Modified Pinball Machines In Japan: Pachinko And Neglected Children

Fred and I were out drinking the other night. I queried Fred as to if he had seen any statistics on pachinko fatalities. He immediately understood that I was not talking about the gamblers who played pachinko, but the small children who suffer because of their parents’ gambling problems. Every year at least several of the babies and small children left in cars parked in parking lots with the engine running and the air conditioning on die from the summer heat. Eventually, the car engine stops, the air conditioning stops, temperatures in the car rise to over 100, and the heat kills the children. We hear the news of other types of fatal pachinko related accidents almost every year, when some parent leaves children alone at home to go and gamble on the pachinko machines. Sometimes the children die in fires and sometimes it is something else.

Fred said that he had not seen any statistics but that it was not that many, especially compared to the hundreds of thousands who died from smoking and drinking and the tens of thousands who died in car accidents. I said that was true, but it just defies reason to leave your children like that. He agreed, but stated that gambling is an addiction.

Pachinko started out as a pinball game in the United States but never became popular. Introduced to Japan, the game was modified and spread like wildfire. Basically, the idea is to shoot little balls into the right places and get more little balls. One reason that many Japanese embraced pachinko and that the game spread so widely is that it is gambling. Money is not given out at pachinko parlors, just prizes. Near almost every pachinko parlor, however, is someplace where you can convert your pachinko winnings to cash. Research has shown that when gambling is illegal, many people gamble and approximately 1% of the population have a serious gambling problem. When gambling becomes legal, more people gamble, and the number of people with serious gambling problems doubles.

Parents in Japan who become addicted to the game can’t control themselves and some children pay the price with their lives.

He challenged me to think of a single modern country without any problems. I could not. Japan may have problems with pachinko fatalities, deaths from overwork and more. Still, these problems pale when compared with gun deaths and drug problems in America.

I asked him if he had ever played pachinko. Fred said he had never played pachinko and asked me if I had. Remembering my single foray into a dark and smoky pachinko parlor, I nodded my head and said I tried it once.

I remembered going into a dark smoke-filled room where grim-faced men sat in dark clothes chain smoking and shooting balls into machines. The image was sadder than blank-faced senior citizens feeding slot machines in Reno. The room was full of noise of pachinko machines and incredibly loud music. I stepped up to a machine to buy some balls, popped 100 yen in, and some balls came out. Scooping them up in my hand as 100 yen worth of balls was not enough to need a bucket, I stepped to a machine, fed them in and pushed the button again and again and again. They were gone in a minute or two.

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