What is Pachinko? Japan’s most popular game explained!

  • Pachinko resembles a pinball game with slot machine functions, the main difference between these two is that Pachinko pays out ball bearings that are exchanged for prizes, instead of cash like a traditional slot machine.
  • The industry started off in the 1940s and is now entertaining over 30 million players across the country, with a company called Dynam as the main offline operator owning more than 400 Pachinko halls.
  • Well known video games produced by Japanese software giants, like Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill, have their own Pachinko version as well.

Slot machines and online casinos do not enjoy the same level of popularity in Japan as they do here in Canada, this is partly down to a law that only allows a few forms of gambling in the country. Because of that, a game called Pachinko gained popularity within parlours across the country.

The Japanese have been enjoying the game of pachinko since the 1940s. It’s evolved over the years from a board game into one that incorporates elements of modern slot machines, such as bonus mini-games, colourful themes, and graphics. Pachinko is a dynamic, loud, and unique game with exciting sounds and bright lights. There are even pachinko versions of such poplar Japanese video games as Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill.

Almost half of Japan’s leisure time is spent in pachinko parlours (or halls), with the industry hiring more people than the top 10 car manufacturers in the country. One of the main corporate operators is a company called Dynam, which owns 400 of these halls. Dynam promotes its venues as being quieter and more presentable than a traditional parlour.

If you’ve never set foot in Japan, however, you may have never even heard of the game. So, let’s look at what it is!

How to Play Pachinko

Rather than inserting coins into a machine directly, you purchase ball bearings at a machine/counter in the pachinko hall. On average, it cost 4 yen per ball, which is equivalent to roughly $0.05 CD. As it costs so little to play, players sometimes purchase hundreds of balls at a time.

You need to turn a dial to determine how much force the balls propel at. The dial is also a button that propels one ball after another to the top of the machine. The fast-paced game allows you to propel balls quickly if you’re looking to land a bonus.

While pachinko resembles a pinball machine, there are some major differences. For one, the balls used in pachinko are far smaller than those in pinball. You can also remove the balls from a pachinko, whereas you’d have a hard time taking them out of a pinball machine.

Playing the game is simple. You load one or more balls and pull the handle. This shoots the balls into the playing field, and where the ball lands determined the outcome. There are multiple pins in the playing field that act as the game’s randomizers. The ball could also land inside a catcher before it reaches the bottom, which triggers a payout.

Some pachinko games have flippers, as in a pinball machine. You can use these flappers to encourage the ball to land in a catcher. Whereas flippers in a pinball machine are controlled by the player, in pachinko, they’re opened and closed by the machine. This makes it either more or less difficult for the ball to land in the catcher. The aim is to win as many pachinko balls as possible. 

Rather than win money, you’ll be rewarded for landing balls in the right holes and winning additional ball bearings in the bonus games. You can enjoy extended gameplay from any ball bearings earned. Or you can trade them in for prizes if you’d prefer.

Bonus Games

Just like with a slot machine, a pachinko game went from being purely mechanical to more closely resembling a video slot. And like a video slot, there are different visuals, designs, and themes for different pachinko machines. There are also different bonus games. If you meet the conditions for a bonus, you could be greeted by a reel that offers you the chance to land a huge amount of ball bearings. Some of the more modern machines feature screens in the centre that show videos and text while you’re playing. These features are introduced in the bonus games.

How to Win Money

Due to the gambling restrictions in Japan, pachinko players are unable to trade in their pachinko balls for cash. They can, however, exchange them for prizes. Fortunately for Japanese players, there’s a loophole in the law that states that as players aren’t trading their prizes/tickets for actual money in the same venue that the game is played in, they aren’t technically gambling. These prizes include toys, gadgets, food, and alcoholic drinks.

If you play at a particular pachinko hall on a regular basis, you could consider returning at a later date so that the hall gives you the choice of exchanging your balls for tickets that you can then trade for prizes, save up, or cash in for balls at a later date. As a result of the loophole, there are numerous shops in Japan that deal exclusively in pachinko trading, but that’s a topic for another time.