One of the things I vividly remember as a child was my father bringing me to the video arcade to spend hours playing flashy pinball machines. There was always something mesmerizing about watching as the steel ball bounced from flipper to drop-target to spinner. This may explain why I was adamant about going to the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas and also why I was immediately drawn to the pachinko parlors that are scattered throughout the busy streets of Tokyo. I longed to try my hand at this Japanese game that resembles a vertical pinball machine.
As you walk past the pachinko parlors their doors slide open and all you can hear is the clink, clink, clink bellowing from them.
Rows of machines, mostly occupied with avid players, can be spotted inside. I passed a few of these places before getting up the courage to walk inside and try my hand at this popular form of gambling. I had only been used to playing online where you pay by phone bill bingo sites and there isn’t much skill involved.
Technically, it is illegal to gamble in Japan, so your winnings (i.e.: steel balls) are exchanged for tokens or prizes that can later be swapped for yen at a separate location.
Sounds like the perfect gambling loophole.
Walking into a pachinko parlor in the Shibuya section of Tokyo, I was struck by the suffocating amount of smoke and the overwhelming noise. Circling the playing area, I found one empty seat and immediately popped my competitive butt into it. I put 1000 yen (about $10 usd) into the blinking pachinko machine.
Balls started to fall. What do I do now?
The object of the game, in the most simplistic terms, was to fire balls that will then fall through a maze of metal pins. Try to capture as many balls as possible in the center hole, which will then allow you to play a virtual slot machine and increase the potential of releasing more tiny balls directly into your winnings basket.
Sounds simple. Not so much.
I started to fire my pachinko balls with absolutely no strategy. This did not bode well at all with the neighboring players. They quickly started to correct my technique, or lack there of. But, between what I had learned online, the flashing lights, the blasting noise and passionate pachinko people trying to instruct me, I got confused.
In the end there were no balls in my basket. I lost.
Want to learn how to play pachinko? Here’s a video to show you how.
Tokyo Bucket List: 44 Top Things To Do in Japan’s Coolest City
Japanese Culture & Tradition Facts: 11 Etiquette Tips Before You Go
Watch Wrestling Practice at a Sumo Stable in Japan
Japan’s Hottest Show: Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku
Visit Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market
Shinjuku Nightlife: A Guide to Tokyo’s Best Golden Gai Bars
Best Quirky Café in Japan? Tokyo’s Calico Cat Café in Shinjuku
Eat at a Themed Restaurant in Tokyo