British Columbia

Childhood nostalgia captivating pachinko game owners in Canada and beyond

Thousands of people in Canada and the United States own or trade vintage pachinko machines that were decommissioned by gaming facilities in Japan and shipped to North American department stores during the 1970s.

Resellers say people still interested in gravity-driven, 1970s-era Japanese pinball game

Cindy Brodowski pictured at her Vancouver home with a '70s Daiichi pachinko machine and a football inherited from her late father, professional football player Baz Nagle, who passed away in 1997. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

While decluttering her Vancouver home, Cindy Brodowski thought hard about whether to let go of the sturdy 45-year-old Daiichi pachinko machine that she had inherited from her late father, Canadian footballer Baz Nagle, and that had been left untouched in the garage for two decades.

But after listing the vertical standup pinball machine at $250 on Facebook Marketplace for months, she recently decided to keep it — because of its sentimental value tied to memories of her dad, who passed away in 1997.

"There [are] all these sounds … of the little balls hitting the metal needles — there's quite a rhythm to it," Brodowski recalled. As a six-year-old, she played the Japanese import in Nagle's guy's den. 

Brodowski is one of thousands of people across Canada and the United States who own or trade vintage pachinko machines that were decommissioned by pachinko gaming parlours in Japan and shipped to major North American departments stores during the 1970s.

What is pachinko?

The mechanical game, which uses electricity for its light bulbs and "ding, ding, ding" jackpot sounds, became Japan's national pastime after the Second World War. 

Unlike the traditional Western pinball machine, which uses flippers to propel a single metal ball against various objects to score points, a pachinko player uses a handle to shoot scores of tiny metal balls, trying to get as many of them as possible to fall between pins into small cups or catchers. 

A ball that enters a catcher triggers a payout, in which a number of balls are dropped into a tray at the front of the machine.

While pachinko can be a type of gambling game in Japan where players can exchange metal balls for tokens at the parlour, which can be redeemed off-premises for cash, it's not a registered betting device in Canada. Canadians can own the machine legally as long as it's for personal entertainment only.

Art object reminiscent of childhood

Mark Faiman has run his game machine resale-and-repair business near Indianapolis, serving customers across North America for more than a decade. He received his first pachinko machine as a teenager from his father in Los Angeles 50 years ago.

Now, as a collector of over 200 pachinko machines, Faiman remembers how the craze for the Japanese imports subsided after Atari video games became popular in the early 80s, but he says there was a resurgence of interest in the game during the pandemic, a time many people used to clean up their homes and put their dusty old pachinko machines on the market.

"One of their relatives gave them the machine [when they were kids] … [and they said], 'I want to add one back into my house to play with,'" he said of one buyer. "They're [also] looking at them as art objects."

Mark Faiman, pictured with his '70s Sankyo pachinko machine in Indianapolis, says there is a resurgence of interest across North America in owning the machines as games or collectible art. (Winston Szeto/CBC)

Sentimental value: Sell or not to sell?

In April, Jarett Wong sold his non-functioning Sankyo pachinko machine for $100 as collectible art to a married couple in East Vancouver who live several blocks away from his old house where he received the game as a Christmas gift from his late grandmother in 1979. 

Wong says he has fond memories of his grandma as a generous older woman who would give him pocket money without his parents' knowledge, so when several potential buyers lowballed him, he thought of keeping the machine as childhood memorabilia to remind him of her kindness.

"If someone had offered me less [than $100], it probably still would be sitting in my garage," he said.

Burnaby pinball machine reseller John Robertson says he has seen many people online list their vintage pachinko machines at several hundred dollars due to their sentimental value, but he offers, at most, only $50 per machine because they aren't rare commodities, and most of them require a lot of work before they can be resold.

Some still have a strong emotional attachment to their machines. Robertson's advice?

"It's usually best if you give it or sell it to a friend or a family member."

John Robertson, pictured with a vintage pachinko machine he repairs at his shop in Burnaby, B.C., says owners with strong emotional attachments to their machines can always sell or gift them to family and friends. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

WATCH | John Robertson speaks about the history of pachinko in Vancouver — and how to play the game:

Sounds from pachinko machines mesmerize collectors in Vancouver

4 months ago
Duration 2:16
Cindy Brodowski and John Robertson explain how they play the game imported from Japan in the 1970s.


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