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Martial Arts


For a game that has become a national addiction it remains a real surprise that few people outside Japan have ever heard of it. 30 million regular customers mean that the ’industry’ is Japan’s largest - producing over Â¥25 trillion annually.

Typical pachinko parlour

Pachinko parlours are not difficult to find. There are thousands of them, spread across buzzing commercial areas and sleepy suburban streets. Providing a sensory overload, covered in massive neon signs, they are an essential part of Japan’s urban character.

Walk in, and you’re immediately greeted with rows and rows of flashing machines. Pop music is blasted at full volume in an attempt to mask the sound of the crashing steel balls. Uniformed staff scamper around with trays of balls or drinks. Mesmerised players sit in rows patiently attempting to control the speed at which the steel balls fall through the machine in front of them.

The aim of the game is for the balls to fall into the right holes - which when successful wins the player a prize - of yet more balls. After a hard night’s play, a lucky winner can exchange his metal balls for sweets, toys or lighter flints. Gambling is illegal in Japan, so parlours can’t offer cash prizes. However, the industry found a loophole. These useless trinkets are taken out of the parlour, around the corner, down an alley, to a conspicuous hole in the wall. Here, you can exchange your winnings for cash.

Here’s a quick guide to playing pachinko:

1. Get some change.

2. Sit in front of a machine.

3. Put some money into the machine. This puts balls into the tray in front of you.

4. Turn plastic dial a little. This shoots the balls into the game. Hold it there. Watch balls run through. Eventually one of the little balls will drop into a hole - you then win more balls.

5. Turn dial. Watch balls run through.

6. Repeat steps 1-5 until you run out of money.


"Pachinko bankruptcy" is a cliché of modern Japan and pachinko magazines usually feature prominent advertisements from "consumer credit companies". Economic stagnation hasn’t helped the situation - the neon parlours offering the chance of a quick profit to the desperately optimistic.




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