Pachinko Machines: How to Rediscover Vintage Fun

Pachinko machines are a common fixture in Japan, with hundreds of parlors filled with millions of players. Pachinko machines in Japan are like slot machines in the United States, with people sitting for hours playing every day. However, in the United States most people today have never heard of one.

It is common for a family home to have a game room, and there are a few staples that you will find there. A pool table, a dartboard, maybe a coke machine or even a restored pinball machine or arcade game. Neon signs are popular, as are the old vintage jukeboxes. But somehow, everyone seems to have forgotten the most popular game in Japan, the game of Pachinko.

They might be forgiven, because after all, these machines were invented in Japan, built in Japan, sold in Japan, and Pachinko is most assuredly a Japanese phenomenon. But in the late 1970’s, several importers began distributing used machines in the USA. Literally millions of these lightly restored Pachinko machines were sold through national chains such as Sears and Woolworth, and many more were sold through private Pachinko chains such as Pachinko Palace. for almost 5 years the were nearly ubiquitous.

Today these colorful and interesting Pachinko machines bought by our parents have been forgotten, and have fallen into disrepair. They sit in dark attics, damp basements, dusty garages, and collapsing barns. Sometimes they get discovered, and these weird-looking machines get dragged out and sold at yard sales, Craigslist, even eBay. The machines that come out of these tombs are pale shadows of what they once were. The bright and colorful playfields are permanently water-stained, faded, and cracked. The plastic parts are dried-out and chipping. The chrome is rusted, and the once brilliant nails are black with tarnish. It is no wonder that few consider placing one into a gameroom. To those who have actually seen a Pachinko machine, they just look like old piles of junk.

But there is a small but growing number of hobbyists who are rediscovering the forgotten game of Pachinko. They hunt the flea markets, the estate sales, the yard sales, and even eBay, searching and searching for a Pachinko machine that can be restored. They rescue these relics and spend upwards of a hundred hours and sometimes upwards of a thousand dollars to restore them. Some are like archeologists, learning about the forgotten history of Pachinko machines, identifying the year of manufacture, or the model, or sometimes just figuring out what company manufactured it. Information is scarce, and rumors and guesses and theories are everywhere. Some have devoted themselves to making reproduction Pachinko machine parts, such as playfields or stickers. Some specialize in restoring Pachinko machines for clients, and others restore them and sell them to collectors. There are no blueprints to go by, or any real instructions. They all learn by experience with nothing to guide them but a desire for perfection and a will to make them beautiful again.

The Pachinko phenomenon may have swept right past the United States, but today it is taking hold like never before. When fully restored, the dazzling machines become a center-piece in a family game-room, a conversation piece that will entertain your guests like no other. But like any other purchase, it is buyer beware.

If you want to find a Pachinko machine for your gameroom, steer clear of eBay. Most of the Pachinko machines for sale there may be fairly cheap, but few even have enough of the original parts to make it work again. Most are badly rusted, with dry-rotted wood, and almost always they will have faded and water-stained playfields. These playfields cannot be repaired, the entire machine must be completely disassembled to replace it. This process can take several weeks even for a restoration expert.

Occasionally some machines are placed for sale on eBay that are mildly restored, they are cleaned and polished, and then repaired to a functional state. They tend to offer machines that have playfields that are not “too” bad, with only minor yellowing, fading, and water-stains. The vast majority of these machines are just fine for a gameroom, they are common machines in reasonable shape, but they will cost a great deal more than ones that people drag out of their basements.

The high-end Pachinko machines are hard to find. The best restorations take so much time that those who produce them can only sell twenty or so per year, and there are only a handful of people out there who do it. Most only restore for customers, only a few sell machines directly once completed. If you get your hands on one of these restorations you are buying an heirloom, but unfortunately you will have to pay for it, and your choices will be severely limited. The older 1950’s machines might be worth thousands even in an unrestored state, and older machines trade hands so rarely that trying to fix a price on one is an act of futility.

So keep your eyes peeled the next time you pass by that garage sale or that flea market booth. That weird looking stand-up pinball game may just be a rare 1950’s Pachinko machine, and be worth thousands of dollars. It may be a pile of junk, or it might just be the thing you need to add that extra bit of flair to your gameroom. give the Japanese game of Pachinko a look. You never know, you may get bit by the Pachinko bug and fill your gameroom with a dozen!