Facing decline, Japan's pachinko industry tries offering a clean, well-lighted place
By Minami Funakoshi
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's once-booming pachinko industry, grappling with a graying customer base and the threat of new competition from casinos, is adopting a softer touch and smoke-free zones to lure a new generation of players, particularly women.
Pachinko, a modified version of pinball, is a fading national obsession, with about 12,000 parlors nation-wide and one in thirteen people playing the game.
But that figure is declining as the population shrinks and younger people prefer games on their mobile phones.
To try and reverse the trend, some pachinko operators have built spacious, airy parlors designed to attract more women and younger players to a pastime tarred by its association in the public mind with older and idle men given to chain smoking.
Catering to different tastes to boost an industry that still sees some $185 billion wagered annually, machines in pachinko parlors now feature anime characters, games and idols, ranging from all-girl group AKB48 to Resident Evil, a video game blockbuster by Capcom Co that was made into a Hollywood film.
"We're trying to change the image of pachinko as loud, smoke-ridden and male-dominated," said Tomoko Murouchi, a spokeswoman for one of the largest operators, Dynam Japan Holdings.
Dynam, which has 371 pachinko parlors around Japan, is building new game centers with higher ceilings, smoke-free zones and ventilators, with dividers between machines for privacy.
Rival Maruhan Corp, Japan's largest pachinko chain by money wagered, has tried opening buffets at parlors and promoting a new kind of pachinko, but has recently shifted focus back to existing players, said spokesman Kenjiro Shimoda. Continued...