A recent survey in a Japanese newspaper revealed that many of the country's families spend more on playing pinball than they do on buying rice.
A recent survey in a Japanese newspaper revealed that many of the country's families spend more on playing pinball than they do on buying rice. Pinball -- or "Pachinko" as it is known in Japan -- has become a very big business and is now the third largest of the country's leisure industries.
SYNOPSIS: There is virtually one Pachinko parlour on every major street in Japan. Neon signs advertising the game compete with bars and restaurants for the trade of the passers-by. What started as a game for children 30 years ago, using ball-bearings left over from the second world war, is now an industry which earns millions of US dollars a year. The Pachinko parlours are packed out every day.
The game itself is simple. You buy 34 pinballs for 100 yen (about 33 US cents) which are flicked through the "gates" in the machine to score points. Pachinko was controlled by organised crime at one time but the Japanese Government banned so-called "jackpot" machines in the mid-fifties. Lucky players can now only exchange their wins for such items as canned food or clothing. But one social scientist believes that the attraction of the game comes not from the prizes but from the relief of stress.
Mini computers are used to monitor the performance of individual Pachinko machines and see that they do not give an unfair advantage to the player.
The largest pinball machine manufacturer in eastern Japan is in the Gumma Prefecture. A great emphasis is placed on improving the devices and research staff apply for an average of eight new patents every day. There are nearly two million Pachinko machines in operation throughout one machine for every 18 Japanese adults. The manufacturers are hoping to reduce the size of the machines so that more can be fitted into the existing space at the parlours. Pachinko is becoming as much a part of Japanese society as sumo wrestling and sake wine.