Cultural Phenomenons: Why Is Japan Called the Land of Pachinko?

A single visit to Japan is all it takes to see that Pachinko parlors are around every nook and corner of the country. Due to the noise and the crowds typically gathering next to one of these casino establishments, they’re not particularly hard to locate either. At night, there will be flashing neon signs guiding your way to them, which adds to the magic of the experience.

But what makes pachinko the gambling craze of the nation that brings in 30 times more revenue than Las Vegas and one of Japan’s signature cultural phenomenons? Let’s take a look!

The pachinko machines are unique in their own right

Upon the first glance, modern pachinko machines look like something you’d find in a typical casino. But underneath the enclosing, there is a mechanism that resembles the one a pinball machine comes equipped with, since you’re flinging balls that travel around its insides. If the ball finds its way into the right socket, a payout is triggered. The initial balls is what the players rent from the casino and any subsequent ones they win can be exchanged for prizes.

You get your own assistant who carries your winnings

Since pachinko machines tend to pay out more balls than what you put in, there is a lot to carry. In such cases, you can signal the casino attendant to carry your winnings (be on the lookout for staff members wearing a yellow jacket).

The catch is, you will not get your winnings in cash. Instead, numerous handy prizes await, ranging all the way from books to perfume, cd’s, dish soap, etc. If you prefer to be paid in cash, there is usually a place to do it somewhere in the vicinity.

Japan’s gambling laws

The above-mentioned practice is a way to circumvent Japan’s gambling laws and the authorities seem to be taking a passive stance on the matter. Do bear in mind you should not ask for the location directly.

Instead, ask for special prize tokens and locate it yourself. So in the eyes of the law, pachinko is not considered gambling, although it encompasses all the elements that would classify it as such (minus the payout and prize distribution). Recently, the regulators passed a law that legalizes it in its entirety, although it took more than a decade of heated arguments for it to reach this stage.

The Japanese population faces a widespread gambling addiction

It is said that one quarter of Japanese like to spend the majority of their leisure time playing pachinko, the majority of which are seniors. However, a sizable chunk of the younger population can be found playing the game as well.

To make matters worse, a notable percentage of young Japanese are battling a video game addiction and they have a predisposition to spend an unhealthy amount of time at the pachinko parlors.

Pachinko now and in the future

With the decreased pressure placed on operating a pachinko parlor, the atmosphere will be much more relaxed, and the social stigma of gambling is expected to draw in an increasing amount of players.

The parlors are steadily becoming much quieter and even the pricing seems to be much more within the players’ reach. So if you’re looking for a pristine Japanese experience during your travels, pachinko is as good as it gets.

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