Axis Of Pinball

December 3rd, 2006at 02:26pm Posted by Eli

I’ve heard of the nuclear football, but this is new:

Pachinko, a form of pinball deeply loved in Japan, is an industry run by ethnic Koreans, and experts have long believed that the revenues are a vital source of hard currency for the impoverished regime in North Korea.

Now, as Kim Jong Il’s nuclear weapons program gathers pace, Japan’s attitude is hardening, and that includes shutting out the ferry on which money is believed to be hand-carried from Japan to North Korea.


Pachinko is an upright pinball game played at tens of thousands of brightly lit parlors across the country. Success is measured in little steel payoff balls, which can be exchanged for cash or other prizes.

The machines rake in over $200 billion a year, some of which finds its way to North Korea. Official figures put the sum of remittances from sources in Japan at $25.5 million, but the bookkeeping is murky and some think the sum is closer to $850 million a year. No one knows how much of it derives directly from pachinko.

“It’s very difficult to say how much cash is actually going from Japan to the North,” said Toshio Miyatsuka, a North Korea specialist at Yamanashi Gakuin University in central Japan who has written a book about the pachinko industry.

“But it does seem certain that a lot of it is winding up in the hands of the North Korean government and military, and that includes money earned from drugs and pachinko,” he added.

I’m not really sure what to make of this. 0.4% of pachinko revenue at most is going to North Korea? And what percentage of that actually finds its way to the nuclear program there? It sounds very small in relative terms, but I guess it could add up in absolute terms. 0.4% of $200 billion is still an awful lot of money.

Entry Filed under: Weirdness

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