Strangely enough, the history of Pachinko starts in a most unlikely place and time. Table-based games first appeared in the early 15th century in England, an apparent attempt to bring popular outdoor games such as croquet indoors. The first such games featured wickets, which were eventually replaced by wooden pins to be knocked down. In the 17th century the games evolved to include pockets. These games became what we know today as billiards.
In France in the early 18th century someone took a billiards table and narrowed it, placing all of the pins on one end with targets behind them. The pins took too long to reset after each shot, so they were replaced by static pegs, while the targets were replaced by holes. The object of the game was to shoot ivory balls up an inclined plane peppered with posts and into a series of scoring holes. In 1819 the game was standardized and called “Bagatelle”, a french word meaning “a trifle”. Bagatelle quickly spread to America, where is became so popular even President Lincoln played the game.
In the early 1920’s, a childs toy version of Bagatelle called the “Corinth Game” or “Corinthian Bagatelle” was produced in Chicago. The shooting plunger was redesigned to accomidate the large silver balls instead of marbles and bumpers and wood rails were later added, creating the forerunner of the American passtime known as pinball. Corinthian Bagatelle introduced brass nails instead of wooden pegs, a first primitive step towards the invention of the pachinko machines
Corinthin Bagatelle or the “Korinto Gemu” was first imported into Japan in 1924, and it was not long before candy store owners began putting them on the counters of their shops. Different holes had different values, and children were given small pieces of candy or fruits if they achieved a high enough score. By the late 1920’s, nearly every candy store had the machines, and the children took to calling them “Pachi-Pachi”, which means the clicking of small objects or the crackling sounds made by a fire, an obvious reference to the sounds made while playing the game. So-called “Roten” stalls, holding 3-5 bagtelle-type machines began appearing in markets around 1924. Adults would play Korinto Gemu, and wager for a chance to win small prizes such as cigarettes, soap, or detergent.
As early as 1910, a British wall game called “The Circle of Pleasure” was invented and distributed. This innovative machine had many of the common features of what would become known as pachinko, including races, scoring pockets, and even a slingshot-style flipper. It was a popular pub gambling device taking in and paying out coins. In particular, it was set up in a vertical configuration with glass restricting the balls to the playfield. The Circle of Pleasure used a single glass marble that never left the machine. The Circle of Pleasure was later revised and renamed All-Win by the manufacturers.
Space has always been at a premium in Japan, and so in 1926 some Korinto Gemu characteristics were morphed with the space-saving Circle of Pleasure machines. The brass nails from the bagatelle joined with the basic design of the Circle of Pleasure to create the first true pachinko machines. This allowed most parlors to hold upwards of 10-15 machines in the same space. However, it was not until 1929 that the vertical machines gained universal acceptance. This vertical machine was called “Pachinko”, a reference to the sound of the game being played.
In 1930 the Aichi prefecture headquarters granted the first ever license for the operation of a “Gachinko” hall, and it was in Nagoya. Gachinko was a play on words from a sumo wrestling term for a frenzied or fevered shooting forward move. Today the word means “Gonzo” or “fevered”, a predecessor of the so-called “fever mode” on modern electronic machines. The term is a throwback to the gachinko or “Fever” parlors of the 1930’s.
Initially, these early pachinko machines were designed to dispense a small metal token or medal when a ball landed in a scoring pocket as a way of keeping score.
In 1936, The game of pachinko became an overnight sensation. In Kochi alone, 35 parlors opened in just six months. Late in 1936 pachinko machines appeared that had standardized 11mm, 5g balls, and the balls themselves were used to keep score. Unfortunately, there were few produced and they did not have the opportunity to become popular.
In 1937 the production of pachinko machines was halted because both the materials and the manpower were needed for the war in China. In 1938 all of the existing parlors were ordered closed.
After WWII, machines were once again produced and the pachinko parlors spread once more, beginning in 1946 in Nagoya. By 1947 prize balls replaced the medals in nearly all machines.
