Pachinko is Japan unique cultural amusement, it says here on this sign in Akihabara.
But that’s clearly for the tourists. For the real experience, I went to Shinjuku.
First I went walking around Shinjuku a bit. It was late afternoon, so things seemed a bit more lively than when I was here yesterday morning. The PA system was blasting out a boogie-woogie by a female singer where the only words I could understand were “boogie-woogie” and “Shinjuku.” When it finished, there would be a short announcement of some sort and it would start over again. I probably heard it at least eight times.
I went down one street I hadn’t seen before. It looked like it might have pachinko parlors. And it did, but as soon as I’d gone about half a block, I noticed that people were looking at me. Not menacingly, but furtively. One guy walked by me and said “six” as he passed. A little ways farther, another guy did the same. “Six what?” I thought.
Well, maybe I’ll try that pachinko parlor back by the station.
The guy at the door knew a few words of English and showed me what to do. What you do is basically this: Hold onto a dial. That’s it. Of course, you drop a coin in at the beginning, but after that, you hold the dial that controls how hard the little steel balls are shot into the mechanism. You don’t change this, you just pick a good level and hold it there.
Pachinko looks like pinball on its side. You shoot balls in at the top, and they bounce down among a bunch of pins. If they land in a narrow opening, you get points.
In the middle of this is a video screen with cartoon characters moving around and saying things in Japanese. I had a bunch of sea creatures with different point values, and a bikini girl who kept telling me how well I was doing. Arcade music blared at the same time and got faster whenever I was winning.
Every machine in the parlor had some variation on that theme and they were all blaring at the same time.
There was a non-smoking section, but this wasn’t it. And it was stiflingly hot. So I sat there in the heat and the visible cigarette haze and deafening music, holding the dial so that the balls shot to just the right point, as determined by sheer guesswork, and wishing that the balls would run out so I could leave.
At that point I started winning.
Not a lot, because each ball is worth 1 yen. But the balls kept coming out, and they filled up one tray and bikini girl told me I was lucky and that I had a “bonus get” so even more balls came out.
Eventually, the odds caught up with me and the balls stopped, but I still had a tray full to cash in.
Now, gambling for money is illegal in Japan, but gambling for prizes is not. So you take your tray of balls to a counter in back, where they count them and give you a receipt and you exchange the receipt for prizes that add up to that dollar amount. You can then take the prizes to an ostensibly separate establishment that will give you cash for your prizes.
I cashed in my tray of balls for a box of cookies, a box of chocolate, two cans of beer, and two pieces of candy. And then I realized that I had no idea where to cash this in. They weren’t going to tell me, because they had to keep up the charade that they were separate establishments. I wandered around the area looking for a while, but there was nothing obvious.
So basically I got some groceries I didn’t want in the most inefficient way possible.