Photographer's Note

Near every train station in nearly every urban area of Japan, you will find a pachinko parlour. It is usually the gaudiest building in the street and as bright as daylight (which is why I could shoot this without a tripod). A pachinko machine is a cross between a slot machine and a pinball machine, and in Japan it is very big business.

According to, the pachinko business employs a third of a million people, three times more than the steel industry; it commands 40 percent of Japan's leisure industry, and with 30 million regular enthusiasts coughing up more 30 trillion yen a year (a higher turnover than the car industry), it's big business indeed.

As soon as you step up to a pachinko parlour, the electric doors slide open, and the noise hits you (and the smell of cigarette smoke as well). The wall of noise seems to help the serious gamblers to switch off as they sit in silence in front of their chosen machines. Sometimes they're there all day - it's common to see people lining up outside a parlour first thing in the morning, waiting to get the machine they think is going to pay up, and almost as common to see them come out in the evening having won - or lost - a day's pay or more.

To play pachinko you buy a tray of small steel balls, resembling ball bearings – you can see the trays of balls on the floor behind the gamblers in the interior shot that I have posted to the WS. You pay about 4 yen per ball and while you can buy just 100 yen's worth, no serious gambler would start by spending less than a few thousand yen.

Pachinko is played on what looks like a vertical pinball machine. The steel balls are released into the machine and fall through a maze of nail-like pins. The idea is to get the balls to fall into slots where they accumulate and to aim for jackpots, which pay out thousands more balls.

Parlours are not legally allowed to pay out cash. So you take your trays of balls and exchange them for prizes like washing powder, cigarettes and branded goods, or tokens that can be cashed in at a nearby hole-in-the-wall. These places then sell the tokens back to the parlour, with their cut on top.

The interior shot of the pachinko parlour that I have posted to the Workshop was not easy to get. It is the interior of the parlour on the left of this street. The doorman kept waving me away when I tried to take a photograph inside, so I hid behind the flowers on the opposite side of the street (the flowers signify the opening of another pachinko parlour) and made out I was taking a close-up of the flowers (with a 200mm lens!) and waited for the electric doors to open across the street when somebody walked out. The doors opened for only a few seconds, and people kept walking in front of them, so it was hard to get a clear view, but after 12 attempts I got the shot you see in the WS.

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Additional Photos by David Astley (banyanman) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1231 W: 108 N: 2568] (7797)
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