Amusement Design



New ventures in façade design...! Pachinko parlour 'Entertainment Omega' in Shiga prefecture was newly constructed by Tokyo-based Tokyo Odyssey. Bonus: a cafe and a massage room! Photo by nacasa&partners;

You might already know about Pachinko, this very Japanese ball game. And after sticking our noses inside these crammed and utterly noisy and sometimes run down spaces, we see how an architectural company of a special kind injects a whole lot of LED glamour: Tokyo Odyssey in Shibuya redesigns Pachinko parlours with an extravagant glitz to build the Las Vegas of Japanese game halls! For today, PingMag introduces you to the latest in Pachinko hall design and has a chat with Tokyo Odyssey CEO Yasuhito Watanabe about his sophisticated approach.
Written by Verena / Translated by Natsumi Yamane

First, what is Tokyo Odyssey?

We work in diverse genres and do architectural designs for shopping complexes, resort facilities, luxury hotels, theme park buildings, corporate headquarters, Italian and Japanese restaurants, showrooms for companies such as Avex Trax as well as exhibition events for Disney and NIKE. And based on these experiences, we started to provide new concepts to amusement halls and designed our first Pachinko 15 years ago.
Pachinko parlours with no particular interest in design were for us an extremely attractive and challenging stage. And the architectural concepts and designs that create fresh customer needs in this new era have been crucial to Pachinko hall operators. We managed to convince them that with our not so conventional designs we can create spaces that support their businesses. Ever since this, we have been creating methods to design shifts in consumer minds as we call it.

Attracting humans like bugs: Rising in Shinjuku with its most dramatic illumination Photo by nacasapartners

Interesting! Then, what makes a good Pachinko?

This goes for any commercial facility: You have to emphasise the characteristics of the business to stimulate consumer incentives. It’s important to create an environment that encourages more people to visit the place and fully enjoy the Pachinko game. It’s all about designing a consumer philosophy of wanting to win the game. Different from an ordinary designing process, you have to come up with a façade design that boldly catches consumers from the surrounding halls and the interior design that encourages people to play the game.

A glittering diamond along the motorway Eagle in Noboribetsu. Photo by nacasapartners
The interior of Exciting Omega in Hirakata, Osaka, got a most glamourous redesign including chandeliers. Photo by nacasapartners

And you have a special formula about Pachinko design

When designing a Pachinko hall, we have to think of a comprehensive design that incorporates also the exterior environment of where the parlour is located. The traffic flow of the roads surrounding the location, its visibility, the lines leading up to the entrance, and analysing the locational advantages compared to the competing halls. These are all factors that decide the general layouts of the building itself, how to position the parking areas, tracks to the hall entrance and the position of the sign. Then, we consider how to get the most impact in visibility and the lines that would unconsciously lead the customers to the car park before making the final decision.

After that, we get on with the façade designs as message to convey the appeal of the exciting Pachinko game. It’s Tokyo Odyssey’s concept to regard the building itself as a sign for the parlour, so we discuss what effective design would catch the consumers’ attention, what would make them want to enter and grab their hearts. Important is what kind of profile you want to give the store and what sort of customers you are hoping to attract, and incorporate that in your design. For example, we decide on a marketing theme of a casual Pachinko hall that targets young women and explore the designs, decide on the details and exterior designs then take it through cost adjustment and site supervisor before the designs reach the actual site.

So, its about the target group Whats makes a Pachinko environment pleasant?

The design is all about the customers, so making the customers expend comfortably is the unique concept of a Pachinko parlour. Customers come in hope to make some money, but there’s more to it than that! By both winning and losing, people play to enjoy the recurring thrills of the game. So we develop space designs that make them feel as if they are actors on a stage. Our designs provide the stages for the customers to play the starring role.

Metro Hills in Wakayama Las Vegas meets the Japanese countryside! Photo by nacasapartners
The interior of Metro Hills in Wakayama: come in dressed to impress please! Photo by nacasapartners

Quite a clever concept! Whats has been the trend in Pachinko design in the last ten years? Like towards more glamourous and elegant surfaces as you do?

In 1994, when the sales of the Pachinko market was at its peak, the industry had earnings of 30 trillion yen in total. However since then, it has continued to fall and and the market is steadily dwindling. The earnings in 2007 were 23 trillion yen. Back when the market was prospering, people could make profits just by installing the machines in their parlours, so there was practically no need for business, marketing and design strategies that were conventional in other commercial facilities.

