Many of pachinko’s worst qualities actually make it a relatively safe environment.

Back during the first wave of COVID-19 and the state of emergency that followed, there was a lot of ruckus about pachinko parlors in particular.

For those unfamiliar, pachinko is a Japanese pastime in which little metal balls are flung through a machine into tiny holes, and depending on the holes they land in the player is rewarded with more tiny balls which can then be converted to money through a shady but semi-legal process.

▼ Here’s an uncharacteristically pleasant rundown of the basic mechanics of the game

Pachinko parlors tend to be very enclosed spaces due to the bright lights and deafening noise inside with players often crammed side-by-side for hours on end. So when fears of a highly contagious virus arose, many looked at these establishments with concern.

The governments of Tokyo and Osaka put considerable pressure on these businesses in particular with attempts to publicly name and shame those that remained open. Now, with the second wave in full swing, and not much being done about it, pachinko parlors are still going about their business as usual. And yet, throughout all of this, not a single COVID-19 cluster has been linked to such a place.

This has led many to wonder: Why?

When referring to COVID-19 risk, the Prime Minister’s Office recommended avoiding the “Three Cs” which are Closed spaces, Crowded places, and Close-contact settings.

This appears to fit the environment of a pachinko parlor to a T, but does it really?

Looking at the first C, the building code states that these places must have enough ventilation to completely change the air inside from six to 10 times per hour which pretty much puts them on par with other large public spaces like department stores. While not especially amazing, it also doesn’t really fall into the category of “poor ventilation” either.

The two other Cs seem undeniable, but what makes pachinko parlors unique is what the people inside are doing – or more importantly not doing.

Unlike restaurants and shops where people leisurely engage conversation, pachinko parlors discourage such fun as it interrupts with the psuedo-gambling. Any attempt to verbally communicate with someone inside one of these places is usually thwarted by a cacophony of clanging machines and loud music.

▼ Here’s a good example of the noise levels outside and inside

What’s left is rows upon rows of people staring blankly forward at their machines and barely even opening their mouths. And therein lies the secret of pachinko parlors’ success: everyone just keeping their mouths shut.

Dr. Riko Muranaka, an outspoken and award-winning opponent of scientific misinformation weighed in on the matter: “Japanese people tend to be stuck on the three Cs but it has become clear around the world that the virus has difficulty spreading when no voices are made. Pachinko parlors, where people are rarely speaking, can be said to have a low risk of infection if everyone is wearing a mask.”

▼ Dr. Muranaka accepting the John Maddox Prize in 2017 for her efforts to dispel the belief in Japan that the HPV vaccine is harmful

Image: Wikipedia/Jwslubbock

Pachinko fans online rejoiced at the vindication of their favorite activities, while some former critics have had a change of heart.

“I regret having attacked them for being high-risk places.”
“I think putting them side-by-side rather than facing each other helps a lot too.”
“Really, publicly announcing the open pachinko parlors’ names just advertised them anyway. So it all worked out in the end.”
“So is anyone in the media or government going to issue an apology to the industry? I doubt it.”
“They probably just didn’t test anyone in those places.”
“I wish more people read this kind of news.”
“It’s too easy how the media brainwashes everyone. Anyone can see that by not talking the disease won’t spread if they think about it.”

In the spirit of sober analysis, this news too should be taken with a grain of salt. As one comment pointed out, testing in Japan has been notoriously sketchy and the possibility exists that coronavirus clusters in pachinko parlors have occurred but were never reported.

There is also a lot of machine-touching, smoking, and snacking going on in pachinko parlors. So, while not talking does do a lot to reduce the risk, it doesn’t eliminate it. In other words, at the very least we can say that a pachinko parlor is probably more or less just as safe as a regular place of its size like a department store when it comes to COVID-19.

Because of that, it’s true that the media and governments in Japan have been unfairly critical of pachinko parlors. Even though I personally can’t stand the places, everyone deserves to be represented fairly, and during difficult times we have to be careful not to fall into traps of misinformation.

So, I would like to formally apologize for giving pachinko parlors the stink-eye for being dens of coronavirus iniquity whenever I walk past one these past few months. From now on I will only give them stink-eyes for being obnoxious eye-sores that prey on people’s addictions and corrupt our childhood memories.

Source: Money Post, My Game News Flash
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