Gambling is officially prohibited in Japan. You will therefore not find any real casinos. However, establishments that are very similar to a casino. And gambling halls, although they may not be officially called that.
The Japanese gambling halls are packed with special slot machines, which are called pachinko. Such a pachinko machine most closely resembles a pinball machine that stands upright, but without flippers.
The Japanese love these machines that at first sight seem bizarre to Westerners. The vending machines are arranged row by row in neon-lit halls that are blue with smoke and where there is continuous deafening noise. But the players stare stoically at their pachinko device, as if they were hypnotized.
You play Pachinko for fun or for a fair price, such as a teddy bear, candy or a bottle of drink. Officially, because in practice it is also about money.
How does a pachinko machine work?
A pachinko device not only looks like a pinball machine, but also works according to the same principle.
One by one you launch small metal balls into the machine. Then they fall down. The route the balls follow is always different, because the way down through dozens of small pins and other obstacles. The sound the balls cause with that is ching-ching-ching.
If a ball travels a certain route or falls into a certain hole, you win a prize that is paid out in new balls.
That is the basic principle.
But as you can expect from the Japanese, they have developed the game very far. It is possible that the background of the pachinko machine changes into a video slot, with which you can win very large prizes. Or in a bingo game. Or in a computer game. There are often all kinds of hidden features and it can take days before you see them all.
Partly because of this, new pachinko variants are extremely popular. Because: what are you waiting for this time?
The change trick: from balls to gold to money
When you are finished, you call an employee from the arcade with a button at the top of the machine. The employee will take your remaining balls to a counting machine and then give you a ticket with the number of balls indicated.
You can only redeem that ticket for a fair price at the prize desk. But the Japanese have found an inventive solution that allows you to go home with a cash prize.
There are always special "tokens" between DVDs, teddy bears and slippers. These can be small gold bars, in a special package of the pachinko hall. But often it is just a piece of plastic with some security features on it.
You can then easily exchange the tokens for money at a small exchange office that you will find next to almost every pachinko hall and that of course has nothing to do with the pachinko hall.
This is how you play pachinko (video)
Playing Pachinko is very easy. There are hardly any game rules. You can really only choose the speed at which the balls are launched. Furthermore, you simply have to wait and see what happens.
But because a pachinko hall looks so different from a Dutch casino or gambling hall, it is useful to watch the instruction video below before your first visit.
The Australian (?) Expat in the video is perhaps a bit cheezy with his fake Japanese accent, but he clearly explains what to do.
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