However, both sales and the number of Pachinko players decreased, in the last ten years the industry began to realise the need for adequate design and marketing strategies to win against the competing parlours. This significantly changed the designs of Pachinko halls as well. Before, the vast majority of Pachinko parlours either imitated Las Vegas-style casinos or simply had tasteless interiors. So now, we propose a wide variety of design strategies to our clients to satisfy the consumers with their expenditures. A comprehensive design includes entertainment design, establishing a dramatic, exciting and extraordinary atmosphere, designs that further encourage consumers to play the games, theatrical stages, displays, and graphic designs. I think this will become mainstream in future.

Tamasaburou in Niigata. Neon is the new lustres! Photo by nacasapartners

Surround entertainment! Earlier you told us this wonderful metaphor of a Pachinko being illuminated very brightly so that humans behave like bugs that are attracted to light. Once again, please.

Quantifying various factors like physical features from an ergonomic perspective has been incorporated in designs for desks, chairs and cars for a long time. However it’s even more important to analyse and apply human senses in designs. For example, you arrive at an upcountry station in the dark, so which direction would you choose to exit the station? On one side is a dark road without any street lamps, but on the other side you can see distant lights. People usually choose the road with lights. Same goes for the bugs being attracted to light and it shows that humans are also animals with natural instincts. It’s easy to take advantage of such animalistic human instincts and intentionally design lines that lead to products. Also, there are cases that crimes in a crime ridden area decreased after changing the colour of the street lamps to blue. Colours have a big influence on human activity and it can invigorate or heal people without them knowing.
In this way, we consider the designing of human senses is extremely important and that’s what we call design shifts in minds as I mentioned earlier.

A cube of LED light: The Vessel in Himeji from the outside Photo by nacasapartners
and its splendid interior in soothing colours. Dont forget their motto: Slot x Slot! Photo by nacasapartners

Interesting theory. So that is why LED elements and neon lights are so important for a parlours surface!

Gambling and gaming have nothing to do with the infrastructure of human lives and therefore are unnecessary to our everyday living. Let’s say, we can survive without entertainment. However, life without leisure is innocuous and boring, and that’s why everyone has yearnings for the fantasy world in movies and music.

LED and neon illuminations play an extremely important role as a device to lure people into the world of fantasies and the dramatic lightings at live concerts and stage performances also apply to Pachinko halls.

Opus in Shinjuku one bold game temple Photo by nacasapartners
with a baronial column style inside. Opus in Shinjuku. Photo by nacasapartners

Or simply escapism. You mentioned that its all about the right materials. How can you make design affordable?

What I mean by the ‘right material’ is something more comprehensive than the matter of costs. Design projects can never get away from the three conditions of period, budget and ease of maintenance. Neither simply using expensive materials nor using poor quality materials for the sake of price will end up with good results.

For example, if we are required to work with a low budget in a short period of time, we naturally can’t afford to use expensive materials. Then we have to find ways to use cheap materials effectively, or spend the budget on the lighting and keep everything else at low cost. Meaning we might use roofing materials for greenhouses on the exteriors and find almost discarded materials that can be reformed to decorate the interiors. You see, using 1,000 lighting elements that cost ¥1,000 each will achieve an overwhelming scale and impact, but they only cost ¥1,000,000 all together. We try to incorporate many innovations like this.

The lavish ceiling design of Eagle Square in Kushiro, Hokkaido Photo by nacasapartners
and the rest areas extravagant flooring of newly constructed Eagle-R in Chiba. Photo by nacasapartners
Fairground attractions in the dark: Pachinko La Festa. Its surface is supposed to imitate a lions head, after the name of the owner. Photo by nacasapartners

Again, very clever! Lastly, we really want to know: Why do Pachinko places have to be so noisy?

The noises in Pachinko halls are basically caused by the deep sounds of the balls hitting each other. It’s difficult to reduce this noise because of the Pachinko parlours’ unique system. However, the noise issue is one of the problems the halls are facing and I presume Pachinko makers will try to improve that in the future. Also, there are the announcements by hall staff through microphones. This is done at any Pachinko halls to generate excitement but it has its pros and cons.

Considering the future of Pachinko halls, I think it needs a stylish environment like a mini-casino, where customers can play casually to Jazz and pop tunes and we hope to provide designs that lead to such future visions.

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