sball int main

The fluorescent pink cherry blossoms look like they hang here all year round. This may be because at Rosemary, Tokyo’s only remaining Smartball parlour, the mood is eternal Spring. People come to revisit their youth, or bring their grandchildren to play. Local kids gather on their own. Families form crowds and egg each other on. For many, this original form of pachinko, the famed Japanese version of pinball, might seem like it’s from the steam age.

sball playing

Miki Egawa bustles up and down between the 59 machines, setting customers up to play, or freeing stuck balls. Seven machines are permanently out of order. When they all break down, she says, that’s the end of the business. The manufacturer no longer exists. “That’s one reason we only open on weekends,” she adds.

sball laugh

One game costs 300-yen for 70 balls. You pay and Egawa starts your machine, sending blue marbles tumbling from the chute. They gather at the front of the glass before you fire them up the channel. The balls bounce off pins and into different holes to score. A high-value hole triggers a flood of extra balls from the chute. It’s just for fun. No prizes.

Egawa began working here 10 years ago to help out her father-in-law, whose family has run the parlour since 1950. She is from Taiwan, and met her husband while studying piano at Musashino Art University. His specialty was shakuhachi, traditional flute, and koto, known as the Japanese “harp.”

Inside the parlour, the glass-on-glass makes a warm sort of clatter, not a metallic roar. That’s not the only difference with the modern pachinko parlour. At Rosemary, there is no deafening music, or old ashtray smell, or sallow and sad clientele.

sball blue tumbling

You can hear people laughing, something you’re unlikely to encounter in the modern game.

Read more by Mark Robinson on Ginzaline.

Rosemary is on Rokku Broadway (六区ブロードウェイ), Asakusa, one minute from the Tsukuba Express Asakusa station, or one minute from the Asakusa Koen Rokku bus terminal, which is a 10 minutes bus ride from Ueno station.  Open Sat, Sun from noon.