Pachinko & North Korea


     In general, gambling is banned in Japan except for municipally operated ones as like horse races, bicycle races, motorcycle races and boat races. Pachinko, however, is regal.

     Do you know Pachinko? I hear it was born in sometime after World War II here in Nagoya. It’s like a pinball game with small iron balls. If you can succeed in fall your balls into certain windows of the machine, you can get more balls. You can exchange the balls for something according to the amount of them. You can also get money with the balls.

  As I mentioned, gambling is basically banned, but there’s a loophole. After the game, you exchanged the balls for something like a token, for example, a pen or something. If you take it to a small exchange place nearby, you can exchange for cash there. Pachinko parlors cannot pay you cash under Japanese law, that’s why they pay money outside.

     So, do you know about 70 to 80% of pachinko parlors are related to North Korea? In “Talking about Japan: Social issues” course, I studied it as well. It is said that there are about 16.000 pachinko parlors in Japan and about 70 to 80% of them are ran by ethnic Koreans. According to “Pinball Wizards” written by Eric Weiner in 2003, Pachinko business’s annual revenue is roughly $250 billion. And much pachinko money are sent to Pyongyang.

     According to Wikipedia (, the “official” sum of remittances to North Korea from Japan was 3 billion to 10 billion yen in 2005. The figure doesn’t include the pachinko revenues.

     The big pachinko money is connected with Chongryon (The General Association of Korean Residents in Japan) which is an organization for ethnic Koreans residents of Japan, has close ties to North Korea. Seo Man-sul, the chairman of Chongryon and five other senior Chongryon officials are also memebers of the North Korea’s parliament.

     Chongyron is North Korea’s de facto embassy in Japan because there is no diplomatic relations between the two countries. Japanese government also regards it as a kind of embassy and has exempted Chongryon from taxes by diplomatic immunity.

     About 3500 pachinko parlors belong to an organization so-called the chamber of commerce and industry of ethnic Koreans residents of Japan affiliated to Chongryon. And it seems that Chongryon itself owns about 40 pachniko parlors.

     There are many problems between North Korea and Japan as like abductions issue, weapons and mass destruction (especially nuclear weapons) issue, missile test and so on. North Korea frightens not only Japan and also various countries. Japan, however, is a hotbed for them. Many people hooked on pachinko may invest their energy and money in helping North Korea again today.


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