If you’ve ever visited Japan or even just read about the country, you may have been surprised to find out that the majority of gambling is illegal in the country. With the exception of some sports betting, like horse and motorcycling racing, you won’t find any of the traditional gambling experiences you’d find in many other places. But the Japanese do offer an unique game that scratches the itch for many gamblers in the country: pachinko!
According to the stats site, Statista, 7.2 million Japanese people enjoy this thrilling form of entertainment. Discover more about this fascinating game and the experience it offers to millions of players. Some could argue that pachinko is fairly close to our online slots in the UK. Let’s find out if this is true!
What is pachinko?
If you are interested in playing this unique game, you’ll easily be able to find a wide range of pachinko games at a pachinko parlour. The game has evolved over the years (which we cover in more detail below), but at a glance, the modern pachinko experience appears similar to a pinball or slot machine.
A brief history of pachinko
Pachinko is a game that has its roots in another fun experience called Bagatelle, which originated in France. Bagatelle was played on a table, much like pool, and players would strike a ball up the table using a stick with the aim of sinking the ball into one of the holes on its surface. The game spread around the world, including to the US, where it was eventually adapted into a smaller version called the Corinthian Bagatelle. This was no longer a table-sized game but more akin to a board game. It still used a small stick in its early designs, but this was eventually changed to a spring-loaded plunger (again, much like a pinball machine).
The Corinthian Bagatelle made its way over to Japan in the 1920s and was adapted to the local market, where it was primarily marketed as a children’s game. This adaptation of the original game was initially called “pachi pachi” due to the sound that it made, but pachi pachi would receive a name change to appeal to an older audience. This is how the first pachinko machine was born.
Pachinko games became so popular among adults that people soon began to open pachinko parlours, which are venues dedicated entirely to pachinko games. According to an article on Medium entitled “A Brief History of Pachinko: The Children’s Game That Became a Billion-Dollar Industry in Japan,” the first parlour was opened in 1930, and the industry took off in 1936. Unfortunately, the war with China and later World War II resulted in the closure of all pachinko parlours until the Second World War came to an end.
With the war over, pachinko staged a comeback and remains incredibly popular to this day.
What is a pachinko machine?
All the action when playing pachinko takes place on a pachinko machine. In the past, these devices were primarily made of wood, but modern machines are made of plastic and metal and feature many electronic and digital elements, including LCD screens. When it was still called pachi pachi, it had a more angled, horizontal design like a pinball machine, but when it was marketed to a new audience, the play area changed to a vertical design. The vertical central play area is filled with pins, graphics, and flashing lights.
How do pachinko machines work?
Players place pachinko balls into the loading area of the machine and then push a lever or button with varying degrees of force to shoot the ball into the play area. The goal is to get the ball into pockets, cups, or other specific areas of the machine. If you manage to get a ball into one of these special zones, you’ll be rewarded with more pachinko balls, activate special bonus games, or even open more special zones for balls to land in. When you’re done playing, you take the balls out of the loading area and then exchange the pachinko balls you have for prizes. The more pachinko balls you have, the bigger the reward you can claim.
What’s the difference between pachinko machines and slots?
If you were to catch a glimpse of a pachinko machine, the flashing lights and energetic sounds would probably make you think you’d spotted a slot machine. But as we’ve already highlighted, the games are rather different, with pachinko bearing more resemblance to pinball than slots. Here are some of the key differences between slots and pachinko.
- Slots are pure luck: Slots are based entirely on luck, with the player having no control over the outcome of the game when they hit the spin button. However, pachinko players do control the speed at which the ball enters the game, giving them a small degree of control over the outcome of the game compared to slots.
- The gameplay: As we’ve mentioned, the core gameplay of pachinko is closer to pinball than slots. However, as pachinko games have grown more advanced, some of the bonus games have started to more closely resemble the bonus games of slot machines.
- Pachinko prizes are much smaller: When you spin the reels of many slots, there’s a small chance that you could win a massive cash prize. In pachinko, you don’t win cash but can claim prizes that vary from cellphones to groceries and even cosmetics.
- You can exchange your prizes for cash, just not at the same venue: Due to Japan’s anti-gambling laws, you can only claim a non-cash prize at a pachinko parlour. However, there are often locations nearby where you can exchange your prize for cash, sometimes right next door to the parlour itself.
- Pachinko etiquette: Where casinos are often filled with loud patrons, either celebrating a win or the anguish of almost winning big, a visit to a pachinko parlour is a very different experience. Here, players quietly sit and play, which offers a very different experience from what you’d find in a casino with slots.
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