Japan Today



Pachinko addiction a growing problem for Japanese women


An astonishing fact: 1.6% of all Japanese women are compulsive gamblers, according to health ministry statistics for 2009. That’s 750,000 people. No doubt the affliction takes various forms, but Shukan Josei (Feb 14) focuses on its most common – pachinko addiction. Once it takes hold, the weekly says, everything else – family, career, looming financial ruin – fades into the background. Pachinko becomes life itself.

“There is no one definitive cause,” says psychiatrist Masayuki Oishi, who runs an outpatient clinic for gambling addicts. “Some say it’s hereditary, others that it’s due to an excess of dopamine in the brain, others still that it’s the influence of the environment. Most likely it’s some combination of all of these.”

Women are particularly vulnerable, he says, due to the pressures they disproportionately face – child-rearing, caring for elderly relatives, abusive or inattentive husbands, inadequate income.

Reiko, 45, hasn’t played pachinko in 10 years – but still needs therapy to keep away from it. As Shukan Josei tells it, hers was a harrowing ride, and though she took it alone, she is broadly typical of hundreds of thousands of women in a similar plight.

“Beginner’s luck” was her undoing. Her husband talked her into it, and she won 20,000 yen at her first try. Then came trouble. Her husband turned brutally abusive. It was a while before she could muster the courage to leave. Finally she did, but her parents gave her a cold welcome and she found herself on her own – no job, no family, no income other than government welfare. Then she remembered pachinko.

It was her only relief, her only joy. “When I won it was like being high; when I lost it was a stimulus. Win, lose, win, lose – it was thrilling.”

When the local pachinko parlor opened in the morning she’d be outside waiting, and she’d still be at it at closing time. “All I could think of was pachinko. I wanted to do it 24 hours a day – the thrill, the feeling of liberation. It was like being on drugs.”

Eventually she realized she was running out of money and had better stop. “I’d be at the ATM withdrawing money, and my hands would be shaking.” The ultimate shock was losing YY90,000 within four hours. At that rate she’d be penniless. She asked around for help and was referred to a counseling service for alcoholics. It was the closest she could come to what she needed, and it kept her away from pachinko for eight months, but she was glad all the same, knowing how weak her resistance was, to be referred to a counseling service that specialized in gambling addiction. All that was 10 years ago, and though she hasn’t played in all that time she still doesn’t feel free from her obsession.

Counseling is based on participants sharing their experiences and talking things over. “The others in the group, their stories are so like mine,” Reiko says. “They got into drinking or gambling to escape their unhappiness. Now it’s drinking or gambling they have to escape.”

© Japan Today

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This story reminds me of having a conversation with a friend one time in which he asserted that pachinko, horse racing, and the like were not "gambling." Said it couldn't be as gambling was illegal in Japan. After 20 years here in Japan, you can still learn something new everyday.

2 ( +10 / -7 )

Hopeless woman

-8 ( +4 / -11 )

Zombies. Every person I have seen enter or exit a pachinko looks like a zombie. Sucked out of all their money. PAchinkos are nothing but garbage. Noisy, electricity and money sucking parlors they oughta call them.

-5 ( +6 / -11 )

Only 1.6% of all japanese women ? I think that this value is much more than the officially declared. While Japanese government officially considers pachinko as "An harmless game", not as gambling, lives of innocent people will continue to be destroyed. This is a case of national security because 95% of pachinko halls are controlled by zainichi Korean and Taiwanese. This is the dark side of japan.

-6 ( +5 / -11 )

An astonishing fact: 1.6% of all Japanese women are compulsive gamblers, according to health ministry statistics for 2009. That’s 750,000 people.

Oh my God! 1.6?! What is this world coming to? 750,000 people? That's just oh sooooo many. Eye roll.

Christ, could they be making more of a non-issue. I'm wondering how many people here have eaten contaminated food. How many parents have left their kid in the car alone? How many have been involved in DV? Much more important issues.

-8 ( +5 / -12 )

Japan is the unique country in the world that allows the operation these crap in every corner. Gambling inevitably is linked the mafia, prostitution, terrorism, etc, etc, etc.

-5 ( +6 / -11 )

Women are particularly vulnerable, he says, due to the pressures they disproportionately face – child-rearing, caring for elderly relatives, abusive or inattentive husbands, inadequate income. Cold coffee served with cake when out with the girls, messing up the dance steps at ballet class, pottery exploding at clay class, over baked cake in cooking class, Ikebana petals falling off during class...and the list goes on.

