The Ultimate Guide to Pachinko: Japan's Unique Gaming Craze

March 26, 2024

If you've ever set foot in Japan, you've likely encountered the unmistakable presence of pachinko or pachi-slot parlors. These gaming hubs are as essential to Japanese culture as sushi and sumo wrestling. With this in-depth guide, we'll explore the ins and outs of Japan's favorite form of entertainment, pachinko, from its gameplay mechanics to its widespread popularity and legal standing.

What is Pachinko? A Deep Dive into Japan's Gaming Sensation

Pachinko is an enthralling gambling game that combines elements of pinball and slot machines. Players shoot steel balls into a vertical board, aiming to land them in specific pockets to earn more balls. The game has evolved over the years, incorporating electronic features like video screens and varying jackpot conditions.

How to Play Pachinko: A Beginner's Guide

To get started, you'll need to rent a set of steel balls from the pachinko parlor. These balls serve as both your in-game currency and potential winnings. Once you've chosen your machine, you'll load your tray with the balls and use a flipper or knob to launch them into the playfield. Accumulated winnings are stored in your tray, and when you're ready to cash out, an attendant will assist you.

The Intricacies of Pachinko Payouts

Your winnings are counted by a machine known as a "jet counter," and you'll receive a slip indicating the number of balls you've won. These can be exchanged for various prizes, from household items to luxury goods. Interestingly, these prizes can also be converted into cash at nearby shops, circumventing Japan's strict gambling laws in a practice that's widely accepted yet officially overlooked.

The Demographics: Who's Playing Pachinko and Why?

Pachinko parlors attract a diverse audience, from retirees to younger individuals. The game's sensory overload and video game-like aspects contribute to its addictive nature, an issue that is often downplayed by Japanese authorities.

The Similarities Between Pachinko and Slot Machines

If you're a fan of slot machines, you'll find Japan's popular game, Pachinko, intriguingly familiar. While the two games have their unique characteristics, they share several elements that make both equally exciting.

Understanding the Santen-Houshiki System(Three-Shop System) in Pachinko

Pachinko, a popular game in Japan, doesn't fall under the legal category of gambling but is considered a form of entertainment. Unlike other activities like horse racing, cycling races, and boat races, which are legally classified as public gambling, pachinko operates in a unique space. So, how do pachinko parlors manage to offer cash prizes? The answer lies in the ingenious the Santen-Houshiki System(Three-Shop System).

Navigating the Legal Maze: The Three-Shop System Explained

Pachinko parlors have devised the Three-Shop System as a clever workaround to Japan's Entertainment Establishments Control Law. This law, specifically Article 23, imposes several restrictions on pachinko establishments:

  • Cash or securities cannot be offered as rewards.
  • In-house purchasing of prizes is not allowed.
  • Players cannot take game balls outside the premises.
  • Issuing a document indicating the storage of game balls for customers is prohibited.

Due to these limitations, pachinko parlors can't directly exchange game balls for cash. This is where the Three-Shop System comes into play.

How Does the Three-Shop System Work?

  1. Special Prizes: Players exchange their winning balls for special prizes at the pachinko parlor. These prizes have a monetary value equivalent to the number of balls won. For example, a prize worth 5,000 yen could be a set of gold chips. also valued at 5,000 yen.

It's important to note that the special prize is solely a reward, and what the customer does with it afterward is entirely their own business. Converting the prize into cash is impossible for the pachinko parlor, and there are no legal issues associated with this practice.

  1. Redemption Centers: Players can then take these special prizes to a separate redemption center, which buys the prizes for cash. Importantly, these centers operate under a different legal entity and have an antique dealer license, making the transaction legal.

  1. Wholesale Distribution: Wholesalers purchase these special prizes from redemption centers and supply them back to pachinko parlors, completing the cycle.

By employing this system, pachinko parlors distance themselves from the cash transactions, thereby staying within the bounds of the law. Why pachinko parlor staff often won't provide information on the redemption counter's location when asked.

The Gameplay Mechanics: Steel Balls and Reels

When you play Pachinko, you launch steel balls into a vertical board, aiming for them to land in specific pockets. One of these pockets, known as the "Start" slot, triggers a drum, akin to the spinning reels in slot machines. Just like in slots, the objective in Pachinko is to align at least three matching symbols to hit a jackpot.

The 'Reach' and 'Oatari': Building Suspense

In both Pachinko and slot machines, the game builds tension as you get close to winning. In Pachinko, if you manage to align two matching symbols, it's called a "reach." This term signifies that you almost "reached" the winning combination, adding an element of suspense similar to that in slot machines.

