So, your game room is nearly complete, but you decide you want a little something extra to add a little flash. You've heard about those crazy Japanese pachinko machines, and decided to look at purchasing one to add to the decor. But you don't really know a lot about them, and don't want to get taken to the cleaners. This guide will help you avoid the common pitfalls, and help you choose the right pachinko machine for your game room.
A little history of pachinko machines
The first pachinko machines were created in Japan in the late 1920's, and became very popular very quickly. These early machines were single-shot models, which meant that you had to put a ball into a slot, load it, and then fire it. They paid out small metal tokens or badges as a way of keeping score. In 1934 they shut down all of the parlors and stopped producing pachinko machines altogether. The shortage of both manpower and materials caused by the war effort with China left little for entertainment. After the war, in 1948, they began producing pachinko machines again, and parlors appeared in every neighborhood. Around 1975 millions of pachinko machines were imported to the United States and sold through retail outlets to the public.
Basic categories of pachinko machines
The first thing you need to consider when purchasing a pachinko machine is whether you want an antique, vintage, or modern machine. Antique pachinko machines are generally considered to be made prior to 1962. The back mechanics are mostly metal, and they are almost always single-shot machines. They usually have that "1950's" style that reflects a certain simplicity and elegance. Vintage pachinko machines are usually 1962 to around 1980, before the digital machines replaced the mechanical ones. These range from models that have 1960-style pop-art themes, to full-blown disco-extravaganzas that combine colors and graphics to produce a piece of art that looks wild by today's standards. The vintage machines are usually autoloaders, machines that will hold hundreds of balls in a front tray and allow you to fire balls in rapid succession. Modern machines are electronic in nature and have dozens of flashing lights, sound tracks, and video screens.
Which era is right for me?
Antique machines should probably not be purchased with the intent of playing them on a regular basis, but rather as display units to add a unique rare flavor to the decor. Auto loading vintage machines are fun to play, and for some reason children cannot seem to get enough of playing them. If you expect grandchildren to visit your game room, a pachinko machine can keep them occupied and memorized for hours. This is doubly true of the modern pachinko machines with the flashing lights and loud sound effects.
How much does condition matter?
The amount you pay for an antique or vintage pachinko machine has a lot to do with condition. Most of the pachinko machines available are not in the best of shape. The wood is dry-rotted, the chrome is rusted, the playfields are stained, and the plastic is faded and chipped. Sadly, this is a description of the average machine you will find on eBay or Craigslist. Antique machines in this state can still demand a serious price tag, but vintage machines can usually be had for around fifty dollars. You will know immediately from the ad, they will always state that "They don't know anything about these machines", or "I don't know if it works or how to work it". If you just want a decorative piece that looks interesting as a conversation starter, and are on a limited budget, these machines may be exactly what you are looking for. You may even decide to clean it up and figure out how it works or how to repair it, and find yourself a new hobby in the deal. If you want to step up, there are a number of people who do modest restorations that are basically "tune-ups". They will disassemble most of the mechanics, clean and polish the chrome and plastic, and shine up the nails. They ensure the machines are functional and ready to play, although the playfield will not be changed, and will usually show some yellowing, fading, and water stains. For common machines the cost will usually be several hundred dollars, and for antique machines you can easily end up paying thousands. These machines are fun for the kids to play, and will look nice in a game room as a nice piece of added flair.
For the perfectionist
Some people don't just want any old pachinko machine, they want something special. They want a rare 1950's machine in excellent condition, or a 1970's autoloader with the playfield restored to the original beauty. They are looking for a work of art. Sadly, there are very few places where someone can locate pachinko machines such as these. You will not find them on eBay, Craigslist, or any of the usual outlets. You have to find one of the few restoration experts, or find someone who deals in the rarest pachinko machines. A few will even do full restorations of a machine that you provide, although you may have to wait a few months for it to be completed. Full restorations can take hundreds of hours. As of this writing, I only know of three people in the United States who regularly do complete restores, and most are usually booked months in advance.
There are many reasons to put a vintage or antique pachinko machine into your game room. Whether you are just looking for a conversation starter, and fun game for the kids, or a rare work of art that will be the envy of your friends, there is a pachinko machine for you. Do a little research, look around, and then find the one that suits you. With millions of them out there, yours is probably quietly waiting for you to find it! You just have to go out and get it!