-5 ( +5 / -10 )

I actually enjoyed playing pachinko. It can get almost meditative, like playing Tetris or one man mahjong. A bit pricey, though. But since there was so much noise and smoke, never acquired any habit of going. And parlors are an eyesore on the streets.

@tmarie, agreed. 1.6% is nothing. What's the percentage of addicted men? It's obvious they're not being considered for any serious help or councelling. Why is that exactly?

1 ( +7 / -6 )

I like playing the slots at casinos but I don't get pachinko. My co-worker, a 22 year old single Japanese girl, took me to play once. I put in a 1,000 yen and a couple of hours later walked away with 3,000 yen. I had no idea how to play and I still don't! I know you're supposed to aim the ball into a particular spot but I don't get how some people are able to do it so well that they accumulate stacks of boxes. My co-worker said she went with her father once and won (around 30,000 yen) for him. She is not addicted to it and laughs about people who line up and stay all day long.

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

eh play once every 3 months...until the 1man is gone or i got buckets under my seat...win some lose some probably up 10man...as with anything moderation is the key. Plus stay in those places too long youll have hearing damage.

-2 ( +5 / -7 )

Pachinko addiction a growing problem for Japanese women

A bigger problem for the kids left where ever...

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

Rather then of increasing the consumption tax,why not increase the tax on gambling,mr.noda ?Ops,I forgot that you and your political party, were funded by the Japan association of pachinko. Many Japanese do not have idea that your money is being used to finance terrorist acts by north korea.

-6 ( +4 / -10 )

no support group for "gambling" addictions in Japan? yeah right that this is no gambling.. Japan should remove the blindfold and finally admit to pachinko and tax the hell out of it

-7 ( +0 / -7 )


Hopeless woman

Abused woman who sought help when she realised she had an addiction.

Sensible and responsible woman if you ask me.

-2 ( +5 / -7 )

1.6% percent might seem much and to tell the truth I can't recall many women I met in Japan who plays pachinko (think I recall 1 or 2 at the most)

But 750,000 is a LOT of people and if they need help, so be it. Helping people get out of a hole, even if they dug it, is a good thing. It's up to them to make it happen though.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

When the local pachinko parlor opened in the morning she'd be outside waiting

One of the most tragic sights in Japan is seeing people queue and wait in all weathers for pachinko; that and seeing some of them pitch up in a taxi, then run from the taxi into the pachinko - how can you be that eager/desperate to lose your money?

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Gambler anon must be here. Look at all the thumbs down.

6 ( +11 / -5 )

Thanks again to JT for shining a spotlight on the darker side of Japan. A lot of people want to pretend this Pachinko doesn't exist.

-13 ( +3 / -15 )

After a child birth woman does not go for job. she stops.

The fear of getting Divorce.. The men work hard and give money to wife,

She spend all in pachinko ..or other gambling ..

I personally know many families in japan .. it is very Sad

That is Japanese life.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

Japan has a real problem with gambling, although the government doesn't call it what it really is. And despite economic stagnation, it seems that pachinko profits have seen a steady growth since the bubble burst.

From http://www.thestandard.com.hk/stdn/std/Focus/GH08Dh01.html (2005 article)

"The pachinko industry - including both pachislot and the older pinball-like pachinko game - rakes in about 29 trillion yen (HK$2.02 trillion) in annual revenues from specialized gaming parlors throughout Japan, the government estimated last year. That's nearly four times the revenue from legal casino gambling worldwide, as estimated by PricewaterhouseCoopers."

From http://www.japansociety.org/pachinko_nation

"The total wager in Japan is staggering, on the order of $300 billion/year for legal gambling alone. Japan is the biggest gambling market in the world. The average Japanese adult loses $400 per year gambling, more than twice as much as the average American. Japan has 10 times more gambling machines per capita than the United States. All this in a country where, you see, gambling is illegal."

If the government isn't going to recoup some revenue by taxing the illicit gambling industry, it might as well invite casinos to build, at least to create jobs, and be inviting to tourists. The gambling problem that casinos would cause is merely droplets to Japan's current situation with pachinko addicts.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

Watching clothes in a spin dryer is more exciting than playing Pachinko. You can make bets with your fellow laundry people as to which shirt will dry first.

Nicky, I gave you a thumbs up!

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Do they have pachinko addiction meetings, like they do with AA?



-3 ( +0 / -3 )

In any society, it is important that we have some form of mindless entertainment, such as TV or movies or anime, so that people are prevented from too much independent thought and from thinking too much. But pachinko does not put money back into the economy so it contributes little to GDP.

One solution is to open gambling and gaming centers for foreign tourists and make money from them, rather than the locals.

-11 ( +1 / -11 )

Sounds like a new way to meet women!

