Text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
What impressed me more the first time I went into a pachinko parlor was not the rows of absorbed players that seemed as if they were part of the machines with their right hand constantly stuck on the round lever handling them. Nor the bright colors and the lights on the machines’ panels –after staying for a while in Japan the abundance of color and light stimuli makes you immune to them. What really shocked me was the noise: it was the first time that the expression “wall of sound” made perfect sense in my mind (actually the second if I include a Motörhead concert almost 30 years ago in the Sporting basketball arena in Athens) as the combined aural effect overwhelmed all of my senses; apparently only mine since both the players and the, of course smiling, parlor employees didn’t seem to particularly mind.
I still can’t understand how pachinko players can endure sitting hour after hour in this environment. Perhaps because I never felt any special attraction to gambling –and despite Japanese society’s best efforts to pretend otherwise, pachinko are gambling: players win the machines’ silver balls, they exchange them for prizes in the parlor’s office and then take these prizes to a small, very discreet office outside the parlor and exchange them for cash (even though everyone knows the procedure, the apparent separation between the latter office and the parlor is enough to abide to the letter of the law that demands that the balls-chips can’t be exchanged for money in the parlor-casino). Still, many players go in the parlor early in the morning (lining up before it even starts) and they leave at night, when it closes –and pachinko close late.
Perhaps I have been affected by everything I’ve read here and there about gambling and its effect on the players-addicts but every time I pass a pachinko parlor (especially if it is somewhere in the countryside) or every time I see in front of a construction site the information boards announcing that the building being built is one more temple to the small silver spherical god, I feel somewhat strange. Even though I have completely accepted the fact that Japan is not the country I dreamt when I was a kid –as a matter of fact, I’m happy it isn’t! – the sight of silent people immersed in a sea of noise and with the neon lights reflected on their faces is depressing upon itself and it confirms all those stereotypes about the pathologies of modern Japanese society. On the other hand, all stereotypes have some substance –how absolute this substance is, is in the eye of the beholder.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.