Pachinko and its role in Japanese culture

Mention Japan and gaming together, and chances are pachinko cannot be too far behind. Starting out as a children's game in the 20s, it has since transitioned to being a source of entertainment for adults. A version of another popular game, the pinball, the machines pay out winnings with small metal balls which may then be exchanged for cash. It used to be a primary preoccupation for the Japanese. Despite its popularity and prevalence in the country, it is not subject to gaming taxes nor is it considered gambling, which is not legal. Unfortunately, modern technology and changing demographics have contributed to its deterioration in acceptance.

For one, mobile phones have become ubiquitous, and these are used not just for communications but also for amusement, especially by the younger age group. They would rather get their gaming fix from their gadgets than frequent a pachinko parlor, which is not helped by its reputation as hang out for idle and retired chain-smoking men.

Pachinko in Japan has also not been helped by an economic slump that the country is just beginning to get out of. During that difficult economic period, all industries related to leisure experienced a decline of almost 33%, and this game was not spared. This also exacerbates the problem with attracting younger supporters as the youth find themselves with not much money. Thus, the little money they have is spent elsewhere, including likely on casinos that are already seeking legalization and may offer higher pay outs.

The industry is not giving up though. It may no longer enjoy the prestige and fame it once held, but pachinko in Japan is not about to wave the white flag or go out quietly. After all, this is an industry that still experiences wagers of about $185 billion annually, although this is already a significant decline from the $304 billion of wagers in the past two decades. There are now attempts to explore other markets, such as the women and the younger crowd. These efforts have entailed designating no-smoking areas, applying a more feminine touch to the parlors including higher ceilings and better ventilation, installing dividers for privacy, and offering pop culture such as anime characters and all-girl bands.

Actively participating in these changes are two of the largest operators in Japan, Dynam Japan Holdings and Maruhan Corp. Though the former sees only nine percent of its players under 30, this is already a marked improvement from 2006 when the young crowd only accounted for five percent. The women also now make up 27% of its customers.

With these innovations and constant updates, it is hoped that pachinko in Japan will experience a revival and thus help preserve a piece of its cultural history.

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