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

From the point of man view ,pachinko it's like if the devil was beautiful woman and promise to take you,to paradise when in fact it opens the door of hell.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Statistics like this are meaningless. 1% of all groups are something or another. Kuchikomi section did another article recently showing over 1% of japanese women have worked in porno.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

To j4p4nFTW,

But pachinko does not put money back into the economy so it contributes little to GDP.

Pachinko steals annually of japanese people approximately 300 billion dollars per year, I said 300 billion dollars per year ! It's more than toyota, nissan, honda,invoice together throughout the year !

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

Pachinko has "representatives" in the police, Japanese parliament,judiciary system. The only way to end this pest is the Japanese people catch up arms again, there is no other alternative.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

They should still open a casino in Japan

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Kuchikomi section did another article recently showing over 1% of japanese women have worked in porno.

Now that's at least more fun (to watch anyway) than silver balls spinning around for hours on end...

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Pachinko addiction a growing problem for Japanese women

Why only Japanese women? Pachinko addiction is not just a problem. Its a menace to the society. Pachinko is the reason for many crimes here in Japan.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

so that people are prevented from too much independent thought and from thinking too much.

God forbid that should happen

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

There is nothing good about Pachinko: Loud announcements, fast beat squealing music, the sound of metal balls clashing against each other, and the stench of nicotine. The worse use of time. But yes, Nicky, it sounds like a way of mind control. Even what we post on this website is controlled. Wondering how long my comments will last.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I love how a bunch of people who have probably never played pachinko, or maybe only played a few times, are so quick to say it's boring or useless or whatever. The fact is pachinko is genius. It's exciting, addictive and a rush. Why do you think millions of people are hooked?

Is it bad? It certainly can be to people who can't control themselves. Like anything in life, you have to do things in moderation. If you can't handle it, don't do it. Would people be moaning about chocolate cake? If I ate cake at every meal I'd be dead. Self control.

Personally, I play now and then and have fun... sometimes lose, sometimes win. It's a stress release after a busy day at the office. There are non-smoking parlous to get clean air and with headphones you can cut the annoying noise.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

A lot of people want to pretend this Pachinko doesn't exist.

How can that possibly be? They are about every twenty meters in larger cities. That being said, they have the best toilets around. So if you've got to go, head on in to the pachinko house.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I am gobsmacked, when whilst driving (especially on major roads out of town), I spot a massive new building, with several acres of car parking.... hmm, I think to myself, is this a new family centre, with indoor play area? No, it's just another big new pachinko parlour.

A Mecca for the hopeful and hopeless, giving nothing back to society !

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

There is no one definitive cause

Japanese social structure? Bored?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Such is the barrenness that has come with abandoning much of the old culture. Where there was so much beauty in many forms, this mindless trivia fills a spiritual void for many who see the machines as a possible route to a better life.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I am with Mabodofu Spicy and Nicky Washida, yup, watching my clothes spin and dray etc..is way more fun than panchinko! LOL!! Thanks Mabo and Nicky!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Western psychologist, Ellen Langer, claim that people gamble, even they know that on average the establishment wins, because they think that their choices are special, luckier, better than other peoples choices; gamblers suffer from an illusion of control. They think that they can effect the outcome of their bet by making the right decision. And for this reason, Western gambling usually includes an element of control (skill) and above all, lots of choices. The roulette wheel is typical in in that it provides the gambler with lots of ways to bet, to play a hunch, to beat the odds with a certain system.

Pachinko however involves little in the way of choice and surprisingly little skill.

The Choices in Pachinko The only important choice, as far as I am aware, is the decision on which machine (dai) to use. This is important because machines are, by law, meant to be set to have a certain odds of winning which remain constant during business hours and since it is important that some people win, parlours usually set up number of winning machines. About the only useful advice I have read on this is that since the owner wants as many people as possible to be near a winning machine, the winning machines are generally fairly evenly situated roughly in a zig zag. However, it has been my impression, and that of a frequent player, that some parlours illegally control the odds in real time setting machines to win especially when they see a new face. In other words there really may be beginners luck in some Pachinko palours because the non-beginners are more likely to play anyway and having beginners luck, as experienced by the lady in the article, helps to get people hooked. Secondly newly installed machines are sometimes more likely to be set to win to give customers the impression that rich parlours with a turn over of machines are places where they can win.

Skills in Pachinko The only skill seems to be directing the balls to the best place. Once this place has been found (and there are books and magazines on where it is) punters will sometimes use a coin to keep the dial in the same position. There is some skill in getting the balls roughly in the centre, but it makes surprisingly little difference where the balls hit. If skill were important the machines could be made more like video/computer games with moving targets but this is not the case.

