If you want to truly immerse yourself in Japanese culture, then you just have to try out a game of Pachinko on its home turf.

Popular in the country’s inner cities, you’ll find Pachinko parlours all kitted out with what looks like row upon row of Arcade games, except Pachinko isn’t just any type of Arcade game.  Likened to a mix between pinball and slots, you’ll often hear it before you see it.  It’s loud, confusing, chaotic – and that’s why everyone loves it!

With the mechanical version of the game released post World War 2, you aim to push on the lever in a way that gets the ball hitting the Star Chucker which triggers the jackpot. This leads to a flood of ball bearings emptying into the container below. At the end of the game you redeem the balls for prizes. The greater the ball bearings you have – the bigger your prize.

in the 1980s when Pachinko machines became electronic devices, things got a lot more colourful, with the game evolving and becoming slightly more complex. The aim of landing balls into the Star Chucker remains, however it now offers some rather crazy mini games as extras.

How to Play Pachinko

Typically, in most Pachinko parlours, each ball represents 4 Yen with players putting 500 Yen into the machine in return for 125 balls. In smaller cafes, 1-yen machines are gaining in popularity. Yen get converted to small ball bearings, and these balls are used to activate the machine and start the game.

Once the machine is activated, a lever on the bottom right hand corner of the machine gets turned to the right – releasing balls onto a metal track. The idea is to manoeuvre balls from the bottom upwards so that they hit a “bull’s eye” at the top. This will see them entering the playing field below and going through a series of pins and catchers. The balls bounce from pin to pin and eventually land in a hole at the bottom. (If a ball is “caught” slots are activated- the next level of play. If you hit three symbols in a row on the slots you win more balls.

Winnings are fast and furious experiences with balls hitting the trays in front of you in great numbers at great speed.

The more balls you catch, the more winnings are triggered.

Remember that your winnings can be exchanged for snacks or can be traded for token cards. The token cards are then “sold” for cash off-premises at a kiosk. As a general rule, you cannot exchange Pachinko balls for cash at the parlour itself.  As long as tokens are “sold” for cash in a separate building, the transaction is legal, and in accordance with Japan’s gambling laws.

It is estimated that one in ten people play Pachinko in Japan with the industry generating 4 per cent of Japan’s GDP that’s a lot of government tax revenue. Little less than five years ago, the revenue generated from Pachinko parlours exceeded that of Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore combined.

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