pachinko japan

Japan Pachinko Machines. How it all started

The History of Japan Pachinko Machines

Everyone (well, almost) knows of how Las Vegas or Atlantic City came to be. However, the image we have of the Western gambling industry is pretty different than what the East offers.

Have you ever heard of the Japanese pachinko phenomenon? It’s a vastly different world of gambling compared to Las Vegas, pairing the best elements of slots and pinball machines. Of course, the blend is completely unique, so you won’t find a game that’s the same as a pachinko machine.

Japan pachinko isn’t classified as gambling at all. While there is a social stigma attached to it just like there’s one on poker or roulette, pachinko has a much different story than the gambling dens of Las Vegas.

How it All Came to Be

The Pachinko Japan industry is over 70 years old. It dates back to the post-war period which holds major significance for the development of the game.

There are several stories of how Japanese pachinko came to be. By most accounts, it was the result of imported games from the United States and Europe, mainly “Bagatelle” and the “Corinth Game”. This most likely happened in the period between 1912 and 1925 (or 1926). Pachinko commonly originated from vertical game machines that have already been active in Europe.

Stall keepers traded these machines in Japanese festivals. In the beginning, they were traded at “ennichi”, a special day in Shinto and Buddhist festivals. This is widely considered the point in time where pachinko Japan originated. In the mid-1920s, vertical game machines with 1-sen copper coins became very popular in Asia, especially Japan. With their popularity skyrocketing and people falling in debts by playing these games, the Japanese government decided to impose a ban.

That wasn’t enough to stop the onslaught of pachinko machines. It became a true hit with adults in Nagoya in the 1930s. From there, it spread to other parts of the country. All Japanese pachinko parlors were closed during World War II, but reopened in the late 1940s. At that point, they became an even bigger hit. The first commercial parlors was opened in Nagoya in 1948, and from there, the phenomenon of pachinko grew with no end in sight.

It even spread to Taiwan, a country occupied by Japan at the time. Most pachinko parlors were owned by Koreans, and nearly 80% of them in modern Japan are still Korean-owned.

A Peculiar Name

The unusual name of pachinko is derived from a “pachi pachi”. It’s a word that describes the clicking of small objects onto a crackling fire”, which is the sound the metal balls make when they make their way through the machine. The game of chance is similar to pinball in that way, although you won’t bounce the steel balls yourself – they go through a special set of loops.

The peculiar name is what makes the phenomenon of pachinko live on in Japan and the West too. Of course, the fun gameplay is a reason more to love it, which is why you should definitely try it.

A Game for Outcasts

Pachinko by Jin Min Lee is a popular series of novels that perfectly describes the Japanese period in which pachinko became popular in the country. We already mentioned that the game is closely associated with Koreans. It’s been called a game of Korean immigrants and outcasts, and always collected to players from the lowest walks of life.

The novel is a vivid recollection of the lives of the Korean minority and their role in pachinko parlors. In the postwar period, the Korean minority was not able to get a job in many industries like the Japanese could. They didn’t have many other choices than working in pachinko parlors. Years later, many of them would own their own parlors. Koreans are still tied to the game of pachinko today, even though the Japanese rule the industry.

Many have associated the game with the yakuza, and indeed, the notorious crime organization has run more than a few Japan pachinko parlors in its time. Many would argue that parlors are run by the yakuza today, although that’s not a cold hard fact.

Years of Decline

In the period after the Pacific War, pachinko was seen as a useless industry. The prizes which were first candies and cheap sweets were replaced by cigarettes which made the game popular among adults. However, it was a tough time in which there was a lack of metal resources, with household pots, temple bells, and even pachinko balls offered as compensation. This broke the pachinko Japan industry and drove parlors out of business.

The rebuild began after 1945. The industry began modifying prewar machines from rural areas and turning them into service. During this period, a major shift occurred that will turn the pachinko industry upside down. Takeichi Masamura, often called the “god” of pachinko, invented an epoch-making pin arrangement known as the Masamura Gauge. It transformed the machines of old into ones fit for the new era in a time when the power of pachinko was on the decline.

This simple modification made the pachinko even more fun. It contributed to the first major pachinko boom in the 1950s. It’s safe to say that it also paved the way for modern pachinko as we know of today. The Masamura Gauge changed the trajectory of the game without which we wouldn’t be able to play pachinko machines as we do today.

Pachinko Resurgent

During the 1950s, the main type of pachinko machines was called renpatsu-shiki. That translates to successive shot and described a new feature that sent the balls flying across the field automatically. This is the basis for the launch process we know of today. It came after the single shot (tanpatsu-shiki) process that shot fewer balls per minute compared to renpatsu-shiki.

With the new launch process, about 140-160 balls could be shoot per minute. It made the game bigger than ever, which resulted in a new explosion of pachinko parlors. At that time, around 45,000 parlors were active, up from a few thousand in the previous period.

