Beginner's Guide to Playing Pachinko in Japan

May 10, 2024

Pachinko is one of the most popular forms of entertainment in Japan. It's a game that combines a slot machine with a pinball machine. While many people have seen it, there are quite a few who don't know how to actually play. This guide will explain how to play Japanese pachinko for those who need guidance. Use this article as a reference to enjoy a slightly exciting pachinko experience, a unique aspect of Japan.

Basic Knowledge of Pachinko

Let's first learn about the basics of Pachinko, including what it is, how it differs from pachislot, and the budget required for beginners to start playing.

What is Pachinko?

Pachinko is a popular Japanese game that involves shooting small metal balls into a vertical board filled with pins and obstacles. The objective is to get as many balls as possible into specific pockets or slots, which will then release more balls as a reward. These balls can be exchanged for prizes at the end of the game. While pachinko does have gambling elements, it is legally classified as a form of entertainment rather than gambling under Japanese law.

Difference Between Pachinko and Pachislot

Although both pachinko and pachislot are popular forms of entertainment in Japan, they have different game mechanisms. Pachinko involves shooting balls into a vertical board, while pachislot is a slot machine-style game where players insert coins to spin reels. Pachislot is generally considered to have a higher gambling element compared to pachinko.

Budget Required for Beginners

The amount of money required to start playing pachinko varies from person to person, but beginners are recommended to have a budget of at least a few thousand yen. Pachinko is a game that heavily relies on luck, so while it is possible to win a large number of balls in a short period, it is also possible to quickly use up your entire budget. It is crucial to set a reasonable budget and stick to it. The minimum investment amount is usually 500 JPY, and the minimum usage amount for “1(ichi) yen pachinko” is 500 JPY.

Names and Characteristics of Pachinko Machine Parts

Pachinko machines have various parts, each with its own important role. Let's take a closer look at the names and characteristics of the main parts.

[1. Ball Lending Button]

The ball lending button is a vertical button located on the left side of the pachinko machine. Pressing this button will release balls according to the amount of money inserted. The balls accumulate in the upper or lower tray.

[2. Upper Tray and Lower Tray]

The upper and lower trays are the two trays located at the front of the pachinko machine. The upper tray is where the balls released by pressing the ball lending button accumulate, and the lower tray is where the balls that overflow from the upper tray accumulate.

[3. Handle]

The handle is the lever located on the right side of the pachinko machine. Turning this handle to the right will shoot the balls. The speed of the balls can be adjusted by how the handle is turned.

[4. Start Checker]

The start checker is the winning pocket located at the top center of the pachinko machine. When a ball enters this winning pocket, a lottery for a jackpot is conducted.

[5. Reserve Lamp]

The reserve lamp is the lamp located near the start checker. When a ball enters the start checker, this lamp lights up. The number of lamps indicates how many times the jackpot lottery will be conducted.

[6. LCD Screen]

The LCD screen is the large display located in the center of the pachinko machine. This screen displays animations and jackpot performances.

[7. Gimmick (Yaku-mono)]

The gimmick is the movable decoration located at the top of the pachinko machine. During a jackpot, this gimmick moves or lights up to enhance the performance.

[8. Attacker]

The attacker is the winning pocket that opens during a jackpot. During a jackpot, inserting balls into this attacker allows you to win a large number of balls.

[9. Return Button]

The return button is the button located at the bottom right of the pachinko machine. When you press this button to end the game, the balls remaining in the upper or lower tray will be paid out.

How to Play Pachinko and the Flow of the Game

Playing pachinko may seem a little bit complicated for beginners, but the basic flow is relatively simple. Let's go through the steps from selecting a pachinko parlor to exchanging your winnings for prizes.

1. Selecting a Pachinko Parlor

Image Source: Google Street View

The first and most crucial step is to choose a suitable pachinko parlor that fits your needs and preferences. For beginners who are new to the game, it is highly recommended to select a well-established major chain store or a store with a good reputation and positive reviews from experienced players. Look for a store that is bright, clean, welcoming, and has a friendly and inviting atmosphere to ensure a pleasant gaming experience.

2. Entering the Parlor

When you enter a pachinko parlor for the first time, you will immediately notice that there is no reception desk or staff members to greet you at the entrance. You can enter and exit the store relatively freely without any formalities or check-in procedures. If you go early in the morning, you may find many eager people already waiting for the store to open, but this is a common sight in Japan and nothing to be concerned about.

