What Are Pachinko Parlors?
All around the world, the gambling industry has largely moved online. Slots, blackjack, roulette, and poker are now more popular in online casinos than they ever were in Vegas. The availability of mobile casinos and the fact that online casino game variants are simply more versatile are the two major factors that fuel the online gambling industry.
It’s different in Asia, though, especially Japan. With a ban on most gambling activities, this industry employs more people than some of Japan’s biggest car manufacturers. That’s all because of pachinko, the highly popular gambling game that doesn’t offer cash rewards.
Pachinko has still not been fully adapted online and is usually played in parlors. Think of them as Japan’s casinos which are usually run by Koreans. Even though there’s a social stigma associated with playing pachinko, the Japanese are not willing to stop playing the game anytime soon.
Pachinko parlors in Japan generate billions of dollars every year, with estimates in the $200 billion range. That’s more than Vegas makes, and a true testament to how powerful pachinko parlors are.
There are well over 10,000 of these spread around Japan and if you go for a visit, you can’t miss them. The flashing neon sights and the sound of steel balls clashing is an aphrodisiac for many people with a lure that’s too strong to ignore. We have already covered the most popular Pachinko machines so now it is time to see which are the most popular Pachinko parlors.
The Cultural Significance of Pachinko Parlors in Japan
According to the book Pachinko by Jin Min Lee, the parlors use a specific legal loophole to exist. Their machines don’t offer cash prizes – instead, you get paid in tokens for winning balls which are then converted to cash off site. The cash exchange is unique in the world of gambling, but a must since the Japanese government has banned most forms. With no real money being won on pachinko machines, the law can’t do anything.
In the past, the cash exchange businesses have been run by the Yakuza. That has deepened the stigma of playing pachinko even further, and many claim that the business is still run by the Yakuza today. Of course, government officials will have none of it, but who can tell what’s going on behind the curtain?
People in Japan spend half of their leisure time in pachinko parlors. The industry hires more people than the top 10 car manufacturers, and Japan has many. Surprisingly, pachinko parlors are usually run by Koreans. They were responsible for establishing the industry after World War II, and have largely remained in its control since then.
The main reason why Koreans found a job in pachinko parlors was the fact that they couldn’t get it elsewhere. The discrimination led to the creation of the game and the parlors, which eventually became a major hit in Japan.
Pachinko parlors in Japan are seen as second-class and dirty business. However, even beside that, their cultural significance is massive.
Are There Pachinko Parlors Outside of Japan?
At the moment, there are just a few pachinko parlors outside of Japan. These establishments are a part of Japanese culture and since pachinko’s influence has not spread outside of the country, you can’t expect to see many parlors in the West.
Some pachinko machines have been made available online, but that’s an entirely different experience compared to parlors. They’re noisy and often called the loudest place in Japan, and that’s something that can’t be replicated online. Pachinko parlors have a unique appeal that can’t be replicated, and are a business that’s too big to ignore.
If you want to experience pachinko the way it was designed to be, you need to play it in one of the top parlors in Japan. The good news is that there are hundreds of these, each one offering a large collection of pachinko machines.
Finding the Best Pachinko Parlors in Japan
As a person who has never visited Japan, you might think that pachinko parlors are hidden in dark alleys and are hard to find. Gambling is forbidden in the Asian country and the social stigma surrounding pachinko machines might lead you to that conclusion. However, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
The truth is that pachinko parlors are pretty hard to miss. Even if you don’t see one nearby, you can most likely hear it from afar. Many Japanese players recommend bringing ear plugs with you before you enter – it can get that loud.
Pachinko parlors are everywhere in Japan. From big cities such as Tokyo to the tiniest prefectures, they are impossible to miss. Most of these are for smokers as smoking is allowed in parlors. However, there are a few rare non-smoking parlors where you can go if you don’t love sitting in clouds of smoke.
Finding a parlor in Tokyo shouldn’t be that much of a problem. Most parlors in the city are nearby shopping strips, bus stations, and are usually located in buildings with a few stories. All of these parlors feature hundreds of pachinko machines, each one ripe for the taking.
In many ways, the experience pachinko parlors offer is no different than that of a casino. Think of a Vegas casino floor filled with dozens of slots, rows of people sitting in front of them. They all shout, swear, and may even punch the machines in anger. It’s a unique gambling experience that you can’t get online. Online casinos may rule the industry right now, but pachinko parlors are still the king for these machines.
Pachinko Parlors in Japan by Prefecture
There are hundreds of pachinko parlors in the biggest Japanese cities. Not surprisingly, Tokyo is in the lead. According to estimates, there were over 800 such establishments in Tokyo in 2019. With the popularity of pachinko constantly on the rise, we wouldn’t be surprised if the number in Tokyo is closer to 1,000 in 2021.
Pachinko is a major part of the leisure industry market in Japan. As such, the largest parlors are always situated on popular locations in the biggest cities. Busy shopping strips and stations are where you’ll find the top pachinko parlors in Tokyo. As mentioned earlier, you can’t miss them, whether it’s the mesmerizing lights or noise that appeals to you.
Dynam Japan Holdings, Japan’s second-biggest pachinko operator, has nearly 400 parlors in Tokyo only. There are hundreds of more in other prefectures, cities, and towns. The Pachinko Chain Store Association says that the industry employs over 220,000 people, with pachinko ruling over 40% of the entertainment sector’s overall value.
In total, there were over 20,000 parlors in Japan in the peak of pachinko popularity in the mid-1990s. That number has dwindled since then, but make no mistake – you’ll find pachinko parlors everywhere you turn.
The Most Popular Pachinko Parlors
One of the biggest such parlor is called Escape. Found in a massive building in the Sinjuku neighborhood, Escape has been a fan-favorite for years. It’s an open shop with countless machines in different themes and formats, where the minimum ticket is 1,000 JPY. That will buy you around 60-90 minutes of time on a machine and a single free drink (non-alcoholic).
On-site languages include Japanese and English, so you can easily find your footing if you’re a tourist.
One of the nation’s biggest parlors is definitely Zent Nagoya Kita. Located in Nagoya, it’s a massive space filled with hundreds of pachinko machines and top-level service. In total, it houses over 1,200 machines, and its development cost a whopping $100 million. That shows you how important this industry is and that operators are willing to spend big bucks to lure new players in.
In the Osaka prefecture, estimates say that there are nearly 700 parlors. Most of these feature hundreds or even thousands of pachinko machines and of course, top-quality customer service. Minimum buy-ins depend on the parlor, but in most cases, it’s in the 1,000 JPY range, similar to what Tokyo’s parlors offer.
While parlors are mostly situated in the big cities, you’ll easily find them scattered across Japan. Even smaller towns have a pachinko parlor or two, so if you’re visiting, you’ll surely get the chance to try one out.