Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Pachinko Phenomenon

As Jules and I often say, Japan is certainly ‘the land of contradictions’! We are often amazed at the many subtle and delicate aspects of the culture, while at other times we are simply overwhelmed by the incredible crassness of it’s modern society. Such is the case with the plethora of ‘Pachinko parlours’ that are dotted around the cities and suburbs. For the uninitiated, ‘Pachinko’ is unique to Japanese society and is something like a pinball machine with metal balls spinning around in a circular motion. They look very much like a slot machine and in fact they are normally found in the same establishments. No doubt they are a form of gambling, even though technically gambling for cash is illegal in Japan. This is a law that is somewhat flaunted, as winning participants receive vouchers that are taken to premises closeby where they exchange them for prizes, these in turn can be exchanged again for cash! It is an interesting arrangement that appears to allow authorities to turn a blind eye to the whole transaction. Finding a Pachinko parlour is not difficult and while it’s appearance may sometimes blend into the visual chaos of many of the nightlife districts, it’s location will soon become obvious when the big sliding doors open…you can’t miss it! You are first hit by a wave of indescribable noise, with the sound of thousands of cascading ball bearings simultaneously whirling around the machines. Upon entering it’s even worse, to the point that you can barely think. The sight of row upon row of the machines, the deafening noise, the flashing lights, garish surroundings and the smoke filled room has you searching for the exit very quickly. Still, it somehow remains an extremely popular pastime throughout Japan with many adults from all walks of life spending hours sitting in line watching the balls spin around and around, with very little actual control over the result. It appears to be quite a mindless exercise with very limited chance of winning, but participants appear mesmerised. Perhaps it is the chance of that big win, it can’t surely be the atmosphere!! Whatever the attraction, it remains a complete mystery to these two westerners and yet another strange contradiction of life over here.

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