New Apple TV Plus Drama 'Pachinko' Has Viewers Wondering About the Titular Machines

The upcoming Apple TV Plus show 'Pachinko' takes viewers inside the world of the machine. But what does "pachinko" mean? Here's the scoop.


Mar. 24 2022, Published 2:33 p.m. ET

Pachinko machines
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The newest Apple TV Plus series to hit the streamer, Pachinko, follows a Korean immigrant family through four generations of history as they navigate life in Japan. The show's first three episodes will be available on Apple TV Plus beginning on March 25, 2022, but early reviews for the series say it's not one to miss.

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The show is based on the novel of the same name by Min Jin Lee, but what is the meaning of the word "pachinko"? And what are pachinko machines? Here's everything we know about pachinko machines and how they connect to the story told onscreen.

Kim Min-ha as teenage Sunja and Lee Min-ho as Koh Hansu.
Source: Apple TV Plus
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What does the word "pachinko" mean, and what are pachinko machines?

According to Merriam-Webster, "pachinko" refers to a Japanese gambling machine similar to a pinball machine, but with the automatic payoff that slot machines have. The machines were closed down during WWII but re-opened again in the late 1940s, with the first commercial parlor opening in 1948 in Japan.

In a discussion of the book Pachinko in 2017, NPR notes that pachinko games are a multi-million dollar industry in Japan mostly dominated by Korean Japanese immigrant communities. In fact, per The Japan Times, it's estimated that 80 percent of all pachinko machines are owned by Koreans living in Japan.

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Kim Min-ha as teenage Sunja
Source: Apple TV Plus

Min Jin Lee, a journalist, explained that she got the idea for Pachinko after attending a lecture by an American missionary in college. The missionary had been working with Korean Japanese immigrant communities and mentioned a 13-year-old boy who had died by suicide. His classmates had been bullying him for being Korean, despite the fact he was born in Japan. Min Jin, a Korean American herself, was determined to tell the history of Koreans in Japan.

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How do pachinko machines tie into 'Pachinko' the TV series?

Themes in the novel Pachinko include racism, racial stereotypes, and power, especially in the context of Koreans living in Japan during World War II. Pachinko machines are a motif throughout the novel, and one reviewer notes that the uncontrollable and unpredictable nature of the game is often reflected in the lives of the characters.

Kim Min-ha as teenage Sunja
Source: Apple TV Plus

In the Chicago Review of Books, Min Jin says that the original title of her book was going to be Motherland, but that she changed the title when she noticed, in her interviews, how much the pachinko business meant to Korean readers.

Audiences can expect to see a lot of the game when Pachinko arrives on Apple TV Plus on March 25, 2022.

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