Just Playing With My Pachinko Balls


Say it, pachinko, say it real slow so it just rolls off your tongue, pachinko. Now your asking, what’s pachinko (パチンコ) and why am I saying it? The overly simple description pachinko is that it’s a Japanese vertical pinball game. The rules are simple, shiny silver balls are fired from the top before cascading down through series of pins tumbling downward, most balls would disappear while a few may got into special holes that activates slot machines. The goal of the game is to gain more balls which can be exchanged for prizes. The operation of the game is actually really mechanical leaving the player with very little to do except defining the speed and rate the balls are fired upwards into play. It truly is a game of luck.

What does any of this have to do with me personally? Good question. I’m very glad you asked. Before I lived in Japan I had never seen a pachinko machine or pachinko parlor. Unless you count the pachinko game they would play on occasion on The Price Is Right way back when. However, the exterior of the pachinko parlors around where I lived reminded me of times I had visited Reno and Las Vegas which meant one of two things, casino or strip club. I had driven by a few pachinko parlors for the first year or so of living in northern Japan and never had an interest in finding out what was really going on inside these always packed 24/7 buildings. Biggest reason was money, we were poor and didn’t have spare money to go and gamble away.

One day that all changed, I had been out walking around an area called Green Pole Road which was basically an array of small shops, restaurants, and open farmers market. It had a mix of many things depending on what mood you were in. It was also host to most of the festivals and parades that came through Misawa. Anyway, I heard the noise of the pachinko parlor around the corner ahead of where I was walking. So, I decided to poke my head in and check out what pachinko was. The very first thing that alarms one’s senses is that it is freaking unbelievably loud. I can’t even dream up a way to describe how loud it was, just very loud, trust me I listen to heavy metal cranked up to the max, I know loud. No time to stand in the door tho, I was brushed ahead and seated immediately, seems I was blocking traffic while I was looking for the 4 seconds I stopped.


I had some Yen so I decided what could it hurt. I was shown how to play and away we went. I was sitting only a matter of 10 minutes when lights, bells, whistles, and a cascade of balls made a noise so deafening that it made my whole body vibrate. Immediately an attendant came by with small plastic tray to be used to fill up with the balls. This went on for a few minutes and then as fast as it began it was over, except I had over 70 plastic trays packed full with shiny chrome balls. Now what? Exactly what I was thinking. Soon enough another attendant pushed through and began stacking the trays of balls into a flatbed dolly. He pulls my arm and was telling me something I couldn’t even hear. So, I just followed him to the cashier. The dumped all of my winnings into a counter, not unlike a machine that will count/sort change, and when it was all done it spit out a ticket with the quantity of balls. How many was it, don’t know exactly, but is was an assload of them for sure.

Then one guy, resembling the way an auctioneer would move his hands fast and talk fast, started showing me everything I could trade my winnings for. Start with a cheap plastic lighter and work your way up to some high dollar houses with every appliance, car, food, drink, tobacco product, known to man up for grabs. I guess I had a look on my face that I was interested in any of the exchange prizes so I was handed my ticket and walked out the front door. Before I could even begin to wonder what just happened another man leads me to the building next door. The reality of it is we went down the alley and stopped at a very nondescript door where we waited for a few moments before the small window opened. The receipt was taken from my hand and handed to someone I could not see, then the window closed. After a few minutes the window opened and the hand shoved out a plastic bag in my direction. The guy outside takes the bag and shoves it inside my jacket and points for me to go.

When I looked in the bag I saw it was full of money, allot of money. How much? Well, when I went to the credit union and did the currency exchange I was given just shy of $6500.00. Oddly enough I had only spent under $25.00 playing the game. After some checking I found out while there was all the cloak and dagger secrecy, gambling for cash is illegal in Japan. But, gambling for prizes is not, nor is selling your receipt (for a cut I found out). That would the first and last time I went to a pachinko parlor to gamble. However, when my parents came over for their visit I did take my dad, he won as well, but only a couple of hundred dollars. Oddly enough I don’t like gambling, I can think of a zillion different things I “should” be doing with my money, like paying bills. So, there you go, a little deeper into my life in Japan. I have many tales to tell about Japan, it was a very fascinating place to live, work, and raise a family.


