Many people in America have pachinkos in their basements, garages and attics. But they were put there years ago by parents, or former residents, or maybe they were picked up at garage sales or flea markets. How did these crazy Japanese stand-up pinball machines all end up in America? The history of pachinkos in America is rather surprising.
As the owner of a website devoted to the repair and restoration of pachinkos, I have learned quite a bit about where they are today and how they got there. Utilizing tools such as Google Analytics, I have been able to compile some statistics that let we can use to tell where they are today. Thousands of people have visited my site, and all looking for information on these rather odd-looking games. Where these queries originate, combined with orders and sales data provide a fairly clear picture that I will share with you below. But first, a bit of history on how all of these pachinko machines got here in the first place.
Japanese pachinko parlors for decades only allowed machines to remain in service for about a year before they had to be removed and disposed. This led to huge numbers of used machines available in Japan, and most were simply destroyed. However, it was not unusual for American servicemen to send or bring them back to the states as souvenirs. The numbers that trickled in spread out from our major military installations, but in the 1950’s and 1960’s these numbers were small, somewhere in the thousands. Few of these pachinkos have survived today.
In the early 1970’s a few enterprising gentlemen got a good idea for a use for all of those piles of expired pachinkos. They formed a company called Target Abroad LTD, and started buying them up by the thousands and filling shipping crates with them. They then shipped these crates by the thousands to America, and sold them through major chain stores such as Woolworth, K-Mart, and even Sears. Several other smaller companies quickly formed and opened pachinko specialty stores across the country. Two of the most successful were Pachinko Palace and The Pachinko Factory, and many vintage pachinkos in America today still bear their stickers. Literally millions were sold between 1972 and 1976, but sales began to plummet when video games were invented and then mass- produced. By 1978 nearly all imports of pachinkos to America had ended, and the retailers sold off their inventory and closed their doors forever.
The largest concentration of these vintage pachinko machines in America is California with 16% of the total. While it is true that California is a very populous state, the ports of San Francisco and Los Angeles were the major deliver points for pachinkos shipped from Japan. It only makes sense that many would be sold there.
The second largest concentration is in Illinois at 8%. For decades Chicago was the place where most pinball and arcade machines were manufactured, and the port and transportation infrastructure there was an obvious distribution point for the populations of the Midwest. Even today, vintage pachinkos seem to be abundant in the suburbs there.
The third highest population is Texas at just over 6%. Texas has population going for it, and several good ports as well. Several of the distributors had major outlets in Texas, and the dry climate appears to have preserved the pachinkos in a superior manner.
Next up at number four is New York with 6%. As usual, a state with major ports with access to major population centers. Pinball machines were outlawed for decades in New York, so it seems only natural people would turn to pachinkos as an alternate for of entertainment on boardwalks and arcades. Eventually they found their way into private hands as video games replaced them.
The absolute worst states in the continental United States for pachinkos should be no surprise. North and South Dakota score dead last. No ports, low population, and little general interest in some silly looking pinball games from Japan.
So, now you know where the vintage pachinkos are, and how they got there. If you are inclined to find one, try San Francisco or Chicago, and you may get the best deals and best selection. But if you are in North Dakota, you might be better off ordering pachinkos online, because it may be quite some time before you find one at the local flea market.