Haikyo – Pachinko Parlour
Another site that might well be new to the net today, despite being in a very visible roadside location. Pachinko parlours are a very common sight in Japan, both working and abandoned. Where I live there are actually an open parlour and an empty old one next door to each other. Despite being gambling establishments in essence (which are illegal in Japan) Pachinko is seen as ‘semi-gambling’ and are tolerated.
Despite seeing a good many closed down, due to police raids when owners step too far over the line or through simply going bankrupt, new ones are always springing up – and like love hotels they tend to be some of the most extravagant and eye-catching buildings around.
Closed down parlours are usually pretty tightly sealed off, but a quick scan around this one turned up an easy access route around the back and we were in.
I was quite excited about this as, although I’ve walked past pachinko parlours many times, I’ve never really been inside one. They always seem incredibly noisy and smelly places, with the chunk-a-chunk of metal balls catapulting around the machines (Pachinko means Catapult in Japanese) and winning bells and alarms ringing and almost everybody chain-smoking. So I was curious to investigate one of these loop-holes in Japan’s gambling laws without all that going on.
The downstairs was the gaming floor, rows and rows of gutted pachinko machines. I’m still not exactly sure how you play pachinko, all I know is that it requires next to no skill whatsoever, all you do is feed in small metal balls which are fired into what looks like a vertical pinball machine and if you hit certain gates or targets you can win MORE small metal balls, which you can collect in little plastic trays. This is a way of getting around the gambling laws which would prohibit gambling for money, instead the balls you win can be traded by weight for prizes at a special counter in the parlour (though I’ve heard that often near the parlour there is a small shop where they’ll buy these prizes off you for cash, though I’m sure these shops have no connection with the parlours….)
If we could have been bothered to haul away the balls left behind in this parlour we could have ‘won’ a few prizes elsewhere, though I’ve also heard that each parlour has their balls milled specifically for them so they can’t be transferred to another parlour (though I’m not sure I believe that). There were balls inside the machines, backed up on special feed tracks running above the machines and stacked in collection trays.
Heading upstairs we passed a mailbox with just numbers, no names, which matched up with the rooms opening off the corridor above.There was something oddly domestic, but impersonal, about how this was all set up.
All the rooms had contents that seemed to suggest just guys living here and the numbers suggested this was not family, but just a group of people staying here. Florian pointed out that a lot of parlours have organised crime connections. Six small bedrooms, with a shared bathroom and a small sparse kitchen, it was easy to imagine a few low-level Yakuza types hanging out here.
The office, the door to which had been forced open, had been thoroughly searched and keys were scattered everywhere, but there was still a huge, defiant, locked safe standing in the corner.
A lot of these looked old-fashioned and out dated (most modern pachinko machines have video screens embedded in them). So these may well have been replaced before the place closed down, but they give an idea of what pachinko is.
Lastly, because I don’t want to disappoint anybody – and I have noticed, since the Electronics Factory write-up, that one of the most common search terms that brings people to my blog is ‘Japanese porn magazines’ (you know who you are!) here’s this site’s almost inevitable porn stash – complete with a wrist exerciser (well it amused me).