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They are hard to miss; beacons to the people; neon lights in mesmerizing combinations that would make a drag queen envious; structures that appear to have been formed by the immense tectonic activity responsible for the mountainous Japanese landscape. These are the pachinko parlours, places drawing people from every part of society and age bracket and bathing them in a sea of loud colours and louder sounds.

Pachinko, basically an upright pinball machine, has its origins 85 years ago. ‘The Corinthian Game’, created in America, made its first appearance in Japan in 1924. The first Japanese machine ever made was called ‘Masamura Gage’. Made 56 years ago by Nagoya based Masamura Company, Masamura Age was merely made up of nails driven into a wooden backing board, allowing the pachinko ball bearings to run through the spaces and fall into specific holes. Much like the machines of today, the direction the balls took and subsequently which hole they ended up in depended on how each ball struck the nails. Unlike the machines of today, this was determined, by a spring loaded ram used by the player to fire the balls into the main area of the pachinko game.

In the 1980’s a new type of system was introduced. Popularized as ‘fever’, pachinko companies developed a higher payoff system for players, increasing the size of the jackpots which automatically increased people’s interest (and hence spending) in pachinko. Today’s pachinko machines are a far cry from those half a century ago with a vast number of improvements made and steps in ‘pachinko evolution’ taken. Cutting edge gaming technology, high resolution LCD displays, and a plethora of choices greet today’s pachinko player.

Despite the current popularity of pachinko, the industry has seen some lean years. In fact, pachinko almost didn’t make it past the Second World War as legislature made it illegal during the national crisis. Luckily, after the war, reforms were made and pachinko parlours could once again open their doors to the public. What’s more, the introduction of slot machines and new systems focusing on ‘high risk, high return’ strategies have increased pachinko’s appeal, with the industry experiencing an unprecedented explosion in popularity. The ever-expanding group of pachinko diehards even includes professional pachinko players or people whom have become known as ‘Pachi-pro’. Their salary depends on how well they do every time they hit the floor of their local parlour.

So why are people so absorbed in pachinko?

A local pachinko owner indicated 3 reasons people play:
1. To kill time.
2. To earn money.
3. To enjoy themselves until they hit the jackpot.
He went on to say that people have fallen in love with the idea that they can make money while killing time. The owners of these parlours are also paying closer attention to the presentation of their product and are making sure people can play in clean and tidy conditions, adding to overall enjoyment.

Advice for pachinko: take note of the amount of money required to play each machine. Recently, machines that require a lot of money to get the balls rolling have been on the increase.
You might also want to consider taking along some ear plugs. Pachinko parlours are noisy and if you are considering staying a long time you will be exposed to a significant amount of bells, rings and high tempo dance music.

Good luck with your pachinko experience and if you have any requests or comments about the king of Japanese popular entertainment let us know at