The Illusion of Control in Pachinko So if choice and skill are not all that important in Panchinko, why do Japanese people become addicted? They know that the parlours are making money and that on average the machines are set so that the players loose. How can they have an illusion of control, an illusion of uniquness that they will win whereas other players will not? My theory is, from talking to a few players, and from the way in which machines don't pay much then suddenly pay out big time ("reach" and then “win time”), is that players ave an illusion of having more gut, or mettle (根性/konjou) than other players. They think that they can keep their hand steady, and keep pumping the machine until it pays out when other players would have become lilly-livered and given up. This illusion of control is partially true, just as their is a partial truth to the effect of choices in Western gambling. Addicted players do play longer, and do thus stay on to "reach" the big payouts. The difference lies in what personal characteristics each culture emphasises. Westerners believe in the power of their free will, in their ability to make unique beneficial choices that others have missed. Japanese believe that they are able to persevere, suffer, grind on, fight, ganbaru longer than others, to the point of having an illusion of uniquness and an illusion of control.

This illusion of uniqueness is furthermore not, I think, an enhancement of a particular characteristic so much as the belief in the players ability to have none, no characteristics, to be come like a rock, unswayed, to become nothing. And thus pachinko resembles meditation, and pachinko machines resemble mandelas, and one of their effects is to empty the mind of the player. This makes pachinko particularly attractive, and addictive, to those that have troubles enough already.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

@timtak I especially think the illusion of control you refer to is intriguing to the endless sea of entry-level office workers, who might feel that in most other aspects of their lives, they do not really have much control over anything.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Point one: Pachinko rakes in $300 billion/year? That money is going somewhere in the economy, unless the mafia puts it under their futons or money launders it to go ryo-tabi tabi suru outside Japan.

Point two: Just cause it is "mindless" to your observation does not make it evil. People partake of mindless activity all the time. Part of being human. Mind is not directly engaged, but is noodles somewhere else. Could be creative.

Point three: Yes, addicts to gambling are sad. Would be nice if they had other alternatives. Maybe later in their life will do something about it, as the woman in the article did, and good for her.

Point four: The lights on those places should go way down to conserve energy, so say I.

Point five: I have tried it! I tried it a couple of times and really enjoyed the silliness, the racket, which leads to Point six.

Point six: Indoor smoking should be banned there and in all indoor places. Join the modern world Japan. The reeking stench cloud of cancer sticks and vileness drove me out! My clothes and body was completely polluted after just a few minutes. Disgusting. Have never seen a pachinko glass front door with a "Nonsmoking" sign plastered on it. If there was no smoking, more families might come and that could change the social atmosphere for the better. Japan Tobacco must be co-sponsoring these places. (Remember that radioactive tobacco from Fukushima has been bought up by JTobacco so soon those clouds of smoke with be Cesium laced.) Just my two hundred yen.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Point two: ...is noodling

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

How sad.....

I especially feel sorry for Reiko.....why would her parents treat her so coldly for having the courage to leave her abusive husband?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I read somewhere these "machines" gives the player about only 10 to 20 per cent chances of winning evertime they play. This is plain daylight robbery!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

cards are a form of gambling too. i wonder how many poker circles there are in Japan.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

To overcome any addiction the person needs to be strong and must have the desire to quit, people who cant give up drugs alcohol, smoking, pachinko or what ever are weak and this women even aknowledged it in this statement - "knowing how weak her resistance was."

Weak people are everywhere, the strong have will and motivation.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Plus stay in those places too long youll have hearing damage.

That's why they have earplugs available.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

pachinko is definitely a plague in this country, yeah if people cud show common sense but MANY cant, the financial damage to families caused by pachinko is huge, then toss in organized crime, keystones involvement, $$ sent to north korea, the noise pollution, all the abandoned joints, all the new ones being made

PACHINKO IS ONE HELL OF A MESS! and yes it is bigger than the auto industry, how messed up is that, VERY!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I have never heard of anyone building a house because of what they won at pachinko but I have heard of plenty that have lost their house because they lost.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Why we do not hear politicians complaining about it. Oops politicians are the ones who blessed this industry.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

An astonishing fact: 1.6% of all Japanese women are compulsive gamblers, according to health ministry statistics for 2009

This is being sarcastic, right? Right? Anyone?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Kids love pachi/slots in Japan. Most game arcades have them for the whole family.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

A particular element of Japanese excess. Eat excessively, drink excessively, gamble excessively, work excessively. Automaton like behaviou! Life and living it ought to be promoted more!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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