Pachinkos in America: Where are they?
Many people in the United States have pachinkos in their bases, 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 all these crazy Japanese pinball machines end up in America? The history of pachinkos in America is quite amazing.
As the owner of a website dedicated to pachinko repair and restoration, I’ve learned quite a bit about where they are today and how they got there. Using tools like Google Analytics, I’ve been able to compile some statistics that let us know where they are today. Thousands of people have visited my site, all looking for information on these rather strange looking games. The source of these queries, combined with the orders and sales data, gives a pretty clear picture that I’ll share with you below. But first, a little background on how all 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 having to be removed and scrapped. This led to a large number of used machines being available in Japan, and most were simply destroyed. However, it was not unusual for the US military to ship or bring them back to the states as souvenirs. The leaked numbers spread from our major military installations, but in the 1950s and 1960s these numbers were small, somewhere in the thousands. Few of these pachinkos have survived today.
In the early 1970s, some enterprising gentlemen came up with a neat idea for a use for all those piles of expired pachinkos. They formed a company called Target Abroad LTD and began buying them by the thousands and filling shipping boxes with them. They then shipped these boxes by the thousands to America and sold them through major chain stores like Woolworth, K-Mart, and even Sears. Several other smaller companies quickly formed and opened specialty pachinko shops 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 decals. 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 pachinko imports into the United States had ended, and retailers sold their inventory and closed their doors for good.
The largest concentration of these vintage pachinko machines in the United States is California with 16% of the total. While it is true that California is a highly populated state, the ports of San Francisco and Los Angeles were the main delivery points for pachinkos shipped from Japan. It only makes sense that many are sold there.
The second largest concentration is in Illinois at 8%. For decades, Chicago was the place where most arcade and pinball machines were manufactured, and the shipping and port infrastructure was an obvious distribution point for Midwestern populations. Even today, vintage pachinkos seem to be plentiful in the suburbs there.
The third highest population is Texas at just over 6%. Texas has population to its credit, and several good ports too. Several of the distributors had major outlets in Texas, and the dry weather seems to have preserved the pachinkos in a superior way.
Next at number four is New York at 6%. As usual, a state with important ports with access to the main population centers. Pinball machines were banned for decades in New York, so it seems only natural people would turn to pachinkos as an entertainment alternative on boardwalks and arcades. They eventually found their way into private hands when video games replaced them.
The absolute worst states in the continental United States for pachinkos should come as no surprise. North Dakota and South Dakota come in last place. No ports, little 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’re willing to find one, try San Francisco or Chicago, and you can get the best deals and selection. But if you are in North Dakota, you better order pachinko online, because it can take a while before you find one at your local flea market.