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A Guide to Pachinko Machines

by Staff

If you have been to Japan or are into Japanese pop culture, you are probably very well aware of the Pachinko game. Pachinko for the Japanese is what slot machines are for Westerners. They are loud, they are flashing colours and they are super exciting. The game that was invented as a children’s game has conquered Japan and became a gambling game that requires both luck and skill. Pachinko machines used to be entirely mechanical, however, nowadays they have lots of electronic elements built into the game and you can enjoy entirely virtual versions as well. There are games developed with HTML5 that can be played online on a computer, tablet or smartphone. You don’t have to be in Japan to enjoy Pachinko and you should definitely try this thrilling game. Here, you can read our overview of Pachinko.

How to Play Pachinko

Imagine Pachinko like a vertical pinball machine. It uses small metal balls (11 mm in diameter) that are both the bet and the prize in the game. The player loads a ball or balls into the machine and presses a release handle launching the balls into a metal track. A track guides the ball onto the playing field that is full of brass pins that the ball bounces off of. If it gets into the catcher a payout is triggered. The objective of the game is to capture as many balls as possible.

Pachinko Parlors in Japan

Pachinko parlors, which resemble gaming arcades, are very widespread in Japan. This low-stakes gambling option is available in practically all corners of Japan and its popularity is skyrocketing. To play Pachinko in a parlor in Japan, players follow these steps:

  • Players buy Pachinko balls before they start the game or insert cash or a card into the machine
  • The player selects the machine they would like to play on – there is a display above the machines stating recent wins. Players are often seen lining up for hot or cold machines to get a chance to play on them
  • The player loads balls into the Pachinko machine
  • If the player wins, balls are collected in a separate basket under the machine
  • When you are ready to take your win, press the call button so that an attendant can collect your balls and count them in a counting machine
  • Balls can be exchanged at the parlor for special prize tokens or small prizes such as chocolate bars, ball-pens or lighters

Rules of Pachinko Gambling in Japan

  • Balls cannot be removed from the premises. They are often marked by the parlor so that they are recognizable. This ensures that they cannot be used in another establishment.
  • Special prize tokens can be sold for cash in a separate shop (usually the Pachinko parlor and the place where players cash their tokens are owned by the same business).
  • There is an age limit for entering Pachinko parlors. People under 18 years of age as well as high school students (even if they are over 18) cannot enter the parlors.

Pachinko etiquette

In Japan, etiquette is very important and playing Pachinko has its own set of socially accepted rules.

  • Don’t take children to Pachinko parlors as this is generally frowned upon.
  • Playing Pachinko is not a social experience for Japanese people even if it resembles arcade gaming to you. You should not make noises when you win or lose and in general not show any emotion. Disturbing others while playing the game is a big no-no.
  • You mustn’t touch other players’ balls. This is considered bad luck and bad behaviour. Even if you see someone else’s ball fall on the floor, you should alert an attendant instead of trying to help them by picking the ball up.
  • You can reserve your machine for a short time in case you need to leave. Just place a packet of cigarettes or clothing in the tray to mark that you are coming back.
  • Don’t empty your winnings box yourself. You have to call an attendant or signal them with the crossing of your arms if you want to finish the game.
  • The location of the shop where you can exchange your token is not advertised and staff will not tell you where it is. Asking a fellow player about the location of the shop is how you should proceed.

Game designs

Even though Japan is pressed for space, players will find huge Pachinko parlors similar to Las Vegas casino floors. There are rows upon rows of hundreds of machines, one promising better entertainment than the next. They offer different designs, music, animations, modes, gates etc. All modern machines have an LCD screen in the middle as there are several electrical elements of these games. Entering a parlor is a very immersive experience as these machines are even louder and flashier than Western-style slot machines. The name Packinko comes from the pachi-pachi sounds the machines make while the balls are bouncing around in them.

Pachinko balls are engraved with the design and name of the parlor so that players cannot take them out of the shop and use them in a different parlor. Some people started collecting Pachinko balls with different designs and this seems to be an emerging trend.


To launch the balls into the machine from the ball tray, players have to pull a lever. The machine is filled with traps, pins, levers, cups and other obstacles that direct the ball before it can reach the bottom. When one of the balls hits a certain place at the bottom, the player gets more balls to play with. The more balls the player has the more chances he will have to win.

