Archive for the ‘Pachinko’ Category

Closed pachinko parlors are everywhere in Japan – from right opposite train stations in busy city centers to the middle of nowhere in the countryside. Yet it has been six years (!) since I last wrote about one…

Pachinko is as Japanese as it gets – probably even more so than sushi and sumo as it is mostly contained to Zipangu. Currently there are between 15000 and 16000 parlors in Japan, and from the looks of it about 10% of them are closed or even abandoned. Although the number of regular players was cut in half between 2002 and 2012, there are still more than 10 million regulars in Japan. Some 34000 of them are professionals while the majority of players loses money big time; in 2006 the average customer spent a whopping 28124 Yen (!) per visit (today about 250 USD / 210 EUR). About the legal problems pachinko parlors face and how they are connected to North Korea in a way that’s hard to believe *I wrote about in a previous article*, so I won’t repeat it here.

Back in 2010/11 I found and explored two abandoned pachinko parlors in excellent condition and therefore wasn’t aware how rare they are in that state. In the following years I realized that most of those closed / abandoned parlors are either tightly locked – or completely filled with trash. I must have tried at least half a dozen of them under a variety of different circumstances, but none of the attempts lead to an exploration worth documenting. Until recently, when I came across the Countryside Pachinko Parlor in a small onsen town. While most of the machines were gone, the parlor was still in good condition overall. Most stools were still there, some advertising, the frames for the pachinko AND the slot machines… and nobody vandalized the large mirror / chrome / neon installments at the main entrance. Even the living area on the upper floor was accessible – featuring one of the slot machines, a kitchen / dining area, several balconies and half a dozen bedrooms. Nothing special, but better than nothing – especially after all those years, especially on a rainy day. (Exploring on rainy days sucks. Outdoor locations are hardly doable and even indoor places are a pain as everything is / can be wet and uncomfortable – from access points to whole floors…)
Overall the Countryside Pachinko Parlor was a decent exploration, but since you most likely never saw the much better earlier explorations I did, I strongly recommend checking out the now demolished *K-1 Pachinko Parlor* and the now classic *Big Mountain*!

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Pretty much a year ago, a couple of weeks after we explored the *Love Hotel Gion* and the *Biwako Tower & Igosu 108* together, I met up again with my haikyo buddies Andrew and Damon. Our goal was a mine in the mountains on the border between Shiga and Gifu, but we got distracted pretty quickly.
Andrew was driving along the highway when Damon spotted a big red building that looked abandoned. We turned around only to find out that the place was not only abandoned, but a pachinko parlor. 2 months prior, while on the road with Jordy, I was able to explore an example of this oh so typically Japanese kind of entertainment location in Shikoku called *Big Mountain Pachinko Parlor* – this time we stumbled across the abandoned K-1 Pachinko Parlor.
While entering Big Mountain was a piece of cake it took us a while longer to enter K-1, but after a couple of minutes we found a way in. Against all odds and to our total surprise K-1 was in similar good shape as Big Mountain. Usually abandoned pachinko parlors are boarded up and / or looted and / or vandalized. K-1 showed some signs of all three factors, but none of them to a point where it hurt the atmosphere severely. When I wrote about Big Mountain I wrote quite a bit about pachinko in Japan in general (and its importance for North Korea), so if you are interested in that kind of background information then *please look here*.
While Jordy and I were in quite a hurry and squeezed Big Mountain between the hotel *shangri-la* and the *F# Elementary School* Andrew, Damon and I were able to took our time – this time we were even able to explore the upper floor Jordy and I missed in Tokushima. Coming up the stairs I found something that made me laugh out loud: Next to a page from a Japanese porn magazine lied a gripper – you gotta love the local humor! (Or was it North Korean humor? Who knows…)
The first room we entered upstairs was the main office / surveillance room. Three big monitors once hooked up to security cameras were still in place, and so was the big safe. Business cards, prizes, furniture and other stuff were scattered all over the floor, making the room quite a mess. The kitchen across the hallway on the other side was in pretty immaculate condition and looked like it was just left the other day. I’m not exactly sure when the K-1 Pachinko Parlor was closed, but judging by the calendars and train schedules on the walls it must have been around summer 2003. (Outside on the building was still a big sign from a real estate company trying to sell the thing – if you want me to make contact for you let me know!)
The hallway itself was pretty cluttered, too. We found some pretty big shoes and lots of porn, magazines as well as videos, in one of cabinets. What is it with porn in abandoned buildings? There seems to be a mysterious connection…
Most of the other rooms on the upper floor were actually living rooms / bed rooms. Some of them looked like they were ready to use, others not so much. One of them was stuffed with countless pachinko machines and spare parts. Also worth mentioning was the relaxing area out on the flat roof. There we found a couch, a table and a TV outside. Since it was snowing I’m sure all items were useless at that point, but I could clearly imagine some exhausted pachinko parlor employees far away from home sitting outside after a tough day of work, chilling with a chilled beer, enjoying their off-hours on a nice spring or autumn evening; you know, living the life!
Before we left heading for the mine we explored a small building across the parking lot of the K-1 Pachinko Parlor. In my article about Big Mountain I explained how the pachinko balls people win are exchanged for prizes since gambling is rather strictly regulated in Japan. Those prizes usually are getting off at “pawn shops” near the pachinko parlor – and the building on the parking lot most likely was one of those pawn shops. It was accessible, but completely gutted and therefore totally unspectacular. Nevertheless it was nice to have seen one of those shops, just to make the experience complete…

