Every day I pass the queue on the way to work. It is always at least 10 people long and on some days, I have counted over 40. It is men, mostly, who are waiting, though the females in line with them give off the same palpable smell of desperation. The people are impatient, rocking from left to right and glancing peevishly at their wristwatches. Obvious loners, miserable-looking and squirrely, they shun eye contact or communication with the people ahead of or behind them in line.
Yes, soon the monstrosity that looms above will open its maw to receive them. Soon the garish beast will come to life, belching smoke and ear-splitting noise from its orifices as the very people now waiting endeavor to satiate it feverishly with shiny, metal balls.
This is pachinko, one of the most spectacular displays of time-killing in the world and quite possibly the loudest way to lose a day’s wages in history. Pachinko, to put it more simply, is a game. It stands like a slot machine, works like a pinball machine and only barely resembles a hobby. Not that the people coming here are looking for much. They are here due to lack of options, imagination, or even jobs, perhaps. They are looking not for attraction but for distraction. And it is a distraction. Pachinko parlors can be found at every station, though I shouldn’t use the word “found”, because that implies you have to actually look for one. They are big, bright, hulking bastions of eyesore, pulsating a color and artificiality in stark contrast, usually, to the immediate surroundings.
Upon entrance the first-timer will most likely be disoriented by the smoke and noise. It’s like war without the danger; like clubbing without the fun, without the sexiness, without the dancing. There is music, though – hideously hyperactive bubblegum house music that can even be heard from outside on the street. It’s just the right kind of music, I guess, to compel countless numbers of people to spend their precious yen on steel balls that they then feed the machines for hours on end, hoping against hope just to break even for the day. And to further spur them on is an MC (for lack of a better word), the guy whose job it is to whip these ball-stuffers into a proper frenzy by prancing about the room with a mic, exhorting the customers on to ever-higher levels of, um, excitement. The whole scene is mind-boggling in its inanity.
Though who am I to judge how these people spend their time? I myself numb my brain on a daily basis in a multitude of ways. Once I watched all seven Planet of the Apes movies in a single day. So who knows? Maybe, in the future, years from now, I will find myself drawn, out of boredom and despair, to these very same pachinko places. However, if I do some day find myself working lever and ball to the soulless beat of techno-cheese, I promise, if only for a moment, to stand up and dance.