What? This is a pachinko (pin-ball) parlor? With this slightly irritating thought in mind, I found myself stepping into a truly strange scene- in a small suburbia where everyday life is already marked by an indelible sense of isolation and alienation. Trucks fun of earth and sand destined for residential land development come and go, and a gigantic crane casts its long shadow over a high-rise apartment construction site. A dreary scene indeed.
Regional cities in Japan are marked by their ubiquitous barber shops and pachinko parlors. When people first drop into a pachinko parlor they don't necessarily do so seeking amusement or the thrill of gambling. Most just enter out of curiosity. But soon they’re experiencing the indescribable pleasure of watching those small steel balls incessantly meandering through narrow passages staked off by rows of short nails. They end up believing, mistakenly, that it's their “skill” that determines the path of the balls. Without hesitation, they begin frequenting these factory-like homogenized spaces. Even if they're with friends, acquaintances or neighbors, once inside they become cold and distant. They sit squarely in front of their machines as if possessed. Players are supposedly promised a 20-percent return on the money they spend, but I’ve yet to come across a parlor that really offers that much return. And yet people continue to play. It might be seen as something of a farce induced by the narcotic called Pachinko.
One established social theory is that the attraction of pachinko parlors lies in their garish neon signs, which can be spotted miles away. With their glaring calling cards, an effective combination of various kinds of advanced technology, including switched neon, laser beams and searchlights, pachinko parlors today are hardly distinguishable from discotheques. It's as if people were directly drawn to these brightly illuminated facades in the same way they are drawn to the pachinko machine itself. Thus they find themselves directing their steps toward pachinko parlors much like moths hired to lights-or so the theory goes.
But neither neon signs nor billboards adorn the exterior of this particular pachinko parlor. Its designer, breaking with the theory, decided that in this setting such ostentation would be unbecoming, and conceived of the building itself as its own sign.
That's also what's behind calling the place “Pyramid.” The external space is home to a number of statues arranged in such a way that at night they, along with the building, are illuminated as objects of art. The designer clearly hoped to effect a fresh breakthrough. Unlike the conventional approach to illumination with its rhythmical neon movement, the forms stand out vividly in the static illumination. They have, in fact, become an integral part of the cityscape as abstract trimming. Perhaps it is a repulsion toward the common dreary street scene that has given birth to this pachinko parlor. But the farce that repeatedly unfolds inside will probably not change at all. The intention behind the construction of this unique pachinko parlor mar after all amount to nothing more than an exhibition of artistry or its architect's self assertion.
Text by Hiroshi Innami 1994/1