Some older machines have a lever with a spring inside that shoots the ball but newer machines have a round knob that the player has to press. Through the knob, the player can influence the strength of the shot and thus the outcome of the game. This is where skill becomes important.

New machines have a slot machine element built into the game. The slot part is in the center of the game and usually has three reels. If players get three matching symbols in a row, they win the jackpot. The slot machine only starts up if one of the balls falls through the centre gate. Every time this happens the player gets one spin. During the spin, no more spins can be won even if more balls fall through the centre gate. Each time the slot machine spins, a small number of balls is paid out to the player.

Slot Machine Wins

The slot machine has three reels that stop spinning one by one from left to right. If the player is lucky and the first two reels show an identical symbol an animation is triggered. This builds excitement as it can take quite a few seconds. The animation is called a reach and sometimes there can be super reaches that can take an extended period of time. After the animation, the final reel stops and if it gives a third matching symbol the jackpot is won. Now the payout mode starts. The payout mode has several rounds during which a payout gate opens at the bottom of the machine. The player will now try to shoot balls into the gate. If he manages to shoot one or more balls into the gate, he wins many more balls that are collected in a separate tray at the bottom of the machine. The player can decide to put the balls into the ball bucket and start playing with them again.

Play Modes and Instant Wins

Modern mechanics have helped create more complex Pachinko machines with exciting gameplay, different play modes and instant wins not too different from video gaming or slot machine gameplay. Some machines have hidden modes that offer much better winning odds than others. A small change in animation can be a secret sign of something big happening. The slot machine element of the game may offer instant wins or re-spins after lost spins. Seasoned players have their favourite Pachinko machines and often enough people are lining up for the best machines.

What Happens After a Payout?

After the payout, one of two things can happen:

  1. Kakuhen system: the odds of hitting the jackpot multiply and the player gets another chance of spinning the reels. Whether the kakuhen occurs or not is determined by a random number generator. If it does happen it is called a “fever mode” whereby several consecutive jackpot wins are possible. There are also machines that apply a so-called special time kakuhen system. In this system, every jackpot result in a kakuhen, however, in order to earn it, players must hit a certain set of odds within a given number of spins.
  2. Jitan mode: this happens if a jackpot doesn’t result in a kakuhen, however, Jitan mode comes with a much larger number of spins. Here, the center gate widens so that it is considerably easier for the balls to fall into it. Spins happen faster in Jitan mode as the round has much more spins than the Kakuhen system. When no more jackpots are won, the machine reverts to its original setting.

Koatari – Small Jackpot

Think of Koatari as a mini jackpot on a slot machine. Koatari is shorter than the previously described jackpot and the payout gate opens for a short time only during payout mode and sometimes no balls go into it. The time when the gate will open is unpredictable and it will often result in no win at all. However, Koatari jackpots may result in a Kakuhen so it is worth waiting for them.

Koatari, apart from its payout function, also offers great entertainment as often battle-type design is applied here. In battle mode, the player must defeat an enemy in order to earn another Kakuhen. If the player doesn’t manage, it means that the normal Koatari was hit and the machine enters into Jitan mode.

Another attractive feature of the Koatari is that it is possible to trigger the Kakuhen mode without the player’s knowledge. This is called a “senpuku kakuhen” – a hidden kakuhen – as it doesn’t occur in any of the jackpot modes. Often players don’t realize that they are in senpuku mode, leave the machine and the next player may get a huge win. For this reason, some players prefer to stick to their “own” machines in the hope that their hard work will pay off eventually.

Strategy That Can Help You Win

Apart from turning the knob with the right force, there is not so much you can do to win. If you want to improve your chances, you should choose the Pachinko machine wisely.

  1. In Pachinko parlors you will find a sign above every machine telling you about the statistics of the machine for that day. You’ll see two numbers; one is bigger than the other. The small number is the number of wins for that day, while the bigger one will tell you how many spins the machine had that day. You should choose a machine with a large number of spins and a low number of wins.
  2. Don’t play in an empty parlor as it probably has machines that don’t pay out much.
  3. Try not to spend more than $5 – $10 on any one machine. Playing Pachinko is small-scale gambling and even a few dollars should give you quite a bit of time to enjoy the game.
  4. Play on new machines as they tend to pay out more during the first two weeks of operation. New machines are called “shindai” and you may very well see them being advertised on Japanese trains and metros.
  5. Play online. Many casinos offer Pachinko games online. Some of them even offer free games so you can get to practice before you wager real money.