Nov 3, 2018

Gambling on ambiguity

Gambling is illegal in Japan. There are no casinos and everybody is working hard and not wasting their precious money on things like blackjack and poker.

Except it isn’t really. And it’s this ambiguity that causes a bit of grief for people like me who …don’t always have the best self-control.

Let’s get the basics out of the way. Did you know that hanafuda, the pretty little cards that children play every year came about when normal playing cards with numbers were banned in the 16-hundreds because of gambling?

So some smart person decided to make cards with only pictures (this is a gross oversimplification of historical events that happened over many many years) and a company called “Nintendo” started producing a very popular card product and yada-yada-yada now we have Waluigi.

I have heard many things about Japan. How it’s safe and innocent and everything is kawaii etc. But I think Japan is also very good at sweeping things under the rug. Live here for over a year and you start to see the stains. You look behind the curtain and notice some inconsistencies. The emperor may be wearing clothes, but he’s also hiding his fox ears.


The sensory overload of lights and sounds and the deafening rattle of metal balls all around makes for a lousy experience. I mean it’s great for a while. Getting lost in your own little world filled with flashing lights and mayhem is intoxicating. And then your wallet is empty, it’s dark outside and your date has run off with the takoyaki guy across the street.

But don’t worry. It’s not illegal. They only give out prizes and receipts for the balls you win. (Although there is a completely unrelated store right next to the parlor which is very interested in buying your receipt for actual money… complete coincidence!)

Arcades with medals

And yes, since you cannot bring your children into the pachinko parlors, there must be something for them to do. And here come the medal games in the arcades. Buy a bucket of medals and play various games, ranging from rock-paper-scissors to some roulette style games. There is also a very enticing fishing game.

The thing about these games, just like pachinko balls, is that you get medals back. So that you can put them back into the machine. And play some more. And instead of wasting fifteen minutes on a single game, you are there for maybe two hours or even longer! I honestly don’t see the difference between this and pachinko.

Summoner Wars and other apps.

And at the same time, applications and games that have a chance based economy are banned. There is a game I used to play called Summoner Wars. In it, you summon creatures and train them by fighting. Pretty normal stuff. But then they made an update where you could fuse certain creatures to make a super creature. But because the summons were random, it could take a long time to get the right creatures. Pretty normal stuff. But Japan decided to ban this feature, because it’s a chance based economy.

And although I agree with this decision, it gives me a strange taste of hypocrisy considering the above.

I am not saying this is only happening in Japan. And I am NOT saying there needs to be a reform of how Japan thinks of itself.

But the casino in Osaka debate shouldn’t be that big of a debate. It won’t destroy the society. It’s definitely not how I would design my city, regardless of its promised economic benefits, but it’s not the end times if it does get built.

I have to remind myself that even though the “kuji” in Seven Eleven promises prizes, it’s still gambling. There are many pitfalls for people like me. It may be just a small amount of money for some, but it adds up. Oh how it adds up. (yes, I got the last one and now I have an awesome Black Triforce alarm clock. But was it worth it?)

Gambling on ambiguity photo

I just want to say it’s a hypocrisy. I enjoy Japan and all its bells and whistles, but I sometimes take a step back and have to laugh. I am not well with ambiguity and saying something is illegal and then have a gigantic exception attached to it makes me uncomfortable. Like I’m being lied to. And that is not what I want from a place which prides itself on its innocence and safety.

*Please forgive the gross oversimplification of Japan, gambling and society in general.



European living the Japanese dream in Kansai