchange your balls for - toy robots, rice cookers, fluffy dice, calculator watches etc. Do not, however tempting the fluffy dice might be, ask for a prize. Just pass them your trays of balls, which will go into a counting machine. Don’t say anything, and they will give you tokens which look a lot like lighter flint boxes in different colours. You need to understand that gambling is illegal in Japan, but trade is not. So you win these tokens as a prize, then follow the next person to claim tokens out of the parlour and around the corner, usually into a dark alley. There, you will see him pass (sell) his tokens through a tiny booth window in return for hard cash. Don’t worry about getting nabbed by the police. The whole set up is perfectly legal and just exploits a loophole in the law.
Unlike (or much like) slot machines in Vegas, winnings will never make you a millionaire. An incredible day may net you $500, or more likely you will lose $100, but even in Japan, that is cheaper than divorce.
Dean Owen is Co-Founder of Quimojo, a revolutionary new concept in Global Campus Recruitment.
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