Gamblers’ hell?


IMG_4280Do you enjoy Roulette, Blackjack, Poker or other games that involve betting money for financial gain? If your answer is ‘Yes’, let me give you a piece of advice: Don’t make the mistake of moving to Japan; you won’t like it here. You’d be better off moving to Las Vegas or Monaco – or even to Kotka, my home town on the South coast of Finland, where – on your way to do your weekly food shop – you can go and have a heart to heart with a row of fruit machines in the foyer of a supermarket.

The reason why Japan is not necessarily the best place for a Blackjack or Roulette fiend is because certain major forms of gambling are illegal in Japan. Even though things like lottery tickets and betting at boat or horse races is allowed, you won’t find a single (licensed) casino here. Thus, many Japanese people travel to Macau or Hong Kong on gambling trips in the same way that wife-carriers (and their wives) travel to Finland for the annual wife-carrying World Championships.

By the above wife-carrying analogy I don’t, by the way, mean to imply that I am into wife-carrying – I would not want the world press to take photos of my husband’s head between my legs. See photo below of someone elses’ partners’ heads sticking out of their bottom.

In addition, one of the official Wife Carrying rules is that

‘All participants must enjoy themselves.’

I am not convinced I would find participating enjoyable (I would feel sorry for my husband having to carry me for 253.5 m), nor am I convinced my husband would enjoy it either (carrying me for 253.5 m would make him feel sorry for himself). Perhaps a better bet would be for my husband to participate and rely on the rule that says

‘The wife to be carried may be your own, or the neighbor’s, or you may have found her further afield’

Photo: Yle Uutiset

Photo: Yle Uutiset

My husband and/or I are not particularly keen gamblers. For instance, we don’t tend to stop at the foyer of a Finnish supermarket for a fruit machine session on our way in/out of the supermarket. Although, us moving to Japan 12 months ago for three years without practically knowing anyone in Japan, and not speaking the language or having an understanding of Japanese culture probably makes us the biggest gamblers in a 1 mile radius from those fruit machines.

Having said that, for the past couple of years my husband has took it upon himself to memorize Blackjack basic strategy (i.e. remembering whether it is statistically beneficial to hit, stand, double or split with a certain hand). The paradox here is that my husband is not an avid gambler – as far as I am aware, he has been to a casino about five times in his life, betting relatively small amounts per night, or at least this is what he tells me (I am a bit of a she-devil and he might be scared to admit that he’s blown our kids’ college fund on practicing his Blackjack strategy in a real casino). What he’s told me is that he doesn’t learn these strategies aiming to go to a casino and winning big bucks. In fact, I don’t know why the hell he wants to learn them – perhaps he just wants to appear (or feel) like 007 when, once a year, he enters a casino. But what I do know is that I want a lobotomy whenever my husband is particularly keen to share his newly memorized statistics such as: If you have a hard 16 and the dealer has a 10 then you need to hit (unless you have 3 or more cards).

Well, even if my husband was addicted to Blackjack there is very little opportunity in Japan for him to practice his strategies, given that there are no casinos here. I suppose, my husband could focus on Pachinko instead.





You might be thinking: What the hell is Pachinko? So, let me explain.

Instead of casinos, Japan has a multitude of ‘betting’ parlours in which the punters play a game which is sort of like vertical pinball. That game is called Pachinko.

The aim, strategy or tactics of this game are as clear to me as a wine glass dipped in mämmi, a Finnish Easter ‘delicacy’ whose appearance resembles something brown and smelly that most people would not want to consume. I think the aim of Pachinko is to acquire as many small metal balls as you can, but it is a mystery to me what you need to do to get those balls. When my husband and I tried Pachinko, it seemed quite random when the machine spat out a handful of new balls and when it didn’t. My Japanese friends do not know the answer to this either – not even the ones who admit they go to Pachinko parlors regularly.

It seems that one just sits there for hours on their own, smoking (or inhaling the cigarette smoke of other players) whilst they turn a kind of small wheel operated by one hand. Strategic maneuvers seem to be minimal and skill irrelevant to the outcome. Coupled to this is that the sound of row after row after row of Pachinko machines must be 150 decibels and the flashing lights enough to even make a non-epileptic person feel a bit freaked out. Have a quick look at the video below to get an idea as to what I am talking about. After watching the video I hope you agree with me that knowing Blackjack or other strategies with Pachinko are as effective as trying to open a tin of tomatoes with chopsticks.




Interestingly, some Japanese politicians have raised concerns about the amount of energy used by Pachinko parlours and after the Tohoku earthquake in 2011, the government had asked people to reduce energy consumption by playing less Pachinko.

If you are ‘winning’ and want to cash your prize, you get a ticket from the Pachinko machine you have been playing. You then go and hand the ticket to an attendant who will give you a prize (like a toaster) or a token which you can go and exchange for money in a different building somewhere close by (as long as the winners do not receive cash in the parlour, the law is not broken).

I don’t think my husband is interested in swapping Blackjack with Pachinko. I think in his mind the image of Pachinko is not quite right. I mean, what kind of self-respecting 007 would play a vertical pinball machine that requires no talent, operates on minimal bets, and gives out toasters (or Pokemon tissues) as prizes.

15 thoughts on “Gamblers’ hell?

  1. This post made me chuckle a few time. First at the thought of my husband trying to compete in the ‘wife carrying championships’ (I’m afraid he would also feel sorry for himself) and then at the image of Mr. Bond playing Pachinko.

  2. Is the entire distance of the wife-carrying race in water? Can the husband carry the wife in any way he and she wish? How does a same-sex married couple determine who carries whom? This race exemplifies a certain kind of Finnish humor that I love!
    As for gambling, I don’t enjoy anything about it…not the smoke, the noise, the flashing lights, the vacant, glazed-eye looks of people at the machines, nor the fact that in the state-sanctioned casinos in the US, it is most often the people who can least likely afford to who are losing their money.

    • Hi Leslie,

      Good question about the same-sex marriage. To be honest, I don’t know whether or not the organizers have thought about LGBT rights. If they haven’t, they (of course) should.

      It’s different terrains, only small section of it is in water. I think the ‘athletes’ can choose how they carry/are carried, but I think the style depicted in the photo is the most common style because of optimal weight distribution, ease of carrying or something.

      Like you, I also think wife carrying is a good example of Finnish people’s humour, and their ability to laugh at themselves. I miss that a little over here in Japan.

      Totally agree with you on your thoughts on gambling!

      Thanks for your interesting comments!

  3. Jälleen opettavainen tarina jostakin uudesta! Vaimonkanto on tuttua, iltajuhlilta kotiin, lol. Hedelmöpelin virhätystä en ole ymmärtänyt, kun niisä ei koskaan voita. Minä ainakaan. Pajatsossa on nostalgiaa, vaikkei niissäkään voita. Rakastan ajatuksesi juoksua. Muuren, olet kai kuullut suohiihdosta korkkareilla?

    • Moi Wondersbykaari,

      Ootko usein siinä kunnossa iltajuhlien jälkeen että isännän täytyy heittää sinut olalle? Hih! 😀

      En ole kuullut suohiihdosta korkkareilla :0 Se voisi olla enemmän mun laji kuin se että mies puuskuttaa 250 m minä selässään. 🙂

      Pajatso olisi mun suosikki jos pelejä pelailisin – hedelmäpelit, blackjack tai muut uhkapelit ei ole mun juttu. Mutta ei kai niitä pajatsoja ole enää… vai onko?

  4. I think husbands should carry their wives around at all times, not just for competitions 😊

    That Pachinko gaming thing looks freaky, I think you should stay away from the bright lights!

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