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a game that is popular in Japan, in which you try to win money or prizes by getting balls into particular places in a special machine

Origin and usage

The word pachinko is a Japanese word that comes from ‘pachin’, derived from the sound the game machine makes, and the diminutive suffix ‘ko’ meaning ‘little, small’. Pachinko dates back to 1953.


Pachinko refers to a popular Japanese arcade game that is used both for recreation and gambling purposes.

A pachinko machine looks very much like a Western pinball machine that is stood on its end, with lights and sounds that accompany the game play. Pachinko parlours are very popular in Japan. These halls usually have rows and rows of pachinko machines, allowing many players to play at once.

In order to play pachinko, players must rent a number of small steel balls from the parlour owner. The player then loads the balls into the machine and presses a lever that releases a hammer inside the machine. The hammer launches the balls along the machine’s metal track. As the ball slows on the track, it falls into the playing field. The playing field is lined with small metal pins that the ball bounces off.

The goal of pachinko is to have as many balls as possible fall into a catcher, one of the small cups scattered across the game’s field of play. Balls that fall into a pachinko catcher earn the player a reward.

Most pachinko games pay players in additional steel balls which they can then exchange for tokens or prizes once they’ve finished playing.


Pachinko, like all gambling, is rigged. The house always wins. It’s a central metaphor of life. It’s rigged, but you keep playing.”
(Min Jin Lee)

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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