Pachinko is a Japanese born combination of an automated slot machine and a pinball game. Modeled after early pinball games, pachinko machines have become a national pastime in Japan and throughout Asia, particularly in Taiwan. There are three main types of pachinko machines, but the designs are easily customizable to fit an endless variety of styles and themes.
Hanemono pachinko machines became popular in the 1970s and are still found in pachinko parlors all over the world. These early models are more similar to pinball machines, as they require some skill to correctly score and win. In Hanemono styles, hitting a certain area of the machine will cause additional holes to open around the central hole, allowing you to win easily. Hanemono machines typically cost the least to play and give the smallest jackpots, but are often considered the best machines for beginners to try out.
Diji-Pachi machines began to take over the pachinko scene from Hanemono styles in the 1990s. These versions feature a digital screen in the middle of the machine that spins numbers like a slot machine. Depending on how and where the balls fall, the numbers will spin in the hopes of producing a winning combination, such as three identical numbers in a row. Winning combinations may start a bonus or "fever" round, where the payout increases with each subsequent winning combination.
A rarer form of pachinko machine is the kenrimono, which insiders claim is only for knowledgeable players. Kenrimono uses a set of specific rules that are learned as you play, making it an elite game for serious gamblers. In some versions, if you win a round, your chances of winning a subsequent round multiply by tenfold. Kenrimono pachinko machines offer big payout prizes, but initially the chances of winning are very slim.
Artistic design is an important feature of all three modern varieties of pachinko machines, as well as of their earlier predecessors. While early versions were often painted or carved, today’s machines can be customized to fit any theme, character, or concept. Popular characters from Japanese comics and films are often subjects of pachinko designs, as are legendary figures, animals, and even invented creatures. The machines themselves are typically brightly colored and feature flashing lights, sounds, digital animation, and even music.
Pachinko parlors are available all over Japan and many other areas of Asia, ranging in size from small neighborhood arcades to grand, casino-like proportions. While spending an afternoon gleefully pouring money into these games can be a fun past-time for a casual gamer, they are taken seriously by many gamblers and even used as a major source of income by skilled players. For pachinko admirers, vintage or rare machines are treated like precious art and often bought, sold and traded for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.