Oh No! Pachinko
December 3, 2009
Imagine being the lucky soul selected to play a round of Plinko on The Price Is Right. Now, imagine you are packed into a narrow space surrounded by a bunch of other people also playing Plinko. Now imagine you are on acid. And, for good measure, a humanoid mecha is involved.
Welcome to the strange world of Pachinko, Japan’s version of “not gambling” gambling!
Nabari boasts a pretty healthy number of Pachinko parlors, about four based on my amateur reporting. Yet I hadn’t embraced my inner middle-aged Japanese man and go into one until tonight. After a nice dinner at conveyor belt sushi, the group I was with wanted to do something else. With mercury surely flowing into our brains, that “something” ended up being a trip to a nearby Pachinko parlor.
For those out of the loop, Pachinko is more-or-less the most popular form of gambling in Japan. Players pick out a machine, plunk some yen down and receive several fist-fulls of ball bearings. The silver balls go into a slot that fires them upwards, the strength of the shot determined by a know the player twists. The ball flies into the machine, where it bounces off all sorts of pegs and spinny wheels. You want the ball to go into a hole in the middle of the screen…this prompts a slot machine-like sequence where you hope you get lucky and win more ball bearings. You keep firing balls into the abyss until you are out/ your family finds you sprawled out at the Pachinko parlor. A million other things can happen in the machine, but I have no idea what those are.
Yet, Pachinko isn’t technically gambling. According to a friend in the know, gambling for money is a no-no in Japan. How do Pachinko parlors get around this? By taking a page out of your local family fun center. You exchange trays of ball bearings for various items (teddy bears, handbags, spider rings) and then you can sell whatever you just won back to the center for money. See, a completely, non-shady business transaction! Couple this knowledge along with the fact their is a thriving Pachinko publication industry (magazines tell you how to win on new machines and other “strategies” for a game that comes down to what stupid peg the dumb ball is going to bounce off of), and it becomes clear this is the coolest racket around.
When I first entered the establishment, all my senses were instantly battered. Lights flashed all around, the smell of cigarette smoke hung around, the machines made enough noise to drown out a jumbo jet. I could also feel the part of me that says “this isn’t a good idea” vanishing as I walked around the narrow collections of machines. Some of the people camped out at their machines had amassed bins full of ball bearings…I figured “hey, it’s pure luck, why not me?” Thankfully I only 1000 yen on me so I wouldn’t veer into Ed McMahon territory.
Much like Las Vegas, each machine has it’s own unique, licensed personality. In Sin City it’s Honeymooners themed slots or Wheel of Fortune (or the machine I gambled on for the first time back in the day, the Kenny Roger’s “The Gambler” slots). In Japan, it’s samurai and busty anime mermaids. I stumbled upon a Neon Genesis Evangelion machine and decided to go with it because a.) it had a sweet robot on it and b.) I recently watched this famous anime in my spare time because c.) I will die alone. So I put my money into the machine and watched as the balls spilled out.
I twisted the knob, launching the balls away. Unfortunately, I pushed the knob into the “MORE POWER” level and was launching the poor things off into no-balls land. I wasted a fair chunk of my initial arsenal this way. I eventually found the right level of twisting, and locked myself in…and watched for the next few minutes. Pachinko is a very boring game, as all you can do is watch the balls hopelessly watch around and pray they land in the spot that triggers the anime cut-scene to play. I got that a whole one time, spending the rest of my time twisting a know and hoping the characters on my screen would line up in someway that would lead to more ball bearings. I ran out, and just like that my first Pachinko go ended.
I left the parlor ten dollars poorer and smelling like pool hall, but I also departed safe in the knowledge I never needed to go back to such a place again. Unless I wanted to spend three hours trying to win a slot car race track I could then exchange for forty dollars.