How big is the pachinko business in Japan? Well, it employs a third of a million people, three times more than the steel industry; it commands 40 percent of Japan’s leisure industry, including restaurants and bars; and with 30 million regular enthusiasts coughing up almost 30 trillion yen in 1999 (a higher turnover than the car industry), it’s very big business indeed. So big, that foreign businesses are getting in on the act. While much of the pachinko industry has long been controlled by residents of Korean descent, in early 2001 British company BS Group bought a stake in Tokyo Plaza, who run about 20 parlors in Japan, and have also opened parlors in the UK. If you want to play pachinko, you won’t have to look very hard to find a parlor. There’s usually at least one near every train station and where there is no station (ie in the countryside) just look out for the gariest, ugliest building you can find. That’s it – the big silver box in the middle of nowhere covered in neon signs and flashing lights. As soon as you step up to the electric doors and they slide open, the noise – and usually the smell – hits you. This is not a place for casual conversation or requests for the no-smoking section. The wall of noise might seem unpleasant to the newcomer but it seems to help the serious gamblers, or pachi-puro, to concentrate or perhaps to just switch off as they sit in silence in front of their chosen machines. Sometimes they’re there all day – it’s common to see people lining up outside a parlor first thing in the morning, waiting to get the machine they think is going to pay up and almost as common to see them come out in the afternoon or evening having won – or lost a day’s pay or more.