If you have been to Japan before, you have surely walked past noisy, smokey places with colorful fronts and commercials. These arcade-like parlors are for playing pachinko, a game system that looks very similar to pinball.
Pachinko machines used to be non-digital making the result of the game partly up to the player’s skills. But nowadays, all machines are digital and therefore nearly entirely decided by chance. How is the game played? And can you play pachinko without understanding Japanese?
It is said to have been invented around the time that Japan was in the midst of WW2 in the Japanese city of Nagoya. While most forms of gambling are illegal in Japan, pachinko is an accepted legal form of gambling. You have to be 20 to play, but there are no other conditions.
How it Works
Pachinko consists of the player buying a large number of steel balls and then inserting them into the machine.
In the center of the machine, there is a kind of regulator. After the balls have been thrown in the machine it needs to be turned to make the balls come out thrown downwards. Most of the balls fall to the bottom of the machine without providing any prize. But a select few of them fall into a kind of small box that gives the player a bonus by winning more balls. This is the objective of the game.
The game is over after you lose all your balls, but what if you win balls with the bonuses? In that case, you can either choose to continue playing or exchange them for prizes. When the player wants to change his winning balls, he presses a switch at the top of his gaming station. This calls a member of the staff of the premises, who takes the winning balls to an automatic counter to see how many there are. After recording the number of balls won by the player, the manager gives the player a ticket that notes that number.
As the game doesn’t require any language, it is not too difficult to play it as a foreigner who doesn’t speak Japanese. But we strongly recommend asking someone who knows the game to go with you the first time. Or you can ask the staff for an explanation. If you don’t understand what to do when you enter a bonus level or don’t know when or how to cash out, you can lose money even when winning.
The player then takes the ticket to the exchange center of the venue. Among the prizes available there will always be one known as a “special prize”. These are typically something silver or gold inside a small plastic box. They can be sold for cash at an establishment that is always close to the pachinko location.
The special prizes are obtained depending on the number of balls won. For example, a special prize valued at 1500 yen outside the store is offered to the customer for every 400 balls won. That is assuming that each ball originally cost 4 yen. Sometimes you will just get a ticket with the number of balls left after having chosen smaller prices first. You can exchange this ticket for cash.
The vast majority of players choose the special prize in exchange for their balls. Choosing the other prizes only when the amount of balls is not enough for a special prize. Apart from the special prizes, there is also a wide variety of other prizes. Examples are pencils, lighters, household appliances, toys, or cigarettes. Winning aside, most people of course lose money playing pachinko, so it is recommended to enjoy the game in moderation.
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