Pachinko aids students, activists skeptical

Japan’s pachinko industry has begun a new campaign to help financially disadvantaged students through university, but activists are dismissing the campaign as just a marketing stunt, the Japan Times reports.

“The aim is to help people in difficulty who need assistance to go through higher education,” explained Tadamasa Fukiura, chairman of Support 21, a nonprofit organization that has teamed up with six pachinko parlor companies to launch the “pp Shogakukin” scholarship fund.

“A lot of students have to take part-time jobs. We want them to be able to concentrate on their studies,” he said.

The new campaign urges customers to donate their winnings, in the form of steel balls, to award scholarship funds to students who need financial assistance for university.

According to Fukiura, the campaign has already helped eight students since December, each receiving a monthly scholarship payment in March between JPY30,000 (US$269.4) and JPY50,000.

The plan however, has been criticized by anti-gambling activists, who believe that the industry is only interested in cleaning its image.

“It’s gambling,” said Noriko Tanaka, president of Tokyo-based nonprofit organization Society Concerned about the Gambling Addiction. “No one in Japan believes that pachinko is just a game. Everyone sees it as gambling.

“In my opinion, the pachinko industry is just trying to boost its image. The pachinko industry is under attack and has come in for a lot of criticism. A lot of people think that pachinko is not a good thing. In particular, people think that the pachinko industry is doing nothing to combat gambling addiction,” Tanaka said. “So I think this pp Shogakukin is just something to improve its image.”

According to the news outlet, a 2013 survey conducted by a research team at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry noted that more than 5 million people across the country are thought to have a gambling addiction.

“It’s a big problem for society, but they are just trying to boost their own image,” said Tanaka. “Instead of doing that, I’d like to see them do something to combat addiction. I think it’s time they came up with a proper plan.”