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What is pachinko?

Pachinko is often described as Japanese pinball. That sort of describes it. While it is similar to pinball because of the steel balls that are used, it is quite different. 

To play pachinko, you first purchase balls. The balls can be purchased by inserting money in the slot on the machine. The balls will come out of the machine into the "loading area". Then by turning the "shooter knob" to the right you can adjust the speed that the balls are shot into the machine. The balls are shot rapidly into the machine and the fall through a series of "pins" which look like nails. The balls bounce off of the pins and occasionally will enter in to a "pac- man-like hole" which "mouth" frequently opens and closes. Certain holes trigger a mini, usually digital, slot machine game in the center area of the machine. If you are lucky the correct combination will line up on the "slot machine" and you the machine will start what they call a "fever".  Basically this means that the machine is going to go wild and you will get a lot of balls. 

Pachinko's big secret

This secret is really not a secret because everyone in Japan knows it. Let me explain. It is illegal to gamble in Japan. But, everyone knows that pachinko is played for money. So, how come pachinko is allowed? Inside the pachinko parlor, the balls that you have won are brought to the "ball exchange area" and exchanged for some trivial prize (perfumes, coins etc.). Even though there are other prizes, no one ever takes them. This is the secret. You take the trivial prize that you have won, and leave the parlor. Somewhere nearby the parlor there is an "exchange place". It is normally in an alley. The type of dark, narrow alley you might imagine. The exchange place is normally just a window in the wall. Your face can not be seen by the person in the window. Just push your prizes into the window and they will be exchanged for cold hard cash. One of the boxes like above is currently worth around 7,000 yen.
Inside a Pachinko Parlor
There are pachinko parlors in every town.
Balls, Balls, Balls!
The balls are traded for prizes.

Pachiko Parlor Sign
Pachinko is one of Japan's favorite pastimes.
Glossary of Terms


kankinjo the place where prizes won at pachinko are traded for money


pachi puro short for "pachinko pro", this is the term used to describe someone who is a pro at winning at pachinko
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