Sunday, January 12, 2014

Memories of Japan: Pachinko

Today is Sunday, January 12, 2014. 

My computer is on the blink today and in the shop, so I am writing this from the public library.  I'll go ahead and publish without a picture, and add one as soon as I can.  :-)

Next to every train station there is at least one pachinko parlor, featuring huge, noisy, upright machines into which you feed little steel balls that you shoot one-at-a-time into the machine.  You guide the balls through a maze by means of little tabs that you control to some degree with little knobs, and if you can get the ball into a certain pocket, you win a few more balls to play with. 

In the summer, they generally keep the front doors open, which means you can hear the noise of the machines as billions of balls get tossed around the maze, and every few seconds someone's machine gushes forth with balls for a lucky winner.  All kids of people played pachinko, but I noticed that there were a lot of old grannys sitting there, staring intently into their machines.  Some of them were making quite a haul, and I wondered whether there were people in Japan who were addicted to gambling, as there are here in the United States. 

My father-in-law was told that I wanted to check out a pachinko parlor, so he announced one afternoon that he would take me. My Japanese wasn't that great at the time, but fortunately, neither he nor I are that talkative, and we managed to spend a pleasant few hours together.  Once inside, he bought me some steels balls, which were handed to me in an electric blue plastic tub.  Then he told me that he was going to find me a good machine to play.  I allowed him to choose a machine, then sat down to play, while he scouted around for a machine elsewhere. 

I managed to keep playing for about 20 minutes, but eventually ran out of balls, so I grabbed the empty plastic tub and looked for my father-in-law.  He was amassing quite a cache of steel balls, but cheerfully interrupted his game to buy me another tub full of balls so I could keep playing.  As before, he insisted on choosing the machine for me; then he went back to his own game.

I lost all those balls too, eventually, but he bought me one more tub.  This time, I asked if it was OK if I chose my own machine.  He nodded, and I went to some machines way in the back of the parlor.  This machine turned out to be a winner, and I eventually amassed so many balls that I had to get a couple of larger tubs to hold them all.  Finally, I started losing balls, so I quit while I was ahead, piled all my winnings into the tubs, and went in search of my father-in-law.  When he saw my loot, he immediately ended his game and helped me carry the heavy load to the front of the parlor. 

My prize turned out to be a couple of boxes of Ritz crackers, which were a kind of "status symbol" in Japan because they are from America.  I was a little disappointed, but my father-in-law whispered not to worry.  We exited the shop, crackers in hand, and went around the corner to an alley, where he went up to a tiny window that I would have missed if I hadn't been with someone who knew better.  We pressed a button and the window opened.  My father-in-law took the boxes of crackers and shoved them into the window, and we were handed back some cash. 

"This is all illegal, you know," said my father-in-law with a wink.

I had to laugh because he was a retired policeman.  Naturally he would know all about the illegal stuff.  I asked him if we had really won anything, considering how much we spent.

"No, we just about broke even," was his reply.  Sure enough, in Japan, as elsewhere, the House always wins. :-)