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Archive for the ‘Pachinko’ Category

Pidgeon Pachinko or Garbage Pachinko – quite suitable alternative names for this virtually unknown abandoned pachinko parlor…

Pachinko is probably one of the most sketchy businesses you can get yourself into in Japan. About 40% of the parlors are run by the yakuza, another 40% by exile Koreans with ties to the northern half of the motherland. And the majority of the rest is probably owned by large chains with gigantic parlors – and despite that there are quite a few abandoned pachinko parlors all over Japan, from inner cities to the middle of nowhere. A surprising large number of them are actually in rather bad condition – you would think that criminals, borderline criminals and corporations would pay better attention to their properties, but maybe the abandoned ones are all closed independent parlors; who knows? I don’t, that’s for sure. But I am not much of a gambler. Never even entered an active pachinko parlor and hated every second when visiting one of the highly regulated casinos back in Germany.

The Grazia Pachinko parlor though I will remember as by far the shittiest place I’ve explored, the biggest pile of garbage; unfortunately not only figuratively, but also literally – thanks to a flock of pidgeons living in the entrance area and a hobo filling the upper floor with trash.
I try to approach every exploration with the most positive attitude as possible as I actually look forward to every single one of them (except for revisits – I’m really not a revisit guy… except for *Nara Dreamland*, of course!), but when I was approaching the Grazia on this January morning (a chill winter bastard though dry), I kinda wished the weather were better – luckily it wasn’t, because I think these days, summer days, the parlor is borderline inexplorable. Partly covered by graffiti on the outside, quite unusual for Japan, the innards of the Grazia Pachinko parlor weren’t much more of a looker. The last owner basically removed anything of value and / or interest, the outdoor “artists” and / or their following did the rest. Even worse, several dozen pidgeons decided to occupy the entrance area (now the back of the parlor) and leave huge piles of scat everywhere – now I was grateful for the close to 0°C weather, because neither money nor pidgeon shit has much smell at those temperatures. Well, ground floors of abandoned pachinko parlors tend to be crappy places in general, maybe the living area above the parlor (not a lot of people know that, but most pachinko parlors have a whole apartment area on top!) would be more interesting? The vandalized staircase wasn’t very promising and the real thing fully lived up to the now extremely lowered expectations. The entrance to the boiler room to the left was blocked by a horizontal door and filled with trash, the almost empty kitchen to the right filthy to a level you wouldn’t expect of an empty room. The hallway was kinda darkish and cluttered, nevertheless I followed it down to the next door, where I was welcomed by a breathtaking surprising – the whole bedroom behind it was filled almost knee-deep with trash, most of it empty plastic food containers. Too bad that there is no thing as smell photography, because I totally would have used that technology in this case! And just to remind you, this was dry 0 degree weather in January. Now in July we often reach very humid 35°C during the days and still above 30° at night. At that point I had enough and didn’t even venture further down the hallway. I love exploring like hardly anybody else, but buildings that were turned into garbage dumps… seriously, nobody needs locations like that. Behind the parlor I had a quick look at the building where the few lucky winners could exchange their balls for prizes (locked) and a small bungalow building, but they were of little interest and it was still early in the day – there were other places to explore… more promising places!

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“Another Pachinko parlor? Really? With no videos and just a few pictures? Are you serious?”
Well, welcome to exploration reality…

Reading the comments here and on Facebook I realize that there are quite a few misperceptions about Abandoned Kansai. While this blog and all connected social media channels (including every bit of content) are run by only one person as a hobby (although it takes as much time as a part time job…), this is far from being a one man show. I have group of about ten people I go exploring with irregularly, i.e. whenever the opportunity arises – back home in Germany usually family members and old friends, here in Japan most of the time new friends I met thanks to the blog. But we don’t go exploring every Tuesday or even every weekend – sometimes I go several weekends in a row, sometimes not for weeks. Tuesday is just the publishing day of the weekly blog article. And the articles are not in chronological order. Some locations I explored months or even years ago, some indeed just a few days prior to writing an article. More often than not I choose on Monday or Tuesday which abandoned place I’ll write about that week – not in random order, but based on how much time I have, how much material I have, what I feel like… and most importantly, what I have written about recently; just to avoid presenting three deserted hotels in a row – even though I often explore three abandoned hotels in a row; sometimes on the same day. The length of a video and the amount of pictures usually depend on how big and how interesting a location is – of course I get much more material when I stay seven hours at a place like the *Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin* than when I spend 20 minutes at the Smile P&A Pachinko Parlor… How much time I spend on a location depends of course on factors like size, how interesting it is, security, what the plans for the rest of the days are – and sometimes my fellow explorers lose their patience and want to move on.

As for the Smile P&A Pachinko Parlor – small location, not really interesting, a guy next door eyeing us, other places to check out, bored fellow explorers; 13 photos in 20 minutes, no video. One of the most rushed explorations, definitely snapshots as I didn’t have time to properly frame a single photo. As Japan becomes super busy (with all kinds of duties and parties) before shutting down for a week just after Christmas, this location is actually a blessing in disguise for the blog as I don’t have to go through a lot of photos and research, because this was just another random abandoned countryside pachinko parlor – I hope you enjoyed it anyway. And if not, you can look forward to an article about an abandoned theme park I worked on for a while… and of course to a look back at 2017, including some gorgeous photos of mind-blowing locations not yet published or even mentioned on Abandoned Kansai! Add the yearly Merry XXX-Mas article and you know what to expect for the rest of December… 🙂

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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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