(a tour guide)
As per my recent rant on Japan’s “capitalist communism,” if you find one crazy little store by accident, chances are that there are 12 crazy little stores right next to it SELLING THE SAME THING. Here is a good example.
I was in Ueno, and saw this crazy-looking neighborhood that seemed to have exploded out of a toybox:
I went there, thinking I’d find some love hotels or some creepy old people but instead . . . I found the corporate headquarters of all the major Pachinko machine-making companies! All in one spot. Complete with tinted-windows-mercedes and dudes having big meetings. Of course I had to go inside. .
I’ve experienced a lot of social akwardness in my time – every nerd has. There’s some moments that stand out in my mind ? being a goy in a Hasidic store. Being a guy in a Boys’ Love manga store. The first day of my Lesbian Psychology class. But, for sheer “OUTSIDER! OUTSIDER! HISSSSSS!!!!!”-ness, perhaps nothing tops going to the main office of any pachinko company. Which is why I really recommend all tourists to Tokyo go there, even if they have no interest in pachinko. You really have to do it to believe it. It’s not so much that they hate you, it’s more like your sudden manifestation in their lobby is like hot snow falling up ? if the hot snow was wearing a t-shirt that said “FUCK JESUS FOR HITLER!” and farting. You’re a threat to their whole sanity. Everyone stops work immediately and reaches reflexively inside their jacket. It’s a great way to see the other side of Japan ? I had one dude tell me “You can’t get anything or talk to anyone!”
Basically the deal is, it looks like a showroom, has merchandise, and the door is unlocked, but only industry people (black suits, black limousines, tinted windows, cigarettes) are supposed to come in. I’m sure in any other country they WOULD lock the door, but in Japan, regular folks know not to knock, so they don’t have to!
Fortunately, it seems that the not-a-showrooms have so few customers that a lot of the receptionists go out back for a smoke most of the day. Go in a random building and you got a good chance of having the whole place to yourself!
In which case ? beware ? the machines don’t work. Even the ones where the center bit has NOT been physically detached and replaced with a crude cardboard cutout of the company’s logo. This one lady told me, “Oh, those are for display only.” Display what? Display how your products are broken? Or display how to not have a showroom?
Besides the “Home Alone” scenario, you also got a good chance of meeting a scared reception lady, who has not seen a customer in weeks and forgot what to do, or a mean guy with whom you can have the following conversation:
YOU: (staring at pamphlets on display) do you have any pamphlets?
YOU: Is this a pachinko company?
YOU: Are. . . we. . . in Japan??
HIM: Get out.
Not sure why the pamphlets are off-limits. Maybe they say (in Japanese) “Check out our new machine! Garunteed, no sucker-ass mark will ever make as much as 100 yen off this mother! It’s so rigged you might as well just steal their wallet the second they walk in the joint!”
Anyway, the awkwardness/paranoia is truly a thing to behold. After 3 shops I started to feel like gangsters were waiting around the corner with brick-bats and I’m not even totally sure what brick-bats even are. Basically the key is ? be nice to the staff. Don’t do nothing they say not to. Not only does it reduce your chances of being Taken For A Long Ride, but the more polite you are, the harder they have to put up with you. Simply standing and smiling produces the most effect. “Yup. Just lookin’ around. Just. . looooooookin arouuuuuuuund . . .doo dah, doo dah. . . “
Then, just as I was ready to call it a day, I decided to try one last shop. No one there. I felt this strange urge: “Don’t take pictures. Don’t take pamphlets. Let them fiiind youuu.” Sure enough, after a minute, a guy came out ? but not a reception guy! I think he was an engineer. One thing for sure ? he didn’t get the memo. He brought me tea, and almost implored me to try a functional pachinko machine, for free. I think he was proud of his engineering creation. Even gave me a promotional DVD! After that, I got the fuck out.
HOW TO GET THERE;
JR Ueno station East exit. You emerge into a giant outdoor, second-story plaza. Word. Instead of going south to the shopping district, turn left, towards the giant-red-paper-clip sculpture. Pass it, until you come to the GIANT PACHINKO BALL sculpture. Go down the escalator, and walk 20 feet until you come to the first tiny-ass street. Turn right. Walk another 30 feet until you come to an intersection- there’s a parking lot on the far side. You’ll find there are pachinko offices on your left AND right side. If you turn to the right, you’ll soon come to a cool KENDO (Japanese fencing) store. If you turn to the left, however, you’ll be on the main avenue of the pachinko district. Enjoy.
If those directions are too vague, try these addresses: Higashiueno 2-chome 21-2 or 3-chome-16-anything. Or just look for any building that resembles a lovehotel!
EIKO BUDOGU : the Kendo store ? swords, armor, and more. No wimps allowed!
Higashi ueno, 3-16-3.
MATSUZAKI SHOTEN : higashi ueno, 3- 18 ? 3.
Nestled in amongst the pachinko offices is MATSUZAKI SHOTEN, which is an army/navy surplus store. It’s great ? Mr. Matsuzaki himself is at work in the back, all fixing and restoring garb.
Also, can’t forget TAISEI SECURITY- a small mom-and-pop store that sells the pachinko parlors the security devices they need to spy on/stop gambling cheats (not sure if they also sell the butane torches the yakuza use on cheaters afterwards). The TAISEI store is really close: higashi ueno 3chome 15-13.
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