It's one of Japan's dirty secrets. Summer after summer, parents get their gaming fix at pachinko parlors, leaving small children in the car. Alone. To die.
Pachinko's existed in Japan for decades, gaining popularity in the years following the war. In the last several decades, pachinko machines have become increasingly high tech. Game developers, like Sega and SNK, have created animations for the machines' LED screens.
Lots of different people play pachinko, from college students, to businessmen, to doctors and to housewives, heck, even Shigeru Miyamoto used to play. Regular and famous people alike enjoy it, and harm no one in the process. If only that was the case with everyone.
Its image is improving, too. rumours, such as that North Koreans own the majority of pachinko parlors and use the profits for military weapons, are subsiding. And since many parlors now offer seats for couples and no smoking areas, the idea that all pachinko parlors are smoke-filled dens where people sit one-by-one is not necessarily true. They are still loud, deafeningly, so. And there are still parlors that fit the smokey stereotype.
But the one thing that pachinko parlors cannot shake are the few heartbreaking stories each year of a very, very small percentage of stupid parents leaving their kids in the car so they can play: a 1-year-old baby girl died last month while her parents played pachinko for six hours, or the other babies or small children that die due to dehydration or heatstroke.
Pachinko players can win prizes, such as bicycles, perfume, or cigarettes, or even sell tokens; they trade the pachinko balls they win for cash at a window near the pachinko parlor. It's gambling, and gambling sometimes causes people to do things they wouldn't normally do.
What compounds the problem is many pachinko parlors do not allow children to enter. (Ironic, because numerous arcades allow kids to play pachinko games). There have been cases of children being abducted from pachinko parlors, such as 4-year-old Yukari Yokoyama who was later found murdered.
Concerned about this annual trend, Sankei News reports that Japanese police are petitioning the country's pachinko industry to take more action to help prevent children by being left in cars. Police are urging staff to patrol parking lots and deny entry to anyone who leaves their children behind.
Some pachinko parlors have small parking lots (some don't have any parking lots), but in Japan's suburbs, there are huge pachinko parlors that have multi-level parking garages that can hold a thousand cars.
Patrolling doesn't guarantee kids will be safe — take this 2006 story in which parking attendants missed seeing a baby left in a car — but it's better than simply waving in patron after patron.
This isn't only a Japan problem (here's a June story of an Australia mother who left her baby behind while playing the slots), but a worldwide one. And it's not limited to pachinko. Last year, I remember walking through the parking garage of an electronics shop. Seeing a three month old baby locked in a car alone, I immediately told the shop staff and raced back out to the parking garage, only to find that the baby and the car were gone.
Leaving kids in the car is inexcusable, but here we are, with the police asking an industry to do something parents should never do in the first place.