Hitting the Jackpot: 'Oatari' vs Slot Machine Wins

When you successfully align three matching symbols in Pachinko, you hit what's locally known as an "oatari," or jackpot. This event triggers a cascade of steel balls into your collection tray, much like hitting a jackpot in a slot machine leads to a significant payout.

Thematic Resemblance: From Geishas to Sonic

Another striking similarity between Pachinko and slot machines is the variety of themes. Pachinko parlors offer a wide range of themes, from traditional Japanese elements like geishas and samurais to pop culture icons like Sonic the Hedgehog. This thematic diversity is also a hallmark of modern slot machines, making both games appealing to a broad audience.

Pachinko and slot machines share more than just the thrill of the game. They have similar mechanics, build suspense in comparable ways, offer substantial payouts, and captivate players with diverse themes. Whether you're a slots aficionado looking to try something new or a Pachinko enthusiast interested in slot machines, you'll find both games offer a unique yet familiar gaming experience.

Mechanical vs. Electronic Pachinko Machines

Mechanical and electronic pachinko machines provide distinct technologies and gaming experiences. In this article, we will delve into the primary distinctions and resemblances between these two categories of pachinko machines.

Mechanical Machines

The original pachinko machines were entirely mechanical, requiring players to use a spring-loaded lever to shoot balls into the playfield. The force exerted on the lever influenced the trajectory of the balls, adding a skill-based element to the game.

Electronic Machines

Today's pachinko machines are high-tech electronic marvels, featuring animated displays, sound effects, and interactive mini-games. The traditional lever has been replaced with a knob, giving players greater control over the game.

Understanding Jackpot Types: Koatari and Ooatari

Modern pachinko machines offer two types of jackpots: Koatari (mini-jackpot) and Ooatari (major jackpot). These jackpots differ in duration and odds, adding another layer of excitement to the game.

A Beginner's Guide to Playing Pachinko

Now, allow me to explain how to play pachinko, a game that's easy to grasp, even if you've never experienced it before.

Step 1: Selecting the Right Pachinko Machine

If you're new to the world of Pachinko, your first task is to choose a machine that suits your level. Machines are ranked by cost per ball and the odds of hitting a jackpot. For starters, a one-yen-per-ball machine is a safe bet. Look for machines labeled "1/99," indicating a one in 99 chance of hitting the jackpot with each spin. These machines often feature various themes, animations, and gameplay variations, so pick one that catches your eye. Ensure the machine is unoccupied before you sit down.

Step 2: Getting Started

Insert your cash or pre-loaded IC card into the machine's slot. To receive your first set of balls, press the "tamakoshi button" located on the machine's center console. Unlike pinball, where a plunger sets the game in motion, Pachinko uses a round knob at the bottom-right of the machine. The angle and force with which you turn this knob determine the trajectory of your balls, aiming ideally for one of the top corners of the playing field.

Step 3: Mastering the Gameplay

As you get the hang of it, you'll see a cascade of silver balls descending the board. Your primary objective is to get these balls into the central hole, known as the "gate." Doing so activates the jackpot reels, usually digital these days. Aligning three identical numbers on these reels triggers a jackpot, leading to a flood of additional balls.

Step 4: Claiming Your Winnings

So you've amassed a pile of silver balls—what's next? These can be redeemed for various prizes. Press the refund button to reclaim any remaining money, then summon a staff member by pressing the machine's call button. They will count your winnings and provide a receipt, which you can take to the prize counter to redeem for goods ranging from snacks to high-end electronics.

Step 4:Receive Prizes

Players have the option to choose between two distinct categories of prizes: "General Prizes" and "Special Prizes." Each serves a unique purpose and comes with its own set of rules.

1. General Prizes

General prizes offer a diverse array of items, ranging from daily necessities and snacks to bicycles and home appliances. Governed by Japan's Entertainment Establishments Control Law, these prizes have specific limitations on both quantity and value. While the previous cap was set at 10,000 yen, regulatory changes in February 2018 reduced this limit to 6,000 yen.

The value you get from these prizes can vary. If you don't wish to redeem any general prizes immediately, many pachinko parlors offer membership options that allow you to save your winnings for future visits.

2. Special Prizes: The Gateway to Cash Rewards

Special prizes act as a legal conduit for converting your pachinko winnings into cash. Since gambling is not legally sanctioned in Japan, direct cash payouts for pachinko wins are prohibited. This is where special prizes fill the gap.

Here's the process: Players first exchange their pachinko winnings for a special prize, such as a set of gold chips. They then take this prize to a separate "Prize Exchange Center" where it can be sold for cash.

It's important to note that these prize exchange centers operate independently and are physically separate from the pachinko parlors. If you ask a pachinko employee about the location of these centers, they are not authorized to provide that information. The decision to cash in your special prizes is entirely up to you.

