Japan’s Pachinko Obsession And The Game That Mixes Pinball And A Wager

Japan is known for having some fantastic options for adults looking for some child-like fun, including a vast amount of arcades. One arcade-like game with a twist that tourists often seek out in Japan is pachinko

The pachinko name is one that pretty much every Japanese household knows, but it’s only starting to garner interest from other countries.

The game is complicated in the best way, making it a challenge any tourist must seek out when making their way through Japan. 

The Origins Of Pachinko

Even though pachinko is mainly played in Japan, the basis for the game didn’t begin there. It was actually inspired by a game played in the 1920s in the United States.

The game was called the Corinth game and was popular with kids and teens. 

The more adult-friendly concept was brought to Nagoya, Japan, but didn’t have much of a chance to become successful before parlors were closed during the war. After the war, pachinko caught on in Japan and has been a craze ever since. 

This innovative new game brought so much joy to the people of Japan, a parlor was opened in 1948 dedicated to the game. Since then, many more pachinko parlors have opened up throughout the country over the years. 

The game is a staple in Japanese culture today, with many tourists searching out pachinko parlors to gain insight into the game. 

About Pachinko

Pachinko combines the classic pinball-type game many know and love with the fun of gambling, as you can place bets during the game. 

The goal of the game is to launch a small steel ball inside the pachinko machine to try and get more balls to keep playing. Once you win balls, you can continue trying to play to win more balls or play it safe and trade in your winnings. 

Players are able to control the speed at which the balls move, which is part of the strategy to try and win even more balls. 

Gambling In Japan 

Pachinko is the only legal gambling game allowed in Japan. Gambling in and of itself is now allowed in Japan, but pachinko was able to circumvent the law. This is because you don’t actually exchange the balls for cash. Instead, you exchange your winnings for a ticket at the parlor.

Once winners get their tickets, they have to go to a separate location in order to cash in their ticket. That other vendor will then work with the pachinko parlor to square up the transaction. 

There are some pachinko parlors that operate this way, and some that offer alternatives. These alternatives are essentially prizes that can be exchanged for the balls won, which can include anything from trinkets to vouchers for groceries and other household items

Pachinko has also been a large revenue booster for Japan, given that even in times of economic uncertainty, people are still willing to try their luck with a few rounds of pachinko.

While the prizes in and of themselves aren’t large like in Vegas, they are enough to keep the game very exciting. 

Believe it or not, even if people aren’t winning tens and thousands of dollars through a jackpot, pachinko ends up bringing in a lot more revenue than some of the biggest casino cities around the world. 

What Pachinko Means

The word pachinko doesn’t actually mean anything. It’s a play on words related to the sound the machine makes during the machines operation. The games are typically very flashy and noisy, with lights and graphics, and music. 

The First Pachinko Machines

When pachinko machines were first conceptualized, they were completely mechanical in nature.

One would have to put physical balls into the machine and would direct the balls to the slots. These classic machines still exist to this day. 

In order to keep the game interesting for repeat customers, people working at the pachinko parlors would change the direction of the pins that would act as obstacles for the balls to make the game look completely different. Thus, once a person would master the game, they would have to master a new game later on. 

How Pachinko Works

At the pachinko parlor, you buy a bucket or tray of balls and head to one of the pachinko machines. You can purchase as few or as many balls as you would like.

The balls are very inexpensive, so many players will purchase a full bucket that rounds out to about 100 yen. 

In the pachinko machine, there are several slots that correspond with different amounts, with one being a jackpot.

The game requires you to launch your balls in the pachinko machine, similar to pinball while aiming at the best numbers you can. 

The jackpot consists of more balls to play with, at which point you can either turn your balls in or keep playing. You have control over how many balls you want to play at once. 

Once your balls are loaded into the machine, you’ll put a lever and let it spring back to release the balls. Some machines will have a knob to control the game instead of a lever, but the general concept is still the same. 

There are barriers and bumpers along the way that’ll knock the ball around until it makes its way either into a hole or a cup that corresponds with a prize amount.

Some machines also have more obstacles in the way, such as cups that will open and close at random intervals to make it harder to win. 

How Hard Is Pachinko?

The basic concept of pachinko isn’t that difficult to grasp, and it can be an enjoyable game for both beginners and experts. That being said, it does take some strategizing and skill to master the game. 

The goal is to win more and more balls then you can hopefully exchange for either a really good prize or Japanese currency.

Strategy comes into play when it comes to how hard to launch the ball and when. However, there’s a part of the game that you have to just leave up to chance and luck, which is part of the fun. 

Modern Pachinko Machines

Many modern pachinko machines have gone digital, and have become more interactive and complex with mini-games and other unique features sprinkled throughout gameplay.

The interface consists of an LCD screen so you don’t need any physical balls to launch into the slots. 

New Additions To Pachinko Games

Many of the modern machines that are more digital in nature have added new features and challenges to the game.

Some well-known ones are kakuhen, koatari, and jitan. Some pachinko parlors even allow for sponsored machines, which many popular brands have taken advantage of to advertise in these popular parlors. 


Koatari is a more modern addition to pachinko games, and it essentially makes the game a little bit more interesting.

There is a jackpot associated with this randomized part of the game, but it’s much harder to get any balls through the koatari gate. 


Kahuhen is the name for one of the modes that pachinko can be played in. It’s another random part of the game that will sometimes get activated and can help players potentially hit higher jackpots. 


Jitan is another mode that can be randomly generated in pachinko, which allows for the balls to spin more rapidly than in other modes. 

Pachislo Machines 

Pachislo is a game loosely inspired by pachinko and can be found at some pachinko parlors. However, instead of buying balls to shoot into the slots to win, you use tokens, a lever, and buttons.

It’s still a game that takes some skill to perfect, but mastering it is just as fun. 

They are somewhat similar to slot machines that are well-known in other countries, giving the pachinko parlor a casino-like vibe. 

Where To Play Pachinko

Regardless of what city you’re staying in when visiting Japan, you’re bound to find a parlor close by. Many will offer some glitz and glamor on the outside to entice you in, so you won’t miss it when you’re walking down the street. 

Japanese Arcades

Outside of pachinko parlors, there are also a ton of arcades spread throughout Japan, given how much Japan loves their games. You might even be able to find a pachinko machine in one of the arcades.

Arcades are a must as well when in Japan. They typically have younger kids leave in the evenings so adults can have the place to themselves for a few hours. Arcades are open to people under 18 whereas the pachinko parlors are not.

Japans Pachinko Obsession

My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.