3. Choosing a Pachinko Machine

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Once inside the store, take your time to explore and choose an available pachinko machine that suits your preferences and skill level. For beginners who are just starting out, machines called "light-middle spec" with relatively high jackpot probability are generally recommended as they offer a better chance of winning. Tie-up machines featuring popular anime and manga characters are also popular choices among beginners as they add an extra level of excitement and familiarity to the game.

4. Borrowing Balls

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After deciding on a specific machine that you want to play, the next step is to borrow the necessary balls to start playing. Insert your money into the ball lending machine called "Sando" located on the left side of the pachinko machine, and press the ball lending button to release the balls into the upper tray. In recent years, many stores have introduced a more convenient and efficient ball lending system using IC cards for smoother transactions and to minimize the need for physical cash.

Using IC Cards for Ball Lending

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Many pachinko parlors now use IC cards for ball lending. With this system, you can charge (deposit) money onto a prepaid IC card and borrow balls by touching the card reader on the pachinko machine. The advantages of using an IC card include not having to carry cash, which is safer, and saving time when you want to use the ball lending function.

Some pachinko parlors also issue IC cards that double as membership cards. These cards offer various services such as game data management and point systems.

*The usage method for IC cards varies by store, so it is best to check with the staff when using them for the first time.

5. Shooting Balls Using the Handle

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Once the balls have accumulated in the upper tray, it's time to start playing the game. Grip the handle firmly with your right hand and rotate it to the right to shoot the balls onto the playing field.

6. Adjusting the Handle to Get Balls into Designated Spots

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The main objective of the game is to get the shot balls into a specific pocket called the "start checker". When a ball successfully enters the start checker, a lottery for a jackpot is automatically conducted on the LCD screen.

7. Aiming to Align Three Numbers

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In the jackpot lottery, the ultimate goal is usually to align three matching numbers. If the numbers align perfectly, an exciting jackpot round begins.

8. Winning Balls When a Jackpot Begins

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When a thrilling jackpot round begins, a special winning pocket called an "attacker" opens up. By skillfully inserting balls into this attacker pocket, you can win a large number of balls. The exact number of balls that can be won varies depending on the specific number of rounds in the current jackpot.

9. Ending the Game

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To end the game when you are finished playing, simply press the "return button" conveniently attached to the machine. Any balls remaining in either the upper or lower tray will be automatically paid out. If you are using an IC card to play, the card will come out of the machine. The IC card can then be easily exchanged for cash at the designated settlement machine located in the store.

10. Exchanging Won Balls for Prizes

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The balls that you have won during your gameplay can be exchanged for various exciting prizes at the prize exchange counter conveniently located in the store. Available prizes may vary by store but commonly include tasty snacks, cigarettes, and cool electronic devices.

How to Choose Pachinko Machines for Beginners

When choosing a pachinko machine as a beginner, it is a good idea to keep the following points in mind to increase your chances of winning and having a good time.

Choose machines with a jackpot probability of about 1 in 100

For beginners, it is recommended to choose machines with a relatively high jackpot probability. Machines with a jackpot probability of about 1 in 100 can be said to have a relatively high chance of winning.

Choose machines featuring your favorite anime or other themes

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There are many pachinko machines tied up with popular anime and manga. If you choose a machine featuring your favorite characters, you can enjoy playing while having fun and feeling more engaged with the game.

Choose popular machines with many customers

Machines that attract many customers in the store are likely to be popular machines. Popular machines often have a higher payout rate, so they are also recommended for beginners looking to increase their chances of winning.

Recommended Pachinko Machine in Japan

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If you're looking for a must-try pachinko game during your visit to Japan, the "Umi Monogatari (Sea Story)" series is an excellent choice. One of its greatest appeals lies in its simple and intuitive gameplay. Anyone can quickly grasp the rules and enjoy playing without any hassle. The adorable graphics and sounds featuring the ocean and marine life also create a friendly and inviting atmosphere.

Another reason why this series is so popular is that it appeals to a wide range of age groups. From younger generations to older folks, the simple gameplay and nostalgic design have captured the hearts of many. Visitors to Japan can experience a series that has been cherished by Japanese pachinko enthusiasts for a long time.

Moreover, Umi Monogartari series boasts numerous bonus features that increase the chances of hitting the jackpot or earning bonuses. These features add an extra layer of excitement to the game, allowing players to fully immerse themselves in the thrill of pachinko.

The series also keeps things fresh by regularly releasing new versions and updates, ensuring that players can enjoy a pachinko experience that incorporates the latest technology and trends.

If you are unsure which pachinko machine to choose, try playing Umi Monogatari once.

