One of the highlights of the day was playing pachinko. Pachinko is sort of hybrid between pinball and a slot machine with a good dose of Japanese non-sequitur weirdness mixed in. To play, you buy a bucket of tiny metal balls, load them into a tray on the machine, and then you twist a knob to launch the balls. If your ball lands in the right spot, you get to play a mini-game, like slots, and if you're lucky you'll be rewarded with more balls. After that--this is where the true test of skill comes in--you just keep holding the knob in the same position, launching balls and playing slots until your ball supply is depleted.
Walking into a pachinko parlor can be pretty overwhelming to the senses: the din of cascading balls of 100 pachinko machines sounds like never-ending slow motion car crash. But on top of that, all sorts of imaginable noisemakers are constantly being triggered when the balls land in special slots--sirens, bells, strobe lights, slot machines, hypnotic anime videos, and looped songs featuring unnaturally exuberant high-pitched voices. A pachinko parlor is as loud as a dog cafe is smelly.
Not to brag too much, but I think I must be some sort of pachinko prodigy. My ability to turn a small knob 3 inches to the right and occasionally push a flashing button are unmatched. Taki was so amazed at my preternatural talent that he scooped all the balls he was playing (and losing) on his machine and invested them into mine. He sure picked a winner in this race, because by the time I was ready to call it a day, I had quadrupled the number of balls I started with.
Now it was time to cash in. Like Korea, gambling is illegal in Japan. But also like Korea, Japan has come up with several loopholes around this obstacle. A pachinko player cannot directly exchange their balls for cash at the pachinko parlor. Instead, when you exchange your balls, you get a choice of prizes, not too dissimilar from what you'd be able to get after a really good day of skeeball at Chuck E. Cheese's. My "prizes" were potato chips, candy, and a cookie.
After loading me up with snacks, the clerk pushed a secret button, and 4 little tokens popped out of a secret dispenser on the counter. We were instructed to go outside, and walk a couple blocks and into a dark alleyway, and find a little kiosk with a line of hardcore pachinko players also looking to cash in. At the kiosk, you can sell your tokens for a fistful of yen. We were delighted to find that each token was worth 1000 yen, ($10) which meant that we won 4000 yen on 1000 yen gamble.
We immediately went to izakaya and blew all of our winnings on skewered meat.