Japan Just different

Japan is different – Pachinoko, manholes, vending machines, breakfast, shopping streets

Pachinoko – Japanese pinball

Upon entering a pachinko parlour for the first time, the first thing that hits you is the fog of cigarette smoke. Inside you’ll find row upon row of pachinko machines and lots of noise, not least bells and cartoon voices. Mostly male players are watching silver balls bounce around (pachin refers to the sound of the ‘ko’, or ball), hoping they will fall down into the winning centre hole. The more balls they win, the more cash they will get. The winner can swap the thousands of winning silver balls for a receipt, which in turn was swappable for alcohol, toys or other prizes. To get money, you need to ask for the “special prize” tokens. These are plastic gold-coloured tokens that can be swapped for cash — but not within the pachinko parlour. Instead, they are cashed in at TUC shops that are always located nearby and exist as a legal loophole enabling you to win money in a country that technically forbids gambling. The exchange of prizes for cash was once controlled by the yakuza (Japanese mafia), but has been cleaned up by the police, who now regulate it in this way.

Visiting a pachinoko parlour is a very Japanese experience and is both big business and a national obsession – there are more than 12,500 pachinko halls in Japan, some with slot machines, which together, according to a BBC article, make four times as much profit as all the rest of the world’s legal casino gambling combined, generating upward of 30 trillion yen profit per year.

Japanese manhole covers

Japanese manhole covers are both decorated and often very colourful. There are literally thousands of different patterns. There are thousands of pictures on the net and no wonder they have caught the imagination of the world – and the so called drain spotters. There are even books, called drain spotting.


Vending machines

According the the Japanese national Tourist Board there are more than 5,5 million vending machines in Japan – and they are everywhere. Most sell canned and bottled drinks, but you can get all sorts – eggs, fruit, burgers, umbrellas, teddy bears, puppy’s, fish soup – in fact pretty much anything you can imagine can be bought in a vending machine in Japan.

Japanese breakfast

Kaiseki is a Japanese meal with many small dishes of different food. For an evening meal this is truely fantastic. But for breakfast? raw fish, egg, bamboo, rice, bean puree, yoghurt, miso and much more. Great for dinner, but for breakfast.

Shotengai – covered shopping streets

Covered shopping streets are found in pretty much every town and city in Japan. Many have been there for years, and many thrive, but in some of the small town I passed through, many are dying, due to competition from shopping centers. Shotengai are found in every large Japanese city. Prominent examples include Musashi-koyama shotengai in Tokyo, Shinsaibashi-suji shotengai in Osaka, Sanjo-kai shotengai in Kyoto and Tanuki-koji shotengai in Sapporo. Shops in a shotengai often include cheap eateries, izakaya, dry cleaners, convenience stores, clothing shops, arcades, pachinko, grocery stores, vegetable stands and book shops. But more and more, not least in the bigger cities, brand stores are also moving in.

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