Taking on Pachislot Too

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When you visit a pachinko parlor, be sure to try not only pachinko but also pachislot! Pachislot (Pachinko Slot) is a type of gambling game that can be played in pachinko parlors, using slot machines. In Japan, it is one of the most popular forms of entertainment, alongside pachinko.

To play pachislo, players insert coins or medals and pull a lever to spin the reels. The game determines whether the player wins or loses based on the combination of symbols that appear on the reels. Various types of symbols are arranged on the reels, and players can win medals by lining up specific combinations of these symbols.

Recommended Pachislot Machine in Japan

Among pachislo machines, the Juggler series is highly recommended. One of the popular models in this series is the “I'm Juggler EX”.

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The reason why the Juggler series is recommended is its simple and easy-to-understand gameplay. It is basically composed of three types of symbols: "Cherry, Bell, and 7". The high payout performance of the Big Bonus and Regular Bonus, along with the rapid coin increase during the "Juggler Chance" that occurs after the bonus ends, attracts players. 

Additionally, the distinctive "Go-Go Lamp" notifies players of bonus wins and missed small prizes, providing visual enjoyment. The Juggler series has various successor models since its first generation, and the subtle differences between each model have made it beloved by many players over the years. Furthermore, the pop and cute design, as well as the character-like "7" symbol, make it friendly and contribute to the series' popularity.

Points to Note When Enjoying Pachinko

When enjoying pachinko, it is necessary to pay attention to the following points to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for yourself and others.

Communication Issues

Some pachinko parlors may not have staff who can speak English, and in-store displays are often only in Japanese. It is a good idea to learn some basic Japanese phrases or words to help you communicate. In large stores in urban areas, there may be staff who can speak English. Consider already downloading a translation app on your smartphone for smoother communication when you don’t understand what is being said. The best option is if you go with a Japanese friend, in this way you can avoid any communication problems altogether.

Methods of handing over dollar boxes vary by store

In pachinko parlors, plastic boxes called "dollar boxes" are used as containers for inserting balls. The method of handing over these boxes varies by store, so be sure to pay attention and follow the proper procedures.

Consideration for the people next to you

In pachinko parlors, the space between adjacent seats may be narrow. Refrain from making loud noises or hitting the machine violently, as this can disturb other players. Always be considerate of the people around you and in turn they will also be respectful of your area.

Set a budget and enjoy playing

Pachinko is a game with gambling elements, so it is important to set a budget in advance to avoid getting too absorbed in the game. Try to enjoy playing without being too concerned about winning or losing, and stick to your predetermined budget.

Be careful not to become addicted

Pachinko carries the risk of becoming addicted to gambling. It is important to pay attention to your playing time and how you spend your money. When playing pachinko always be aware of any signs of addiction, don’t get too obsessed over your wins or losses and enjoy the game as it is for the experience. If you feel that you are developing a problem, seek help from a professional.

Watch How to Play Pachinko on YouTube

In the YouTube video titled "How to Play Pachinko," Xander Skullion provides a step-by-step guide to mastering the game. The video covers everything from inserting the balls to aiming and releasing them into the pachinko machine. Viewers can learn how to navigate the game's complex mechanisms and discover tips for maximizing their chances of winning. This comprehensive tutorial is perfect for those interested in learning the basics of playing pachinko.

Youtube: How to Play Pachinko / Xander Skullion

Summary: Experience Japan's Pachinko Culture Safely and Enjoyably

Pachinko is a unique and exciting form of entertainment deeply rooted in Japanese culture. Even beginners can fully enjoy the game by understanding the basic rules and etiquette. Remember to set a reasonable budget and play within your means. Also, be careful not to become addicted by monitoring your playing time and spending. If you go with a Japanese friend, you can avoid any language barriers and enjoy the experience even more.

Why not immerse yourself in Japan's vibrant entertainment culture by giving pachinko a try? With a little knowledge and preparation, you're sure to have a great time!

PIJ Writer
PIJ Writer
PIJ Writer, a seasoned connoisseur in his 40s based in Japan, boasts an unparalleled depth of knowledge and experience within the vibrant landscapes of both drinking and gambling, alongside his well-documented ventures into various red-light districts. This extensive exploration encompasses not just the nocturnal delights of Japan's red-light areas but also its myriad of bars, horse racing, pachinko, and many others. Drawing on his firsthand experiences, he conveys the appeal and characteristics of Japan's diverse adult entertainment districts and his enjoyment of the nightlife scene through his writing for PIJ.

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