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Pachinko – Get your Gambling Fix in Tokyo!

Today I will answer the first of the many great questions that I received when I asked “What do YOU want to know about Tokyo?” More of the questions and answers will follow during the month of June so stay tuned…

Andrea Kirkby from The London Traveler said:
I remember a great song by the Pogues called ‘Pachinko Dream’ which had the most compulsive little mandolin riff I’ve ever heard together with sampled real pachinko sounds. Now, I want to know where to find a real pachinko parlor – and how you play it….

Pachinko parlors are everywhere in Japan and they closely resemble what most people think of as casinos but they are much more common. Playing the game is a popular pastime for the Japanese and you can find a Pachinko parlor in almost every neighborhood in Japan. Just listen for the lively sounds of a casino or video game arcade and there is probably a Pachinko Parlor close by.

Playing pachinko is a rather passive activity and it is a cross between a pinball machine and a slot machine. The game itself is very straightforward – head for your local Pachinko Parlor and purchase a supply of the tiny steel balls that are the ‘currency’ of the game. These balls are propelled into the pachinko machine by turning a dial on the front of the machine. The balls then fall down through a vertical maze that resembles a pinball machine standing upright. If a ball lands in one of the designated winning slots the players is then paid off in more balls….and the cycle continues….

When you have had your fill of play take any remaining balls to the back of the Pachinko Parlor where you can exchange them for prizes. Read more about the prizes, underworld connections to the game and listen to the song that Andrea referred to after the jump.

The prizes given by the parlors themselves are legal and consist mostly of items like crackers, pickled plums, cigarettes or candy, although some parlors offer a much wider range of household products and even home electronics. Virtually all pachinko parlors also award “special” prizes that can be exchanged for cash. These cash payoffs are not legal, and almost always involve underworld sources, but arrests or legal action are practically unheard of.

The article Pachinko – Japan’s National Pastime explains how the prizes can then be exchanged for money and talks more about the games history and its ties to the Japanese underworld.

For those of you that are not familiar with the song that Andrea mentioned, it is simply titled Pachinko and Andrea was right, it is an addicting little ditty. I have to thank her for introducing me to this great band! Here’s the song:

Thanks for the question Andrea! I hope that you enjoyed the snippet of The Pogues song that you recalled.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia, PachinkoPlayers