Pachinko History (And How It Works)

Pachinko is a very popular game in Japan, but it’s a game that took a different path than other pinball-type games. In order to understand what Pachinko is and how it works, it’s worth learning more about the history of the game.

Pachinko has its roots in different versions of bagatelle, specifically the Billard Japonais (Japanese Billiards) version. As an industry, it brings in more than $200 billion a year in Japan. It’s similar to old style pinball machines, but it also plays more like an arcade slot machine.

Below, we’ll go into more detail about the history of Pachinko, and explain how it’s played. We’ll also discuss a bit about the legal side of the game, and how the game works. But first, let’s take a closer look at the history of Pachinko.

History Of Pachinko

In 1920s America there was a wide range of “marble games” or bagatelle games. These were essentially pinball machines before the term “pinball machine” was coined. But unlike the history of pinball developing into what it is known as by most people today, Pachinko took a different turn.

During this time Japanese people had also gained an interest in these machines, specifically the Corinthian Bagatelle. This game had a vertical field that would shoot balls into circular formations with metal pins instead of wood pins.

British Roots

Pachinko then became its own game, taking ideas from the Corinthian and the “Circle of Pleasure” game. The Circle of Pleasure was a British game from 1910 that was simpler than Corinthian and smaller too. Pachinko would even be called Corinth Game in the candy shops of Japan.

The Japanese Bagatelle would eventually evolve into the Pachinko game and these machines had spring loaded launchers (like a modern pinball machine). On normal bagatelle tables, you would hit the ball with a cue stick like you would in a game of billiards. Kids would play the game to try and win candy from the shop.

They were a form of amusement that allowed kids to try and win a chocolate bar. These machines usually printed out tickets or coins that would be exchanged for a gift at the shop. This quickly drew attention from older crowds too for the wagering of money. By 1936 there were an estimated 35 Pachinko parlors in Kochi alone.

World War 2

Shortly after WW2 began, the production of Pachinko machines stopped due to the materials and man power that were needed for the war effort. The short two-year wave of Pachinko popularity stopped too, with all the parlors closing down. But by 1947 the game picked back up, with some machine spitting out more balls for winning instead of tickets or tokens.

After the war, just as with pinball in America, the advancement of these machines really accelerated. From machines allowing for more than one ball to be won at a time, to others with more areas to score points, autoloaders and even lights as well.

In the 1980s, flashing lights, small animations and even screens started to appear on Pachinko machines. This made the machines take on more of a slot machine image since it would have displays and even graphic stepper reels. These are the parts of the machine that spin, and players hope to see three of the same images in a row.

What Is Pachinko?

Pachinko is a game that’s like a cross between a slot machine and an old bagatelle game. Players use an automatic plunger to shoot the ball into a playfield, where they try to get it into the jackpot hole to win more balls. Prizes are then awarded depending on how many balls the player wins.

These machines now have video displays, flashing lights, animations, music and even different game modes. Similar to casino games, the goal is to keep the player putting more balls into the machine. Most modern machines even have a digital slot machine in the middle of the field.

A Massive Industry

Although Japan has a law against gambling, Pachinko isn’t technically considered gambling since you can’t redeem your winnings for cash, at least not at the Pachinko parlor. Despite the law, the Pachinko industry has a market value of around $200 billion. It generates more gambling revenue than Las Vegas, Macau, and Singapore combined.

Like a pinball parlor or a casino, you will walk into these parlors and see many machines lined up in rows. You buy the balls off the attendant at the parlor for around 4 yen per ball and start loading them into your machine.

They have plungers that shoot the ball into the field where you hope it will land in a hole that will give you more balls. The plungers are not like pinball plungers as they are more like a knob you spin that will control the speed at which the ball goes into the field.

Pachinko Parlors

There are also Pachinko parlors not focused around gambling. They want to take the gambling aspect out of them and let the games be enjoyed as an arcade game instead of a slot machine. These places tend to charge less for each ball, usually around 1 yen. This allows you to avoid getting caught up playing trying to win big or win back a loss.

They still do give out similar rewards but avoid the high payout rewards that can be exchanged for cash. The environment is more friendly and laidback too. Instead of the usual loud, busy Pachinko parlor atmosphere, it’s a place to hang out. The rewards usually come in the form of candy or some type of alcoholic drink.

How Is Pachinko Legal

Pachinko is legal because the “special prizes” that can be won and exchanged for cash are only exchangeable at specific places outside of the Pachinko parlor itself. Because the prizes are not redeemed for cash onsite, the game is perfectly legal.

The Japanese laws surrounding gambling means that cash prizes can’t be given out at the parlors themselves. However, there is no rule saying that you can’t exchange a prize down the street for some cash.

Vouchers For Cash

If you collect enough Pachinko balls while playing you can take them to get counted, usually by a machine. This machine will print out a voucher of how many balls you won, and this can be taken to the parlor attendant.

If you don’t have enough to buy a “special prize” you will have to settle for some candy, a lighter, a pen or some other small item. They also have prizes ranging from electronics to bicycles and even sometimes grocery vouchers for a local supermarket.

These could obviously be sold on the street for cash, but the aim is to get a “special prize”. These prizes are either gold or silver novelty items that will have different sizes and shapes and are wrapped in plastic.

Getting Around The Law

When a player gets one of these prizes, they can take it, usually right down the street or next door, and exchange the item for cash. There is no issue because the parlors and the establishment that buy these items off the players are not directly connected to each other.

However, the people that buy the special prizes off the player are often the ones that sell these prizes to the Pachinko parlor. But since they are not owned by the same people, there is no legal problem.

How To Play Pachinko

Pachinko is played by pressing a button or pulling a lever to shoot one or more balls into a playfield. The aim of the game is to land balls in the jackpot hole, and this can be made easier or harder depending on the game mode you play and how long you hold the button or how you pull the lever.

Once you have some of the metal Pachinko balls from the attendant you are ready to play the game. The machines will be lined up for use and come in many different variations. They use band titles, movies, TV shows, and even video games to make the games more appealing, in a similar way to the themes and designs of pinball machines.

You will then insert the balls into the tray at the bottom of the machine, as this is where the balls will be loaded and dispensed if you win more. Using the spinner rod, you can load one or multiple balls in at one time and spin the handle.

Too Many Balls At Once

This can be controlled like a plunger, as certain levels will have a specific speed you want the ball to enter at. Loading multiple balls at once can fill the launcher, making it difficult to get the balls into the game. So, it’s advised not to do too many at one time. The ball will then either shoot into the field, usually on the left-hand side or at the top of the field.

The goal is to simply get the balls into the jackpot hole, and this will either have an automatic win or start the slot machine reels. If the reels land with the same number or symbol across the board you can win a big payout.

Other games have flippers but are not controlled by the player, and instead they automatically open or close. These are also used to widen the hole to drop the ball into it instead of kicking the ball away like in pinball.

Different Ways To Play

There are different modes you can play like in pinball. An example would be a mission mode or berserker mode. Different modes can make the game much harder with a higher payout, or much easier with a smaller payout.

Final Thoughts

The history of Pachinko begins with the 18th century game of Billiard Japonais, or Japanese Billiards. Nowadays, the Pachinko industry in Japan is worth upwards of $200 billion per year. While it plays like an arcade slot machine, Pachinko is similar in style to older pinball machines.