Dotcom Fortress

A pachinko parlour in rural Japan evokes memories of the late-90s stock market boom. And bust.

I’ve been meaning to write about pachinko parlours for awhile, but haven’t had time or energy to do the research necessary to do the subject justice. Plus I still haven’t organized my photo library enough to be able to easily extract sets of photos by keyword. Instead of an exhaustive report, today I’ll simply post one photo I came across while I was looking at pictures I took almost exactly a year ago.

photo of Dotcom Fortress pachinko parlour in Munakata City, Fukuoka Prefecture

The photo is of a pachinko parlour in Munakata City, about 20 minutes by express train south of Kitakyushu. It’s visible from the train, and the signage is readable on a clear night. I took the photo on 25 June 2004 at a time when the place was called “Dotcom Fortress.” While from the train it appears to be in the middle of some rice fields, it is in fact right next to one of the main highways through the region.

I’d seen the flashing neon of the signage on the train home from meetings in Fukuoka City, and finally took the time to get a close-up look at the place. The evening I took this photo, the place was closed. Later that week I noticed that it was enclosed in construction scaffolding as well as the cloth screens they use to wrap the outside of said scaffolding. I had to be discreet taking the picture, since there was a surly guard on patrol. The parking attendants at the neighbouring parlour had shooed me away, telling me it was forbidden to take photos of their building. I didn’t want to attract the ire of the Dotcom guard lest I end up at the bottom of the Munakata River with a new pair of cement shoes.

When the construction—or rebranding, as it turned out—was finished, it was no longer the Dotcom Fortress. Perhaps, realizing that the dotcom boom turned out to have been built on a foundation of lies, or just to signal the end of an era—three years late—the Dotcom Fortress emerged with the less unasssailable name Dotcom Pachinko and Slot.

For those of you wondering what pachinko is, it’s a form of gambling. There are parlours all over place, characterized by garish facades and bright neon. While I’ve never been inside one, I’ve been told that the games are sort of like pinball. There’s also been a recent move towards electronic slot machines. You can read more about it in this wikipedia article about pachinko.

Regardless of the games, the intent of these establishments is to beguile people with their attractive façades, and lure them into parting with their money, while pretending that it’s possible to emerge from the game as a winner. I was disappointed when they unveiled the new name, and am glad to have taken the photo before they rebranded. All things considered, the original name was entirely appropriate.