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While I am happily taking credit for finding the hotel shangri-la it was thanks to my fellow explorer that we entered the Big Mountain (or Big Mountein… as they misspelled their own name occasionally) pachinko parlor. We were on the road again to finally get to that abandoned school in the middle of the mountains when we saw said abandoned place of amusement. We turned around, parked the car and actually found an easy way in.
There are plenty of abandoned pachinko parlors in Japan, it’s maybe the most common kind of haikyo overall. But usually they are either boarded up or completely gutted. The Big Mountain on the other hand was in pretty decent shape. Most of the machines were opened, but only a few were missing. Since new pachinko parlors are opened all the time a lot of the equipment gets recycled, but in this case most of it was still there (machines, stools, balls, containers for the balls, signs, …) and in decent condition – especially considering that the most recent calendar sheets we found were from 1996.
Since gambling is strictly controlled by the Japanese state there are only a few possibilities to actually win money – with lotteries and betting. Playing pachinko (パチンコ) you can only win prizes by exchanging the pachinko balls you’ve won for prizes worth less than 10.000 Yen each (82 Euros / 117 Dollars). Popular items are perfumes, expensive lighters and tiny gold bars. Conveniently most pachinko parlors have a “pawn shop” close-by where you can get rid of your prizes; of course 10 to 30% under value! 16 million Japanese play pachinko on a regular basis, about 34.000 play for a living – yes, professional pachinko players…
What most people don’t know, especially in the West, is that the majority of pachinko parlors in Japan are run by the so-called Zainichi Koreans, the biggest ethnic minority in Japan. Of the estimated 16.000 parlors about 50% are run by South Koreans, 30 to 40% by *North Koreans* and the rest by Chinese and Japanese; most of the latter ones associated with the Yakuza, the “Japanese Mafia”. The parlors run by North Koreans usually are under the control of the Chongryon (Ch’ongryŏn / 총련 / 總聯 / 朝鮮総連), the “General Association of Korean Residents in Japan” which has close ties to North Korea. According to an article in the Japan Times up to 200 billion Yen a year are flowing to North Korea that way – currently that’s about 1.7 billion Euros or 2.4 billion Dollars…
Sadly we were running out of time and we still wanted to go to that school, so we left the Big Mountain Pachinko Parlor after about 30 minutes. We even forgot to go upstairs, where you usually can find a couple of sleeping rooms, a kitchen, and a security room with surveillance monitors and a safe. Luckily I explored another pachinko parlor a few months later, this time in Shiga – but that’s *a story for another time*

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Recently I went on a three day road trip to Awaji Island and Shikoku. Fellow urban explorer Jordy came down to Kobe, we rented a car and off we went. Since Jordy likes to drive and I like to do research we combined our powers to go to some places off the beaten tracks. Pretty much all of the locations will be English speaking firsts, some of them are even barely known to the Japanese haikyo community – including two original finds: A pachinko parlor with all the machines and a hotel called shangri-la. In addition to that we went to an abandoned monument (with a museum right next to it), another hotel, a nursery school, a restaurant with a spectacular view, an abandoned and very countryside elementary school, a spa built on a cliff and, most important of all, an abandoned doctor’s house that makes the previously posted Doctor’s Shack look like… well… a shack.
Please enjoy the preview pictures below – a series of articles about the trip will start ASAP, most likely by the end of this week.

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