This implies that if you're aiming to acquire cash, you can swap it for a special prize and subsequently convert it into cash.

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Pachinko Winning Rates and Strategies for Success

Determining an exact win rate for pachinko is challenging, but it's widely speculated that less than 20-30% of players actually come out ahead. While there's no concrete data to support this, it's safe to assume that losses outnumber wins. However, the chance for significant wins still exists!

Here's a quick guide on how to increase your odds of winning.

Strategies for Pachinko Success

Here are some key habits of consistent pachinko winners. The following four elements are crucial:

  • Being selective about pachinko machines.
  • Maintaining emotional equilibrium.
  • Tracking financial inflow and outflow.

Let's delve into each of these.

Selective Machine Choice

Those who consistently win at pachinko are very particular about the machines they play. Key considerations when choosing a machine include:

  • Identifying the spin count that serves as the winning threshold.
  • Calculating the number of rounds to play in the evening.
  • Focusing on flagship models during special events.
  • Assessing competitor turnover rates before engaging with a new machine.

Some players even opt to leave without playing if they can't find a machine that meets their specific criteria.

Emotional Resilience

Maintaining a balanced emotional state is crucial for making quick exit decisions when losing or for leaving if you can't find a suitable machine. The mental attributes needed for pachinko include:

  • The discipline to rigorously search for a favorable machine.
  • The composure to cease playing when on a losing streak.
  • The patience to continue playing, aware of statistical tendencies.

Gaining hands-on experience is the cornerstone of emotional resilience. To gracefully exit when losing, practice setting a modest budget and leaving immediately if you don't win within that limit.

Financial Record-Keeping

Winning pachinko players meticulously track their earnings and expenditures, fully aware of their gains and losses.

Without a financial record, it's nearly impossible to gauge your pachinko spending and earnings, making it difficult to strategize for future wins.

While it may seem like a chore, consider using a smartphone app or a notebook to keep track of your finances. Seeing your numbers improve can be a great motivator to continue your pachinko journey.

Pachinko and the Law: A Legal Gray Area?

While gambling is generally illegal in Japan, pachinko exists in a legal gray zone by offering prizes instead of direct cash payouts. These prizes can often be exchanged for cash, making the game's legal status a subject of ongoing debate.However, currently, it is completely legal, so there's no need to worry about experiencing any legal repercussions for your actions.

Top Suggested Pachinko Hall

We suggest visiting three prominent pachinko parlors in Japan. Please check them out.


MARUHAN, established in 1962, stands as the foremost pachinko hall chain in Japan, boasting a strong presence in the pachinko industry spanning several decades. Their establishments provide a diverse range of pachinko and pachislot machines, with numerous branches scattered across the nation.Moreover, they pamper players with exclusive perks and rewards through frequent events and promotional campaigns, ensuring a comfortable gaming environment with extended operating hours.



DYNAM is a prominent player in a network of pachinko parlor operators with an extensive presence across Japan. Their pachinko parlors are known for their spacious layouts and an abundance of pachinko tables and slot machines, creating an inviting atmosphere for patrons to indulge in a diverse range of gaming experiences. However, these establishments offer more than just gambling; they extend a range of services to their clientele, including dining options, designated smoking areas, and convenient parking facilities. Moreover, select DYNAM locations regularly host promotions and events, providing exclusive deals and surprises to reward their loyal customers.



KIKONA has emerged as a rapidly expanding and highly favored chain of pachinko parlors in Japan, boasting numerous outlets across the country. Each location is well-equipped with an array of pachinko and pachislot machines, offering patrons an engaging gaming experience. To enhance customer comfort, Kikona continually updates its offerings with cutting-edge machines and amenities. Additionally, select locations feature dining options and relaxation zones for added convenience.


Can non-Japanese visitors access pachinko parlors?

Foreigners can indeed visit pachinko parlors and have an enjoyable experience. However, it's worth noting that many of these establishments may not have multilingual support, so having some knowledge of Japanese can be advantageous. Nevertheless, it's entirely possible to enjoy the game even if you don't speak Japanese. The staff at these parlors are generally friendly, so if you have any questions, you can use translation apps or similar tools to communicate effectively.

Conclusion: The Undying Allure of Pachinko in Japan

Pachinko's appeal lies in its fast-paced action, diverse prize offerings, and its role as a stress-reliever. Despite its addiction potential and financial risks, pachinko continues to be a cherished pastime in Japan.

‍By understanding the complexities and allure of pachinko, you'll gain a deeper appreciation for this uniquely Japanese form of entertainment. Whether you're a resident or a visitor, pachinko offers an experience that's not to be missed.

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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