April 18, 2007

An Obsession With Ball-Bearings

One thing I've never really been able to understand in Japan is the degree to which some people are obsessed with pachinko - a kind of bagatelle-like slot machine game. I've never tried it myself, but from what I understand, due to the restrictive Japanese gambling laws, it's not actually legal to use or win cash for this game. So people buy some ball-bearings, which they then feed into the machine in the hope of winning more ball-bearings. Peeking inside a pachinko parlour (as they are called), you can see some of the punters fully focussed on their machine with baskets of ball-bearings on the floor behind them.

Once a session is over, the ball-bearings are exchanged for some token gift, which the punter then takes to a window in a separate building to exchange for cash. Since no cash has been given out as winnings inside the premises, it doesn't fall foul of the law.

You can see people waiting outside the parlours at prior to opening time in the morning, and there are whole channels on satellite TV dedicated to this activity, though quite what the thrill is I don't know.

This picture shows the queue forming outside a newly revamped parlour, everybody wanting to get there on day one.

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