Bargain Hunting Can Hurt The Wallet

Have you ever been looking on Craigslist for something, find it, and when you get there to pick it up you find something else you hope is for sale? I have run across this situation on more than one occasion in the past. When that happens it usually hurts my wallet because I wasn’t prepared to spend anything extra. Anyway, I had been in contact with an older gentleman here in Houston in regards to some antique Singer sewing machines he had up for sale. He agreed to let me come have a look and see if I was still interested. I felt the price was a bit high because they were in exceptional bad shape and I didn’t even know if I would be able to save and restore them. But, it was worth the trip to go and check out. On the way I went to the bank to get the $200.00 I would need if I bought the sewing machines. When I arrived to this older house in an older part of Houston I went up to the door and rang the bell. A man in his 80’s came to the door and we introduced ourselves to one another. He gave me some history on the sewing machines and why he wanted to sell them. He says they are just taking up space in his garage which his grandchildren want him to get cleaned out before he dies. He said, with a chuckle, that he has been working on it for around 15 years now. After a thorough look at both sewing machines I decided I was not interested because of the amount of money I would spend to restore them because they were basically a pile of dusty pitted rust with all decayed cabinetry. However, out of the corner of my eye I did see something that really interested me. When I say really interested me, I mean really really caught my immediate attention. Sitting in the corner of his garage were twin 300 gallon aquariums with full cabinets. It looks as tho they came out of a restaurant or some kind of business. Other than the cabinet areas being in a poor finished condition the aquariums look to be in great shape. I have been looking for some nice large aquariums since I built my house that I could blend into my current cabinetry. Since parting ways with my snakes a while back, yes, all my snakes,  we have been talking about doing a saltwater fish tank in the living room area. I wanted to inlay it into a wall but these give me a new idea.
I asked Mr. Yanzi where he got them and are they for sale. He explained that years ago he was asked to hold onto them by his grand daughter’s now ex-husband. When they split he disappeared and when she was asked what she wanted to do with them she wasn’t at all interested in having them so she gave them to him. They have sat there ever since because Mr. Yanzi didn’t have any idea what to do with them or who would ever want to have them. So, there they sat. He told me that I could have them if I wanted them, just get them out of the garage and he would be happy. Usually I am real good with the price being free, but not this time. I told him that since I wasn’t going to buy the sewing machines the I would give him $100.00 a piece for them. He seemed delighted and we closed the deal right there. Now, how in the hell am I going to get these behemoth 300 gallon aquariums home? I will definitely need to enlist some help. Good thing that the old truck that was on my trailer is long gone. Mr. Yanzi walked me around the rest of the garage and in his house some, showing me things I might be interested in. But, I had tunnel vision at this point and wasn’t really listening to him or paying attention, I was focused on getting those two aquariums out. I arranged another day to pick them up since I would have to come back with my trailer and some help. Everything was agreed upon and I gave him his money upon my departure. I just kept thinking how damn big those aquariums are and how much room they will take up. On top of that I wondered to myself what my wife will think. I sent her this very picture and told her I didn’t buy the sewing machines but I spent the money on these two huge aquariums. I got no immediate reply to my text so I was a little worried. After a bit she had text me back to tell me that she thought that they were a great find and too bad the sewing machines were in such bad shape. She also told me that she sees those aquariums being a great addition to the house because she knows I will make them blend and look fantastic. If a man blushes and nobody is there to see it, did it really happen? She knows me, I only know one way, and that is to do it the right way when I’m putting my name on a project.
Over this past weekend I did find some help as well as made four furniture dollies as I figured it would be easy to keep them on wheels as I needed to move them around as well as working on them. We all met down at Mr. Yanzi’s house, felt like we were a descending hoard of locusts, and I am sure my small army of six looked like the most misfit bunch of movers he may ever have seen. It took a fair amount of time to clear a path and then we were finally able to get them outside. They loaded up real easy onto the trailer with the new dollies. I wrapped each of them in padded moving blankets, strapped both of them down and thought I was ready to go, but one of my guy’s truck was blocking me in and he was nowhere to be found. I located him tho, he was back in the house negotiating a price on some other things he found and wanted to buy. All I can think is that this boy needs to hurry up since this isn’t the only thing I got going on today. Finally we are rolling! It took my son and I a fair amount of time to get home since we took some back roads so I didn’t have to do all the stop and go madness on the freeway and take a chance of these tanks shifting on the trailer. But, then again, these back country roads aren’t exactly the smoothest. I was just trying not to stress crack any of the glass. When I get home I backed up to the shop and took a look to see how I came out after the trip. Luckily I could not see anything had busted or got destroyed. I hoped I did enough preparation and padding that it would be a smooth move. I had my son back it into the shop while I spotted him. He is getting good for only being just shy of twelve. First words out my wife’s mouth were about how damn big these things were. She never has been able to appreciate the size of anything through a glance of a picture. So far, so good, she hasn’t had any real input on how she thinks the end result should be. It will come, I’m not stupid. She knows I plan on putting one in the den for a saltwater tank and the other in my hobby room, what will go in that one is still unknown. Anyway, time to tuck these two tanks away for another day. It’s time to get the quads out and do a little four wheeling down at the creek.
I guess I need to get back to work following up on some other Singer sewing machines I had located. If you are curious to why I hunt them down it is too restore them. I have done twenty one of them over the period of the last ten years or so. Out of all of them I only kept one, the very first one I ever restored, all the rest were sold or given to family. Not a bad gig if I can find them in decent shape since I usually turn around $1,000.00 in profit when it is said and done. They are that one kind of furniture that isn’t really furniture but 99% of them are all constructed the same way and are generally the same size. They make a good mid-range time/money type project. In the end, almost everything I do is for the fun in it. If it isn’t fun the it’s way to much like work and I do enough of that for 50 hours of the week.