USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program


The room is filled with a stench of sweat mixed with smoke. The flashing lights, ringing bells and whistles are enough to deafen anyone passing a mile away. Rows upon rows of foreign-looking machines are lined up with men and women starting intently, as if lost within a world of their own. One hand grasps a handle, while the other lifts a handful of silver beads into the machine. Their eyes gaze, following the silver marble down its path. No one dares says a word, they just keep looking forward, waiting for time to pass them by. These are the Pachinko Slots.

Collectivism. Most Americans can’t agree on a single cultural ideology, let alone interact with each other without offending the other person. Thus, it seemed foreign for me to see such a collective effort on behalf of the Japanese people these past few days within the urban fabric of Tokyo. For the Japanese, it isn’t about self, but about the whole. Society is a living and breathing organism that can only survive and thrive with the collective efforts; everyone plays their part, down to the last detail. As a direct consequence, the value of order and formality runs deep within the mindset of the people. Their lives are dictated by conventions and cultural traditions, nothing is left to chance. For example the transportation system, specifically the metro/rail lines. All lines run like clockwork; on the dot, all day, every day. All of this is the direct consequence of a collective social, political, and even economic order that is ultimately governed by the Japanese notion of a collective.

So you’re probably wondering where does Pachinko play into this? The concept of the game itself is rooted in gambling, chance, disorder. Fact is, the Pachinko slots is the probably the closest a middle class working business man in Tokyo has in escaping the arduous pressures of business, cultural, and political collectivism. From a personal standpoint, it’s tough to envision a life in the day, only to end up alone in front of a slot machine watching silver marbles dictate my fortune. As sad as it may sound, I believe it provides a sort of excitement and mystery to the lives of these people who are so engrained in living out their lives under some kind of presumed notion or convention from which they adhere to. But even to some extent, this escape from reality is not really part of an individual experience, but still part of a collective. It has become a necessity for so many people who it has become a recognized national past-time, subjected under the same rules and etiquette as any other institution. So then, what is real and what is fantasy? The fact is, Pachinko has become part of their reality, a piece of their collective identity. Individuality within this society will always be an extension of, never separated from. But for now, the best thing to do is to play like Pachinko and watch as chance and misfortune provide a little bit of change of pace from the strictness of everyday life.


Filed under: Collectivism, Culture, Japan, Pachinko, Tokyo, Urbanism


The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.



AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu