Posts Tagged ‘pachinko’

Local government attempts to make citizens rat on welfare recipients

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

A goal of the resurgent Liberal Democratic Party is to reduce public welfare expenditures over the next three years by cutting handouts to the tune of ¥67 billion, or about 10 percent. The targets of these cuts are households who receive more money in welfare than do “lower income” households who don’t, the purpose being to bring the monthly payments made to non-working poor families down to or below the monthly earnings of working poor families. Thus the public assistance payment for a family of four would drop from an average of ¥220,000 to ¥200,000.

They call it gambling: Pachinko enthusiasts waiting for their loot

They call it gambling: Pachinko enthusiasts waiting for their loot

As to what this family would have to give up, one category ripe for reduction is “recreation” (goraku), which includes everything from TV sets and PCs to books and magazines. However, according to a 2010 government survey, welfare recipients only spent 6.4 percent of their money on recreation, and due to the LDP’s prime bugbear, deflation, they are spending less in this area all the time, so the keepers of the treasury will have to find other places to cut.

One public figure, however, feels that the goraku category hasn’t been scrutinized enough. The city assembly of Ono, Hyogo Prefecture, passed a law that went into effect April 1 prohibiting people who receive public assistance from the city to use that money for gambling. The law also compels city residents to report any instance of gambling by welfare recipients to the police. Given the timing of the implementation and the nature of the law, some people may wonder if it’s a joke, but Mayor Tsutomu Horai, who wrote it, is quite passionate about the matter, which is why the media have covered it so closely.

Ono currently pays out ¥290 million in welfare annually to 120 households. The population of the city is 50,000. The new law states that anyone who observes a welfare recipient spending “too much money” on gambling has a responsibility to report it to the authorities. The model seems to be local versions of child abuse prevention laws, which state that anyone who believes a child is the victim of violence or neglect must report the abuse to police.

The bill first became publicly known in February, before it was approved, and the city received some 7,000 “opinions” from all over Japan, 70 percent of which were positive. As Horai told the weekly magazine Aera at the time, “Let’s say your friend asks to borrow money because of some trouble, and then later you see him playing pachinko. Naturally, you’re going to be annoyed.”

The problem, as he saw it, was that most people don’t care about public money, and so he wants to change that perception. There is no penalty if a person sees a welfare recipient gambling and does not report it, probably because that would be impossible to prove. Horai certainly understands this, but claims that 90 percent of the city’s residents, including welfare recipients themselves, support the law and so most of his job is already done.

The Hyogo Prefecture Bar Association has come out against the law, saying that its purpose of involving average citizens in the monitoring of welfare recipients’ behavior will result in greater “discrimination of and bias toward” the latter. In fact, Ono’s finances are healthier than most local government’s. Its treasury actually reports a surplus balance of ¥8.5 billion, and the mayor himself has said that the aim of the law is not to reduce the welfare budget. If anything, he hopes the law will also alert people who may qualify for assistance to apply for it.

As it stands, the central government provides three-fourths of a typical handout with the remainder handled by municipalities. About 1.7 percent of the national population receives welfare, while the portion in Ono is only 0.3 percent. However, both statistics are on the rise — the number of recipients in Ono increased by 64 percent over the last five years — and is certainly a reflection of the economic situation in general, but Horai thinks that it has to do with a more relaxed attitude toward government handouts. He told Aera that he first thought of devising the bill when he was at city hall and overheard several people who were waiting on line for their welfare packets. One asked another, “Where are you going to play pachinko later?”

Horai focuses on pachinko, which, legally speaking, isn’t gambling. Players can only earn money by trading the excess balls they win for premiums in the pachinko parlors and then “selling” those premiums at specially established booths outside the premises. Though no one is fooled that this isn’t betting in practice, it’s gambling by legal loophole. What’s more, the off-site payment booths are regulated by the National Police Agency, so why doesn’t pachinko qualify as legal recreation, which is considered acceptable for welfare recipients? And why doesn’t Horai induce citizens to narc on welfare recipients who, say, buy lottery tickets?

Actually, he has an answer to those questions. “People say pachinko is merely entertainment,” he told Aera. “But they don’t understand reality. People who spend too much on pachinko are addicts.” In truth, he wants welfare recipients who play “too much” pachinko to seek medical help, which they can do easily since, as welfare recipients, their medical insurance is free. Horai’s system may not make much sense, but he wants you to know his heart is in the right place.

Mahjong parlors go deeper underground to stay in business

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

As a disreputable pastime, mahjong doesn’t draw as much attention as racing sports or pachinko probably because as a game it’s relatively low key and whatever gambling goes on is between friends. In Japan, mahjong traditionally has been played by male college students and salarymen in smoke-filled “parlors” where participants rent tables by the hour and send out for food and alcohol. Like a lot of things that depend on disposable income, Japan’s mahjong industry has been hurting lately. Not only did the lingering recession eat away at the game’s clientele, but anyone with a mahjong jones can get their fix with computer and mobile phone applications. According to the National Mahjong Union, there were about 36,000 parlors nationwide in 1978, a number that remained fairly constant until the bubble burst at the end of the 1980s. By 2000, the number had dwindled to 20,000, and in 2010 there were only 12,700 mahjong parlors in Japan.

