Pachinko addiction a growing problem for Japanese women
An astonishing fact: 1.6% of all Japanese women are compulsive gamblers, according to health ministry statistics for 2009. That’s 750,000 people. No doubt the affliction takes various forms, but Shukan Josei (Feb 14) focuses on its most common – pachinko addiction. Once it takes hold, the weekly says, everything else – family, career, looming financial ruin – fades into the background. Pachinko becomes life itself.
“There is no one definitive cause,” says psychiatrist Masayuki Oishi, who runs an outpatient clinic for gambling addicts. “Some say it’s hereditary, others that it’s due to an excess of dopamine in the brain, others still that it’s the influence of the environment. Most likely it’s some combination of all of these.”
Women are particularly vulnerable, he says, due to the pressures they disproportionately face – child-rearing, caring for elderly relatives, abusive or inattentive husbands, inadequate income.
Reiko, 45, hasn’t played pachinko in 10 years – but still needs therapy to keep away from it. As Shukan Josei tells it, hers was a harrowing ride, and though she took it alone, she is broadly typical of hundreds of thousands of women in a similar plight.
“Beginner’s luck” was her undoing. Her husband talked her into it, and she won 20,000 yen at her first try. Then came trouble. Her husband turned brutally abusive. It was a while before she could muster the courage to leave. Finally she did, but her parents gave her a cold welcome and she found herself on her own – no job, no family, no income other than government welfare. Then she remembered pachinko.
It was her only relief, her only joy. “When I won it was like being high; when I lost it was a stimulus. Win, lose, win, lose – it was thrilling.”
When the local pachinko parlor opened in the morning she’d be outside waiting, and she’d still be at it at closing time. “All I could think of was pachinko. I wanted to do it 24 hours a day – the thrill, the feeling of liberation. It was like being on drugs.”
Eventually she realized she was running out of money and had better stop. “I’d be at the ATM withdrawing money, and my hands would be shaking.” The ultimate shock was losing YY90,000 within four hours. At that rate she’d be penniless. She asked around for help and was referred to a counseling service for alcoholics. It was the closest she could come to what she needed, and it kept her away from pachinko for eight months, but she was glad all the same, knowing how weak her resistance was, to be referred to a counseling service that specialized in gambling addiction. All that was 10 years ago, and though she hasn’t played in all that time she still doesn’t feel free from her obsession.
Counseling is based on participants sharing their experiences and talking things over. “The others in the group, their stories are so like mine,” Reiko says. “They got into drinking or gambling to escape their unhappiness. Now it’s drinking or gambling they have to escape.”