Earlier this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed a blueprint for what he calls “Ichi-oku So-katsuyaku Shakai” (A Society in Which All 100 Million Japanese Take Active Parts). So doing, the thinking goes, will fill in the gaps created by the falling birthrate and aging of the population.
Well, says a skeptical Jitsuwa Bunka Tabuu (January), the sad fact is that there’s one despicable group of people with no inclination at all to take an “active part” in society: pachinko players. About one Japanese in 12, or 9.7 million people, are said to engage in the pastime at the country’s 11,538 pachinko parlors, which each year rake in total revenues of about 18.8 trillion yen.
But for all the sound and fury of bouncing ball bearings, the magazine comments, we’re looking at a major industry that serves no useful purpose.
A man identified only as Mr A, works as an editor of a magazine for pachinko enthusiasts. He was transferred to his position from another job at the publishing company, despite the fact that he’d never set foot in a pachinko parlor in his life.
When he asked about the nature of the business from his peers at the office, they described it in somewhat unflattering terms as “s**t.”
They weren’t necessarily speaking figuratively. The men’s restrooms at some parlors sport signs requesting that the users “please defecate into the commode.” It seems that some losers take their resentment out on the shop, by depositing their excretions onto the floor, and in some cases even smearing the walls with poop.
“And that’s not all,” he says. “It’s common to see players pound on the machines, or destroy the internals by pouring coffee down the chute where the balls are inserted. I tell you, those places are like a zoo.”
Thievery is also said to be rampant at pachinko establishments.
“If a player leaves his seat just for a few moments, there’s a chance a thief will try to steal the “pakki kaado” (the prepaid cards that are inserted into the machines),” Mr A relates. “Start a conversation with the person seated on your right, and the guy on your left will rip off the card. And if you get up to use the toilet, someone will make off with your plastic receptacles used to keep balls paid out by the machine.
Then there are the so-called “goto-shi” (professional tricksters) who devise various methods, both electronic and manual, to make machines pay out jackpots.
Another phenomenon found in “adult entertainment zones” such as Kabukicho in Shinjuku is for prostitutes to cruise the shops and solicit business from males who appear to be big winners.
Considering their sleazy reputation, what explains pachinko’s long-term popularity?
“For the life of me I can’t understand its appeal,” replies Mr A. “I’ve noted that the pachinko machines set up at game arcades aren’t popular at all, and that leads me to conclude that the sole factor behind pachinko's appeal is the mistaken prospect that people can make money from it.”
Roughly between 10 to 30% of the money paid by customers becomes revenues of the shop, so the odds are (naturally) in the house’s favor. Even if players come out ahead on occasion, loses are inevitable over the long term.
Pachinko’s popularity actually achieved something of a revival from 2006, when the so-called “one-yen pachinko” system -- by which one yen was paid out on each ball redeemed -- began to be popularized. Now some shops have adopted the one-yen system exclusively.
“In so-called ‘one-yen pachinko’ (in which the return is one yen per ball), the players actually lay out about 4 yen per ball,” Mr A explains. “So when people cash in their winnings, their take is only one-fourth of their initial outlay. To be honest, it should really be called ‘0.25-yen pachinko.’”
While pachinko’s customer base has been aging along with the population as a whole, this has not necessarily cut into revenues. Recently the media reported that the Kobe City assembly revised an ordinance that had previously banned gambling activities such as pachinko and mahjongg at publicly operated rest homes. It seems that someone came up with the notion that a “pachinko rehabilitation experience” -- in which the inhabitants are transported to parlors where they are encouraged to engage in “therapy” -- would provide them with healthy stimulation.
Now, similar programs have begun spreading to other parts of the country. How shameful, the magazine remarks, to see the pachinko industry descend to the level that it feels it has to put the squeeze on senile geezers to generate more income.
“Pachinko has no future,” Mr A asserts. “If those of you reading this article play pachinko, you should quit while you’re ahead.”© Japan Today