Author: mathiesonc

Pachinko Part 2

In my first post I spoke about my experience with Japans pachinko machines and how this experience compared to that those I’d had with Poker machines in Australia.

I spoke about how relaxed the rules regarding gambling and alcohol seemed to be in Japan and believed this to be a reflection of their culture. When I had spoken to locals regarding the visible lack of law enforcement around the pachinko parlors in particular how patrons were able to freely walk in and out with I.D being checked to prove I was of age, the locals said that its simply not in their culture for teenagers to want to go out drinking and gambling. Rather Japans teenagers want to be teenagers. They like to hang around arcades, go out for meals and put a lot of time and energy into their focus.

So to prove if these theories are correct I have conducted research to find out about the laws regarding drinking and gambling in Japan whilst also touching on youth culture.

Drinking & Gambling

Spread throughout cities in Japan there are vending machines where alcohol is easily accessible to passers by. To obtain drinks from these machines there is no proof of I.D required and they simply work like a regular vending machine. Despite these machines being readily available the main sources of alcohol of youth in Japan is from their home or from a convenient store. Even at convenient stores it is very rare for anyone to be asked for a form of I.D. It is considered that Japan is one of the safest countries ranked in the top 10 on the global peace index and it is therefore it is highly unlikely that if you’re to pass out on a train or in the street that you would be subject to violence or theft. Whilst Japans enforcement of the legal drinking age of 20 is rarely upheld, criminal acts that are caused from drinking such as a car crash etc are dealt with very harshly.

The focus of my artifact is on the pachinko machine in Japan. My lack of research in my first post looking back is now clearly evident because to my surprise, the Pachinko machine isn’t actually considered to be a form of gambling. Here’s why..

It is officially not considered gambling because Japanese laws regard pachinko as an exception to the criminal code on gambling for historical, monetary, and cultural reasons. pachinko parlours can be found all over Japan, and they are operated by private companies. As of 2011, there are about 12,480 pachinko parlors in Japan.

In pachinko, when a player’s ball makes it into a special hole to activate the slot machine and a jackpot is made, they are rewarded with more balls. Players can then exchange the balls for prizes of different value at a booth in the parlour. Money cannot be awarded at pachinko parlors as this would be in violation of the criminal code. However, players almost always exchange pachinko balls for special tokens, usually slits of gold encased in plastic, and then “sell” them at a neighboring shop for cash. Usually such shops are also owned by the parlor operators, but as long as the winners do not receive cash in the parlour, the law is not broken.

In my previous post I had mentioned about what seemed to be money lent services operating across from the parlors and in a way I was correct. However the biggest surprise to me was that the pachinko machine doesn’t fall under the classification of gambling because no money exchanges hands. This would furthermore explain why there was no one checking for I.D at the entries.

Despite pachinko not being a form of gambling do Japans youth still partake?

This a difficult question to answer and it really depends on the parlor that you visit. For the most part it is considered illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to enter these parlors, however there are some exceptions. Some parlors will allow minors to play up until 5pm as long as they are in the present of a parent or guardian.

Whilst I have been able to answer many of the questions I had for myself from my first blog post, there are still a number of questions that I believe simply can’t be answered with statistics or research. I believe the answer simply lays in their culture. In Australia it would be a given that if vending machines sold alcohol, everyone aged 13-17 would be passed out drunk every weekend. Why is it that Japan are so laid back with their regulation of alcohol and gambling, I believe part of it is that Government simply trust and respect their people to do the right thing. Both trust and respect are deeply ingrained in the Japanese culture.

Lastly I believe that the pressure placed on the youth of Japan to exceed in their education and career leaves little time for activities such as drinking and gambling. Excessive amounts of either could be considered damaging to the future of Japans youth.

The below video explains the pressure and the effects that these pressures are having on Japans teenagers.







Growing up in a household where everything I owned or was given up until my first job was paid for by gambling losses, in particular losses on poker machines, I have always been supportive and intrigued by the gambling industry. This being said you won’t find me at my local pub on a friday night blowing away my weekly pay check, because I know the damages, not only financial but also physically and mentally that these machines can have on a person.

On a trip to Japan to visit my cousin in 2015 we were driving through down town Niseko, when he pointed out a building and referred to it as a Pachinko hall. A Pachinko machine is Japan’s equivalent to the poker machine. This immediately grabbed my attention given my background and familiarity with poker machines.

To distinguish my experience between the Australian poker machine and the Japanese Pachinko machine I will be using Autoethnography to understand my experience. Autoethngraphy requires one to first analyse the reading/source then go further to analyse its background/knowledge to better understand it.This is by using personal experience then comparing it to that of cultural Ellis. (2011, pt.2)

Niseko isn’t a large town by any means, with a population of only around 4,500 but on the Friday night that I visited the parlour there could’ve been easily up to 200 people playing these machines. Unable to comprehend or figure out the rules, I simply stood back and watched as the locals fed the machines with cups upon cups of silver coins.

Once I headed into Tokyo later on in the trip my cousin had instructed me to visit one of the parlours in the capital as these were on another level compared to what I’d witnessed in Niseko. It’s easy to walk straight past these halls, theres no advertising drawing you in, no big signs telling me I could win $10,000 and at most there may have been someone handing out flyers.

To understand what the inside of a Pachinko parlour looks like, the below video will gives a good indication.

What I found to be extremely concerning from a westerns point of view seems to be the lack of regulation in regards to these halls. I wasn’t asked for I.D to prove I was of age to be gambling in these halls and more frightening is what is situated across the road from these halls. Less than a 30 second walk from the Pachinko hall was a cash loan business.

Whilst I believe that everyone should be given the choice whether or not they’d like to participate in gambling activities, I’m not in favour of entrapment or taking advantage of people who are susceptible to gambling. It may just be coincidence that these credit unions are situated directly across from these halls but I find this highly doubtful.

In Japan it’s not frowned upon or illegal to drink a beer when walking down the street or when riding the train. When I asked locals about how this is allowed to occur, the common answers I was given was trust and culture. The Government trust their citizens to not take advantage of the freedoms that they’re given and in return citizens respect the law and acknowledge the freedoms that they’re given.

Secondly, within their culture it isn’t considered normal for kids under the age of 18 to want to go out and drink. Rather they’re focusing on their studies or participating in teenage activities such as sport  or hanging out at the arcade. Is it for these reasons that Pachinko players are given the freedom to go and take out loans to fund their playing habit?

It could be said that Japan is one of the leading innovators in technology, surprisingly the Pachinko machines feature very minimal digital interaction. The machines feature lights, background graphics and jingles that appear through out play but there are no touch screen interactions or highly advanced technology on these machines. Instead the machines have stuck to their origins with tweaks that have simply modernised the machines.

I believe to understand Pachinko, I need to understand its origins and the culture that surrounds Pachinko. From a Westerner’s point of view, I have knowledge of the origins and culture that exist within gambling industry in Australia and therefore understand the norms and expectations that exist within the industry.

In the Pachinko parlours I was comparing my experiences to those I’d previously had in pubs and casinos in Australia and therefore had a certain expectation of what gambling should look like.


Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’,Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12., 1.