Did you know that casinos are illegal in Japan? Although they have many other ridiculous gambling like Toto – J-League Soccer Pools, Bicycle Racing, Mahjong, and boat racing, the infamous casinos are still outlawed.
Of all the ridiculous gambling, I believe that pachinko and horse racing are the most popular gambling in Japan.
If you go to Japan and happen to see a building surrounded by flashing colorful lights, loud noises and techno music that plays at almost 100 decibel, and is covered by cigarette smoke that will make you a second hand smoker, then you have probably ended up in a pachinko parlor.
The history of pachinko machine is actually quite interesting, because no one is certain on its origin. One says it’s a knock off pinball machine while other says it’s a kids toy back in 1920, formally known as pachi pachi. Pachi pachi was a old machine with a wooden stick that the balls where launched with. At first this was a game that was designed for home use only, but later on it changed to a machine where children could win prizes like sweets, fruits or pencils. This became very popular and the machines started to show up in sweetshops, markets and at festivals. Soon the adults started to spend their time with the machines, but the prizes were then changed to things like tobacco, vegetables, soy sauce, or soap.
These days, people play pachinko to get money. What the pachinko parlor owner would do is award the prize, which can then be swapped for money in the thrift store located in the back alley, to avoid regulation.
You start off the game by buying some small steel balls (size of a #2 pencil eraser) that you feed the machine with. Each ball is worth 4 yen(4 cents-ish) per ball. You put your pachinko balls in the machine and then it starts the game (you will be needing a lot; I’ve seen people win 20 buckets filled with pachinko balls). The only thing you have to do is to control the speed that the pachinko ball is thrown into the pachinko board. The pachinko board consists of pins and gates, and the goal is to get the balls into the gates (sadly, you don’t get to control like a pinball machine). It’s a bouncy ride for the balls that usually ends up in a hole in the bottom and disappears into the machine. But if you get a ball into a gate, then you’ll get rewarded with more balls and also get to watch (if you play a digital pachinko, which is almost all pachinko machines) a colorful video filled with cute animations.