In 1948 Shoichi Masamura introduced the masamura gage, or the “Positive Gage Forest”. Prior to this innovation, balls followed mostly vertical paths through rows of nails. The Masamura gage allowed balls to bounce around, and if they missed one pocket, they might still score in a lower one. By 1952 nearly all machines had adopted the Masamura gage.
In 1949 Masamura developed the first game in which more than a single ball could be won. This was the famous “ALL-10” machine, with each pocket paying out 10 balls. In 1950 he upped the ante with the first “ALL-15” machine, a machine with 8 scoring holes each of which paid out 15 balls. Other manufacturers quickly followed suit, and the ALL-15 became the standard for the next three decades. 1949 also saw the establishment of Bussan Marushin and Heiwa companies, making many thousands of machines in just the first year.
In 1951 several manufacturers began producing “All-20” machines called “Barrage” machines, but these were outlawed in 1953 by the gaming authorities. Additionally, 1951 marked the beginning of the Sophia Nishijin company which would produce millions of popular pachinko machines for decades.
In 1952 the Kyoraku and Daiichi Shokai company began producing their first machines in Nagoya.
In late 1952 the first autoloaders or the “Renpatsu-shiki” (successive shot) pachinko machines were developed, enabling players to shoot 160 to 180 balls per minute. In the summer of 1953 the gaming authority made it illegal to produce Renpatsu-shiki that paid more than one ball per win pocket, marking 1952/1953 as the only years of that era in which autoloading ALL-15 machines were produced. By the end of 1953 there were 387,664 registered parlors, and over 600 manufacturing companies.
In 1955, Sanyo Bussan was established in Nagoya, and they continue to make pachinko machines today.
In 1957, the Takeya “Expression Drone” model was produced. This model was specifically produced to be placed in the long familiar rows parlors now use, with attendants taking care of the machines from a pathway between the rows. The Expression Drone was also the first machine designed to be backlit by the lighting in the passage between the rows. Other manufacturers quickly added colored gels behind playfield features to take advantage of this new configuration.
In 1958 the famous Fuji Shoji company began business producing machines.
In 1960 both the first tulip and the first direct use electrical power (10VDC)for lights made their appearances, although neither was utilized until 1962. The tulips are considered to be responsible for the resurgence in the flagging pachinko industry that had been suffering from low attendance and profits since the restrictions imposed in 1953. Toyotec was established in 1960 as well.
1961 also saw the release of one of the most popular pachinko machines of the era, the Marudai New Prince. This pachinko machine was created to commemorate the birth of the Crown Prince Naruhito in 1960, and was produced for several years afterward due to high demand from parlors and players alike.
In 1965 the first “olympia” machines were produced, reel machines that are the direct predecessors of the popular Pachislo machines.
1966 saw the establishment of The Sankyo Company and their first machines sold extremely well.
In 1969, restrictions on Renpatsu-shiki machines were lifted, leading manufacturers to retrofit earlier ALL-15 models with autoloading features. Many companies retro fitted old single shots that year with another front tray. These came to have been known as Single Shot Conversion machines. They weren’t the most attractive machines but they were easier to play.
In 1970 the first true modern Renpatsu-shiki were released. Early models were referred to as “front overflow machines” that dumped balls into the bottom tray through an external spout. They functioned almost exactly the same as the Single Shot Conversions but they were stylized much nicer and some mechanics were simplified.
In 1971, The Nishijin 1200 was produced; many refer to this machine as the “Model A” or “Recycler”. It operated exactly the same as the Front overflow however they moved the front drain tube inside the tray eliminating a big eye sore from the front of the machine. Many other companies followed Nishijin and also produced Model A type machines. The model A lasted until early 1972 and would later be revived for one year in 1974 and 1976.
