Every culture has their own age of majority. I enjoyed it at 18, in Germany; I will at 21, in the US, but this past Saturday, I got to celebrate it again, at 20, here in Japan.
The festivities actually started on Friday night. My hall-mates threw me a party, and we had a countdown to the big two-oh. Saturday afternoon, I had Ballroom Club rehearsal, and they all sang 'Otanjou-bi Omedetou' (the Japanese version of Happy Birthday). Then, I had a special Birthday dinner with my lab mates.
When I was first hitchhiking up to Sendai, my ride into the city was coming specifically here for gyūtan. What is gyūtan you ask? Cow tongue. Sendai is apparently quite famous for this interesting dish. Being the super omnivore that I am, I wanted to give it a try. My first real friend in Sendai (pictured above) agreed, all the way back in March, to take me on my birthday (tanjōbi). So, for my birthday dinner, I had gyūtan.
Afterwards, I wanted to learn how to play Pachinko. I'm not big into gambling, but pachinko is such an odd, Japan-only thing that I wanted to try it while I was here. The game works a bit like slots. Instead of a penny or a quarter though, you buy metal ball bearings (BBs). These BBs can cost any where from a ¥1 (about a cent) to ¥10 (about 12 cents). The goal of the game is to launch the BBs in the machine and to hit certain areas, sort of like pinball. I've played an old fashioned Pachinko machine in the US, and you had to shoot each BB manually, but the new machines do it automatically. All you have to do is turn a knob to adjust the power.
Pachinko is notorious for sucking your wallet dry though, so I only planned on spending ¥1,000 (around $12). The machines we were at cost ¥2 per ball, so I had 500 BBs to start. The machine fed them to you, in a hopper, 50 at a time. I had burned through nine rounds (450 BBs), when all of the sudden:
7 - 7 - 7
When you get a BB into the little target area, the Pachinko game acts like a slot machine. The screen goes absolutely ape-shit and then starts spinning a three-by-three lotto screen. If you get tic-tac-toe, three-in-a-row in any direction, you get more BBs; you win. With less than 25 BBs left, I got straight 7's across the center: 7-7-7.
The machine absolutely lost its
marbles BBs; The screen in the center started going absolutely insane. It was all quite entertaining, and I started to fill my bucket full of BBs, then another, and then another. It probably took around ten minutes for the machine to finally cool down, and by that time, I had amassed three buckets worth of winnings.
The Pay Out
With a 100% success rate, I decided to officially retire from Pachinko, but here is the twist, gambling is illegal in Japan. The Pachinko parlor won't give you cash for your BBs. So what am I suppose to do with 2,778 ball bearings in Japan? Go down the rabbit hole.
The Pachinko parlors will try and get you to buy items from their 'store' with your BBs, but that's not what you should do. You want to trade your BB's for these rectangular, poker chip like pieces. They round to the nearest 100 BBs though, so you have to spend a little bit in their store, if you want a full pay out.
Then, with your chips thingys in-hand, you have to leave the Pachinko parlor, walk across the street, down a dark ally, and into another building. There you find an exchange station. Through little, windowless slats in the wall, you can trade your oddly shaped chip thingys for cash.
After all of this, it was back to partying, with my friends from Ballroom Club, ¥3750 in hand.
Have you ever had an age of majority Birthday abroad? Let me know in a comment below.