Asia | Japan | Northern Honshu | Niigata – Finding my way to a Pachinko Parlor
I had thought that finding an internet cafe in Japan would be easier than it is. It would help if I could read kanji, but even with that knowledge, it can be a little hard for me to get logged in, especially when I have to pass a pachinko parlor to get there.
I have to tell you something about myself. I have a pachinko machine back home in the States. It is one that my father brought back from Japan at some point when he was in the Navy. I spent many hours as a child messing with this machine trying to understand how it works and to get it to work properly and enjoying all the bells and lights.
Now, I could go into a parlor FILLED with them! The internet can wait!
A pachinko machine involves silver balls, smaller than a marble, but bigger than a pencil eraser. And too easy for a child to swallow, believe me. It is about a meter tall, and half a meter wide. The top 3/4 of the machine is filled with an area with pins and wheels and lights and holes for the balls to fall into. On the right hand side, 3/4 of the way down is a handle. On the front of the machine 3/4 of the way down is a tray you put the balls into. The goal is to turn or push the handle in a way so as to fling the balls up to the top of the machine to have them rain down through the pins, turn the wheels, trigger the bells and lights, and if you are so lucky (or skilled, depending on your point of view) as to have the balls fall into the correct slots, you receive extra balls back in your tray as a reward.
I entered a parlor on a side street in Niigata. According to my map, this was the way to the internet cafe…really.
The double doors slid open, and the air was filled with the sounds of slinging balls, dinging bells, and falling collections of silver rewards. I rounded a corner to find rows upon rows of people sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, almost back-to-back with each other, spinning their handles and waiting for fate to fall between the pins. If you have seen slot machines in Las Vegas, or any casino, start with that image, and then narrow the rows. Instead of drink girls wandering the isles, there were Japanese ‘callers’, people with microphone headsets going through the isles reporting people’s successes through the loudsystem. They weren’t bringing drinks to the guests, but they would bring packs of cigarettes and go so far as to unwrap them and pull out the first cigarette for you. At the feet of some of the professionals, were plastic colored boxes filled with shinny silver balls.
All the rows nearest the doors were filled with players. To the side of the entrance was an area with couches and a TV for the spouses of players in the parlor. There were both husbands and wives waiting there. I walked to the back of the parlor where I found four machines sitting alone, unused. This looked like a good spot for me.
I understood how to work the machine, I just couldn’t find a spot on it to put some Yen coins to receive my first set of silver balls. I tried pushing all the buttons to see if that would help, and I did find that one would call an employee to help me. She directed me to a machine on the end of the isle, where I could insert a 1000 bill and receive a card with 10 credits on it.
Taking my card, I returned to my machine. It was now more than happy to help me, and I found the button that would deduct a credit and flow silver pachinko balls into my tray in return. While my machine at home has a lever you can flick, this machine has a knob you can turn, like a doorknob. With a gentle turn…a ball wearily makes it way half way up the launching ramp, and sinks back to the bottom. With a hard flick of the wrist…the next ball flies to the top of the launching ramp and tumbles down through the pins! A few more flicks,,,and suddenly,,,lights flashing and bells ringing, success!
I continue to turn my knob, looking for more silver balls to fall in my tray as a reward. Sometimes they would, by three or five or even eight, but not as often as they would simply dissappear into the depths of the machine. I continued to turn, and to use my credits. This repitition of motion could give someone carpal tunnel syndrome. ‘Dear Doctor, I ruined my wrist gambling, can you fix it?’ ‘Dear Patient, Quit gambling.’ So when my credits ran out, I departed from my machine, and continued on my way. And look, the map was right, the internet cafe was right here, all along.