Pachinko is a game that has captured the imagination of an entire nation and filled massive floors with literally thousands of machines, spinning little balls as people stared on in wonder. The Pachinko Hall has become a staple of life in Japan’s busier cities, becoming a robust multimillion dollar industry that will no doubt continue to grow with new variations of the game being created year after year. However, the history of the game is a bit stranger and much less Japanese than you might think and with a history that goes back well before the technological age the game has thrived in today.
Pachinko in England
If you had to guess, I’m sure you wouldn’t put the genesis of the Pachinko game in England, or for that matter in the England of the 15th century, a time known to many as the Dark Age. In truth, though many of the discoveries of the time were stunted by willful ignorance and the suppression of knowledge, there were several inventions of the time with as lasting an effect on modern life as Pachinko.
The game was conceived by aristocrats who wished to play a variation of croquet indoors, opting for a table to take the place of a yard or a field. This game was to feature wooden pins rather than wickets, which were knocked down by much smaller balls. By the 17th century, the game gained holes and pockets and was called billiards.
France and the 18th Century
The French added to the game of billiards significantly. They narrowed the table and made a few other alterations including putting all the pins at one end of the table and placing targets on the pins. Another aspect that was changed was replacing the resetting pins with firm static pins that sped up the rate of play; also, those targets were replaced with holes. The purpose of the game was shifted as well; you were now meant to shoot balls up and incline covered in posts to hit some colored holes. There were several variations of the game in play for some time but in 1819 the game was standardized and called “Bagatelle” meaning trifle.
By the 1920’s a child’s toy by the name of Corinthian Bagatelle was developed in Chicago after the popularity of the first iteration in Europe. This version featured shooting plungers designed for much larger silver balls rather than marble. These balls would become a tent pole feature of the game giving it its unique sound. The game also features wood rails and bumpers, which would also make this game an earlier version of the game of pinball. However, one of the biggest additions to the game was the brass nails making it primed to become Pachinko.
The Birth of Pachinko
By 1926, the game was introduced to Japan, a place where space was premium. Some features, mostly aesthetic, of the Korinto Gemu were added to the early Pachinko machines and the Circle of Pleasure machines, including the brass nails from Corinthian Bagatelle. The board was shifted to a vertical position, and the result was the first Pachinko machine.