Against the wind: Entrance to mahjong parlor in Hama-cho, Tokyo

The Asahi Shimbun recently reported that many remaining parlors are desperately trying to attract new customers in order to stay in business and that some of these schemes have led to police crackdowns. The paper covered one struggling parlor in Osaka where it costs ¥1,800 to rent a four-person table for one hour, and most days the manager says they only manage to rent out about two tables. Another parlor in the vicinity has actually set up a no-smoking section behind glass in hopes that women and non-smokers will come. Still other parlors have set up bigger kitchens so as to offer a more diverse dining experience. There’s even a movement called “healthy mahjong” aimed at older and younger people that emphasizes daytime playing with no alcohol or betting, as well as the supposed brain-fortifying qualities of the game. Some parlors offer “classes” in how to play mahjong more enjoyably and effectively.

Traditional mahjong enthusiasts, however, will likely look askance at these developments, since without the drink and the smoke and the gambling mahjong holds little interest to them. The main problem is that a mahjong game requires four people, so some parlors have devised “free mahjong,” which means you can show up at a parlor by yourself and the manager will set you up in a game with employees. Instead of charging by the table and the hour, free mahjong parlors charge by the game., and since mahjong games can be relatively quick affairs, the profit rate is theoretically higher.

Continue reading about mahjong →

Grandma got game: More elderly patronizing arcades

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Not-so-heavy medals

A recently released report by the Japan Productivity Center noted a steady decrease in leisure expenditures. In 2010, the Japanese public spent ¥67.97 trillion on recreation, a 2.1 percent decrease from the previous year and the second year in a row that statistic registered a deficit. Certain activities, however, have posted increases. Driving and eating out remain the most popular things people spend money on during their free time. They also spent about 1 percent more on theatrical films, tourism and amusement parks in 2010; and expenditures for activities “promoted on television” saw a 6.2 percent increase. The pastimes that contributed to the minus figure were mainly sports (except for bicycling and running) and goraku (distractions), a euphemism for what are generally considered non-constructive pleasures, such as gambling, pachinko and computer or arcade games.

Spending on goraku, in fact, was down by a whopping 4.7 percent, a reality that has prodded the arcade industry, both operators and game producers, to concentrate promotion on a demographic that they previously ignored: the elderly. As reported in this space last year, pachinko has become more popular in recent years among retired people who have nothing better to do and few opportunities for social interaction. However, the majority of older folks are on fixed incomes, and pachinko can be expensive. According to the Asahi Shimbun many are now turning to game arcades, or “game centers” in the Japanese parlance, and the arcades themselves are bending over backwards to accommodate them.

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Hidden pachinko industry workers make some noise

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Getting paid: A patron exchanges prizes for cash outside a pachinko parlor

Pachinko isn’t the huge money maker it used to be. At around the turn of the century, it was a ¥30 trillion a year business, putting it on the same revenue level as medical care, but according to the Nihon Yugi Kanren Jigyo Kyokai, the pachinko industry association, pachinko parlors now pull in about ¥10 trillion less, give or take a few trillion. Ten years ago there were about 17,000 parlors nationwide. Now there’s only about 12,500.

Unlike horses and certain other racing sports, pachinko is not approved by the government for gambling purposes, but the industry has traditionally gotten around this obstacle by offering prizes to winners. These prizes can then be exchanged for cash at secretive little booths (keihin kokan-jo) located outside the premises, since having the booths inside the parlors themselves would be against the law. The businesses that run the booths sells the prizes to a wholesaler who then redistributes them back to pachinko parlors.

Organized crime elements used to be centrally involved in this buy-back cycle, but in the early ’90s the police managed to lock them out of it and set up their own organizations to administer the business. It’s been reported in the past that a portion of the money these schemes make go to the National Police Agency for things like pension funds. A prepaid card system for pachinko parlors was introduced in the ’90s that made it easier for the police and tax authorities to monitor revenues.

Continue reading about keihin kokan-jo →

Pachinko parlors pulling in pensioners

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Has anybody seen grandpa?

Has anybody seen grandpa?

The pinball pastime known as pachinko reached its peak of popularity in 1995, when the industry raked in almost ¥30 trillion. Since then it’s been all downhill, owing mainly to population shrinkage and the attendant loss of disposable income. However, the biggest blow to pachinko revenues came in 2007 with stricter regulations for slot machines (or “pachislot“), which were a little too much like gambling as far as the National Police Agency was concerned. This may be a matter of splitting hairs since standard pachinko is also a form of gambling that can be quite addictive, but in any case more and more pachinko parlors have gone out of business in the three years since. There are now about 12,600 parlors throughout Japan, 2,000 less than there were in 2007 and 30 percent less than there were in 1995.

Slot machines were more popular among younger pachinko enthusiasts, and rather than try to reclaim what will likely be a dwindling demographic, the industry has gone in the opposite direction. Since 2008 pachinko parlors have targeted the elderly, with surprising success. Between 2000 and 2008, the number of pachinko users over the age of 60 grew from about 2 million to 3 million; but in the subsequent two years the number jumped to 4.3 million.

Continue reading about pachinko and pensioners →

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