A Government Ban Ruins it All

It was a time of renaissance for pachinko, although it also triggered the spirit of gambling. Unauthorized dealers were hanging around parlors and buying prizes on the street. Furthermore, due to the increased popularity of Japanese pachinko parlors, it brought the dangers of gambling into the public eye. The game became a target for the Japanese government who sought ways to impose a ban on pachinko.

That happened in 1954, when all renpatsu-shiki machines were banned. Tanpatsu-shiki machines were brought back in parlors in 1955, but the ban ultimately led to a drop in parlors numbers. From the 45,000 active in the years before, the numbers dropped to 10,000.

It was clear that the industry had to come up with something to keep the spirit strong. That’s when the biggest shift in the history of pachinko happened. Manufacturers started developing new pachinko machines which were free from the spirit of gambling. During this period, accessories such as yakomono, jinmitto, and tulips appeared. They enhanced the game of pachinko and eliminated the gambling element at the same time. New game types such as the Olympia machine (early versions of pachislots) were also developed in the mid-1960s.

New technological advances such as ball landing and ball feeding machines transformed pachinko parlors. The wider use of automobiles in Japan led to new pachinko parlors in suburban areas. The electronic devices grew increasingly popular all across Japan and these new electronic components ushered a new era in pachinko Japan. Electronic circuit boards were introduced, but despite that, it would take the industry a total of 20 years before it took off once again.

Undying Popularity

Pachinko Japan’s blockbuster success came in the 1980s. That was the time the Fever machine was launched. As the Japanese economy grew, so did the interest in pachinko machines. The number of parlors rose by thousands per year. The pachinko boom sent the machine’s popularity into the stratosphere, especially after the release of the Hanemono machine (simple type).

During the 1980s, there was an increased output of pachinko machines spanning a variety of themes. They came with new features too. Japan pachinko took the top spot in media entertainment, with millions of new players every year.

The undying popularity went on well into the 1990s. New technological innovations such as prepaid card systems and color monitors made the machines even better. The pachinko industry continued growing, becoming a giant that injected around 30 million yen to the Japanese economy annually.

The peak was reached in 1995, when there were just under 20,000 parlors in Japan. The industry became popular outside too, although you’ll rarely find parlors in the West. It’s more of a collector’s relic, with many collectors eager to pay thousands of dollars to get vintage and modern pachinko machines like Metal Gear Solid machine for example.

By the end of the 1990s, the industry started facing problems. It was on the rise, which resulted in a lot of public pressure. Ugly scenes from pachinko parlors and people going bankrupt have started emerging, leading to public pressure applied to the government. New regulations were placed in order to constrain the social problems related to pachinko Japan, especially consumer loans, rampant use of prepaid cards, and the worse one, infants forgotten in pachinko parking lots due to addiction.

It was all a bit too much to bear, leading to a drastically reduced number of parlors in the 2000s, and new regulations that have caused another decline.

How Does the Industry Fight Back?

The Japanese pachinko industry has decide to fight back against the regulations. It is ushering in a new modern era, where the price for pachinko balls has never been lower. You can now get a single ball for as much as 1 yen, which prevents players from spending a lot of cash.

At the same time, the industry is developing new entertainment-focused machines that attract a wide range of players. The industry is actively trying to prevent pachinko addiction, encouraging players to gamble responsibly. Of course, there are still issues here and there, but for what it’s worth, the pachinko industry is trying to regain its place in the entertainment industry the fair way.

While the market itself is shrinking, it’s also trying to overcome the legal troubles and obstacles set by the government. It’s showing positive signs in recent years after several campaigns for responsible gambling. The social problems associated with pachinko are not eradicated, but they’ve been minimized as much as possible. New parlors are opening up, such as the Zent Nagoya Kita which cost $100 million to build. It has over 1,200 pachinko machines, showing that the industry is very much alive and doing well.

In Tokyo, the Espace is one of the largest parlors, with three floors of pachinko machines. It’s set in the city’s center so you can’t miss it if you’re on a trip. Better yet, its location in the Shinjuku area proves once and for all that pachinko is the heart of the entertainment industry in Japan.

What Does the Future Hold?

Even though there has been a decline in parlor numbers, the industry is very much alive. New massive parlors are being planned as we speak, giving players even more incentive to play the unique game. Pachinko Japan is an undying industry that will keep going until the end of time.

It remains to be seen if the Japanese government puts more obstacles in its path. There’s a lot of public pressure even with the industry’s changes, with many being very vocal about the dangers pachinko addiction brings. However, it’s pretty hard to reject the appeal of parlors with their shining lights and clanking sounds too much to ignore. Of course, the winning appeal is one of the key factors why Japanese pachinko is still on the top of the industry chain.

Pachinko is big business in Japan, and it won’t be stopped anytime soon. As new parlors open and employ more people, it’s an industry that will certainly grow even sooner than most people believe.