Among the types of businesses that were requested to shut their doors due to the high risk of cluster infections of the coronavirus were pachinko parlors. At a press conference on May 13, however, the Tokyo Medical Association backtracked on its earlier opinions, posting a retraction and apology.
"At this point in time," read the statement, "there have been no reports of cluster infections at pachinko parlors. These were lumped together with other types of business...We regret this mistake and offer our apologies for any inconveniences caused."
But the damage had been done. A small number of parlors that failed to comply with the request to close voluntarily were specifically singled out for public shaming, first by the Osaka governor, and then in Fukuoka, Aichi, Tokyo and other prefectures.
These acts, considered quite extreme by Japanese standards, received heavy media coverage such as on afternoon TV "wide show" programs, where attorney Hideki Yashiro went so far as to blurt out accusatory comments like, "Pachinko parlors that don't close are, in a sense, stooges for antisocial groups."
The chorus of attacks notwithstanding, Nikkan Gendai (May 19) notes that the percentage of pachinko parlors that closed was actually higher than those of other types of businesses.
"During the Golden Week period, of 8,300 pachinko parlors, 8,196 closed, a ratio of 98.7%," said Takashi Kiso, director of the International Casino Research Institute. Pachinko, among the various business groups, had an extremely high ratio of closures. They responded energetically to the call for self-imposed restraints."
A factor behind the shaming may relate to appeals to people's emotions. The pachinko industry has a bad reputation and has long been on the receiving end of bias, with some people spreading the word via the internet that "pachinko exploits people with a gambling dependency and some shops remit their earnings to North Korea."
A survey by the University of Tokyo's Global Center of Excellence (COE) found that out of 1,548 pachinko halls, 37% had Korean backgrounds -- considerably lower than the 70% figure that has long been bandied about in the past.
"I can't rule out that some of the money might have been remitted to North Korea via China, but Japan's law regulating foreign exchange transactions would have put a stop to it," journalist Hayato Nakamori is quoted as saying. "The criticisms that pachinko parlors are dominated by Zainichi Koreans is mostly being perpetrated by the alt-right."
Nikkan Gendai also looked at the issue of "pachinko dependency."
A survey of people outside their homes during the voluntary stay-home period following the emergency declaration on April 7, conducted by Hoken ROOM, found that only 2.2% of respondents said they went out to play pachinko. That figure that roughly corresponded to the number of shops that remained open.
According to the Japan Productivity Center's White Paper on Leisure (for 2018), the average gross margin for pachinko parlors was 16.3%. On the average, customers left the shop 467 yen poorer. Why do people go then, if the chances of winning a premium are so low? Well, contrast that with a chuhai cocktail that sells for 100 yen at a supermarket but is marked up to around 350 yen at an izakaya. As opposed to drinking home alone, it seems worth it to pay a little more for the enjoyable atmosphere and to kill time.
Some accusations also surfaced that people who indulge in pachinko are "illegal gamblers." Is there any truth to this? During debate on the floor of the Diet, it was pointed out that pachinko parlor operations are controlled by Article 2, Clause 1.4 of the law governing public morals, and not Article 185 in the Criminal Code (concerning illegal gambling). Unless the government chooses to enforce pachinko under a different statute than the present one, it is not a form of illegal gambling.
"While I don't think it it's likely that more people would be attracted to casinos if they could no longer play pachinko, it's not out of the question that the government's picking on the pachinko industry will feed bias among the public, perhaps as a way of encouraging them to let off steam," Kiso remarked.
When politicians are under the gun, observed Nikkan Gendai, it's common to see them attempt to deflect criticism by looking for scapegoats. People need to stay alerted to things that look suspicious.© Japan Today