• 03 . 08 . 04
  • Gambling is illegal in Japan, except where it isn’t. Which is everywhere you can find a Pachinko parlour. Which is everywhere.

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Pachinko is the probably the closest thing you get to gambling in Japan. If you’re lucky, you can win quite a bit of money. It’s kind of similar to pinball, only you have hundreds of ball bearings and no flippers. You buy the balls from a vending machine and then fire them into the pachinko machine. The only skill involved is controlling how fast they are fired in using a dial on the side of the machine. Other than that, it’s pure luck. The majority of the balls fall straight down into the void at the bottom, but the odd one will go into the winning chute. What do you win if this happens? Why, more ball-bearings so that you can keep playing!

Fruit machines, casinos and the like are illegal in Japan. You can’t win money directly from the machine. How then can you win money, if all you get out of the pachinko machine is ball-bearings? Well, here’s the trick. You keep playing until you’ve amassed thousands of the little balls (and people do getthousands). Then, as far as can work out, there are two options. You can exchange your balls for presents, in the form of stereos, TVs or whatever. Or, you can leave the building carrying your ball-bearings and go next door to a conveniently located ball-bearing purchasing shop. These buy your ball-bearings from you and give you cold cash in exchange!

Because the two shops are independent (though obviously affiliated), the whole thing stays nice and legal. You have to leave the premises to get your money, so it’s not the pachinko parlour paying you. Very handy. This seems to me to be a typical Japanese solution, preventing or prohibiting something but having a convenient solution so the proles don’t go nuts. Other examples include, but aren’t limited to:

  • We don’t have nakedness, (but we have schoolgirls in panties).
  • We don’t show genetalia in the media, (but we have tentacle porn).
  • We don’t have an army, (but we have a ’self-defense force’ stationed in another country).

Anyway I decided to give it a try the other day and see if I could make a bit of money. I didn’t. I was there for 5 minutes and lost ¥1000. In that time, my eyes went funny from looking at the vaguely hypnotic swirling displays and I got a headache from the music which is so loud, you literally can’t hear yourself think. Not my cup of tea…

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