The standard gaming spire in Japan had six stories. Two floors, often the first two are reserved for skill-testers, one usually has gambling machines like slots and pachinko, two are for the games you'd find or wish you could find in a Western arcade. The final floor contains photo booths. Sometimes this last floor is for women or couples only.
Jess and I always take a tour around the skill-testers to see if any are ripe. The rewards for your skill are strange and varied. From the conventional teddy bears and toys that vary in size from pocket to larger-than-life; assuming of course, that the bizarre soft creature was modelled on a real thing. Next come action figures from assorted manga. Men armed with katana, pistol or wit. Girls armed with their bosoms. I mean that literally as their breasts are so large I'm sure they need to use their arms to carry them.
There are machines for everyone. Some dispense cookies if you win. Another: potato crisps. My favorite machine has the contradictory prizes of CalorieMate bars and sugar lollies. A final machine incorporates a fridge. So you can win small tubs of Häagen-Daas.
Mum. Can I have an ice cream?
Only if you're good enough.
The don't have mahjong fight club in this parlour but Jess has found a game similar to one she played as a child with her dad. You may know it as chocolates on a plate and a pusher swinging back and forth. The goal is to drop something in front of the pusher so it will knock chocolate bars into a bin and into your hot little hands.
This game is like that except the chocolate has been replaced by tokens. You have two movable rails that you can slide tokens down and onto the area in front of the pusher. The game then adds balls into the mix. These are about the size of a ping pong but much heavier. If you get these balls into the bin then get bonuses. Often more coins but sometimes access to the bonus pusher.
You see, this game had four terminals. In the centre is a slowly rotating plate filled with tokens and balls. A separate pusher is located here. When you get access to it you need to try and knock as many balls and tokens as you can into you're own theatre. This is also how you get the big balls: red, blue and yellow.
The big balls need to be knocked into your theatre and then you need to knock them into your bin. Once you do that it's jackpot time. The blue balls are a smaller jackpot usually about 500 tokens. The red was 1300 tokens when we were playing. Once again the tokens are sprayed into you theatre where they help knock other tokens into your bin.
We worked out all of this as we used up our 500 tokens (¥1000). We had a blue ball on the rim when the last coin slipped down the rail.
It's now make or break time. Leave a jackpot on the rim for the next player or invest another ¥1000.
We're not gamblers and I often refuse to even participate in gambling.
So Jess goes off to get more tokens.
Then a single token falls into the bin. I use this to get a few more tokens. Then knock a small ball which gives us a bonus pusher to knock the blue jackpot ball in. Jess comes back with 500 tokens we don't need as we're almost back to square one after an hour of playing.
So we keep playing. Cashed up we go after the red ball. An hour later and we have about two dozen small balls in our theatre and two big blue balls edging their way to the bin. It's now when the guy next to us gets the red ball into his own theatre. When he gets it into the bin it's quite the spectacle.
We're almost out of our first bucket again. The second bucket is on the floor untouched. We start sinking the small balls that sets off a rather silly chain reaction of balls. When it's over and we're out of money on our first bucket, the two blue balls are still there, standing defiant.
Then we find the place is closing in 15 minutes.
I'm against spending any tokens from our second bucket and go to get it exchanged.
It's here where I learn that you can't convert your tokens to back yen. Gambling is illegal in Japan. We can make an account and they'll use a computer to track our unused tokens. But this doesn't really help us.
So Jess grabs a handful of tokens and within a minute both blue balls are in the bin. Tokens are being fired in all directions in a seemingly endless spectacle of coins, lights and noise. And we're wondering what we can do with several kilograms of tokens. We offer the tubs to a Japanese lady for ¥1000 and she is quite happy. She had 1500+ tokens there. We were happy to get the money for the bucket we didn't use back.
No gambling you might be thinking. What is the point of the game? What is the point of the crazy, noisy and incredibly popular gambling game pachinko?
It's like what I described above but with ball bearings, many bright lights, video images and dangerous levels of noise. You can hear the muffled sound when you walk past a pachinko parlour. Should the doors open you will be assaulted by a violent cacophonous din. Some players pop a ball bearing into each ear as protection, others wear ear plugs. It's an experience like nothing else. On your first go you'll be bewildered by what is going on. You'll be confused about why people play this when you can't exchange any winnings. Well you see with pachinko you play for prizes. These prizes don't count as gambling as it's not money. But around the corner you can find unrelated businesses that will buy such prizes.
The price that they buy the prizes off you might be exactly what your winnings are worth. We could have done the same with the pusher game. But I'd forgotten about gambling being more complicated in Japan.