As gambling for money is illegal in Japan, you’ll find none of the slot machines that are common in casinos in the West. To fill the gap, Japan has its own unique game: pachinko. The game resembles pinball (except vertical), and machines to play are found across the country in special pachinko parlors. Although it is one of the most popular pastimes in Japan, few visitors even know how to play, which means they’re missing out on a valuable cultural experience.
There are pachinko parlors in every city. You’ll recognize one immediately from its bright lights, colorful decor, and, most of all, the loud noise of the game. Parlors with good chances of winning are often packed with people, whereas empty ones suggest a bad reputation.
Many dedicated pachinko players spend entire days in pachinko parlors. These players often have their favorite machines, and many people believe that particular ones are lucky and will line up for a chance to play. Such machines are usually near the door.
Unless you share these superstitions, there’s no need to wait in line. Instead, find a machine that looks appealing and has the right difficulty level — first-time players should stick to novice machines. You can also figure out how easy it may be to win by checking the odds at the top of the machine. The larger number is the number of spins the machine has received, and the smaller number is the number of wins.
Depending on the parlor, you may need to purchase a prepaid card or you may need to feed coins directly into the machine. The amount you pay will correspond with the number of balls you receive. Once you’ve inserted the card or coins, push the start button.
To play, you turn a lever to release the balls. You’ll need to experiment with how you turn the lever to direct balls into the hole. The further right you turn the handle, the faster the balls will release. You need to avoid turning the handle so hard that the balls fall into the losing shoot. However, if you are too gentle, the balls won’t come out. You also need to avoid hitting obstacles.
Every ball that enters the hole will give you a spin on the slot machine. If you gain three matching symbols or numbers, you win the jackpot (aotari).
In the case you are lucky enough to win an aotari, some balls will pour out of the machine. A staff member will remove the balls for you and give you a token. You then need to take the token elsewhere to receive your cash prize. Ask another player where the prize exchange location is as staff members are not allowed to tell you and look for a drawer where you can place your token. This system is a little complicated, but it is necessary to circumvent the law.
Even if you’re not much of a gambler, you should play pachinko at least once. Make sure that you follow etiquette by keeping a straight face (whether you win or lose) and by never touching another player’s pachinko balls as this is bad luck.