In late 1971, Nishijin reintroduced the 4200 or “Model B” machine. The Model B was the basic style that the back of all single shots used. However back in the 50s and 60s parlors had to have attendants in back of the machines to refill the trays for the player. Which is why the Model A was built; that way the parlor could have a smaller staff and they could fit more machines in. The exact reason why the Model B came back unknown, but many think that it was cheaper to build, and it was easier to repair. Also the parlor could keep and exact count on how many times people win on each machine, because the Model A gave the player back his winning ball. Many companies that built the Model A followed Nishijin and started producing the Model B again. The Model B didn’t really take off again till 1972 but after it did it remained in use until around 1978.
Also in 1972, the gaming authorities authorized the use of motorized handles, or “shooting knobs”. The knobs were produced rarely on models from 1973 through 1976 as they met with a great deal of resistance from traditional players. Although acceptance was slow, by 1980 nearly all machines incorporated knobs and the models with flippers were all but eliminated from production.
In 1974 Nishijin released the first electro-mechanical pachinkos branded as the “Powerflash”. It utilized a series of solenoids to open and close the tulips according to preset conditions. This was quickly followed up in 1975 by the Nishijin “Circuit Racer”, the “Piranha”, the “UFO”, and the “Power Roulette” models.
The power series of machines that Nishijin made were the immediate predecessors to the Arrangeball pachinko machines, sometimes called “arepachi”. Arrangeball combines elements of bingo with pachinko and is an interesting hybrid of the two. The Arrangeball never let the player handle the balls as you inserted a coin and it would give you 16 balls and keep track of your score. Arrangeballs paid off in coins but Arepachi pay out in balls. The main companies producing these machines were Taiyo and Satomi who are still in business today.
Also in 1975, for arcades and custom imports Satomi produced a few machines called Computer Pachinkos. These were typically Model A machines that they converted to function like an Arepachi. They were put in big free standing cases and the player would put in a coin and it would give you 16 balls like the Arepachi. It would also keep track of your score and your time. However, it didn’t pay out anything, as it was built for younger kids to play the game their parents play.
In 1975 several importers began flooding the retail stores in America with used pachinko machines from Japan. Mildly “refurbished”, these machines were sold through chain outlets such as Sears, Kmart, Pier 1 imports, The Akron and Woolworth. The vast majority were Nishijin Model A machines from 1971-1972 (Model 1200) and Model B versions from 1972-1975 (Model 4200). The true number imported and sold in America is unknown, but it is certainly in the millions. Many pachinko machines still bear the stickers from importers such as Pachinko Palace and The Pachinko Factory, Target Abroad, and Meshulam’s. The majority of these machines came in through ports in California and Washington and were then distributed to other major hubs such as Chicago and Philadelphia.
In 1976, Nishijin introduced a new machine which came to have been known as the Model C. This machine had an even more simplified back than the Model B. It was also one of the first machines they started to produce in mass quantities with shooter knobs. Later around 1977 they developed a way to change out the playfields so the parlor could change out the machines easier and more frequently. Around then they also started to use motorized center features and a very few even got a small LCD put in them! The Model C was the start of the early modern machines.
Also in 1976, Nishijin reintroduced, for the last time, the Model A. They called this model the “Kan-Less”. They inserted many of the ideas of the Model C into the Kan-Less. As it had a motorized ball lifter in the back and many had motorized centers like the Model C. The reason why they brought the Model A back is unknown, as the Model B and Model C were much more practical for modern parlors.
With the proliferation of video games beginning with space invaders in 1978, in 1980 pachinko manufacturers ended the fabrication of mechanical pachinko machines and began producing electronic versions with video and sound features. These became known as the early moderns. They utilized the Model C machine however, they were being crammed full of electronics. Every machine had a motorized center with LED lights and sound. These were known as the “Hanemono machines”. Later after those in about the mid 90’s they started putting in digital displays into every machine and they became known as Dejipachis.
Advanced computerised pachinko machines still fill the japanese parlors to this day, and a thriving business still exists for the import of pachinkos from Japan. Millions still play this game every day in thousands of parlors.