Metropolis Magazine
Issue #805 - Friday, Aug 28th, 2009
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Past Issues
804: Drama Scene
803: Heads, Tails & Snake Eyes
801: A Legacy of Emotion
800: Through the Monocle
799: Fighting spirit
798: Taking the Stares
796: Friends Don't Let Friends Become Salarymen
795: Fuzzy Democracy
794: Hung Jury
792: Highway to Hell
791: The Cartography of Cyberspace
790: Train Talk
789: A Confessions of a Teenager in Kimono
787: A Downloaded Question
786: Counterculture Shock
785: The Good Sensei
783: Me, Charisma Woman?
782: Stumbling Block
781: Paradise Lost
779: Half and Half
778: Road Rage
777: Dumb Luck
775: The M-List
774: Compatriotic Spirit
773: The Naked Truth
770-71: It Ain't Easy Being Green
769: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas in Japan
768: Japanese Lessons
766: Bad Credit
765: Chew on this
764: Red faced
763: Down and Out in Tokyo
761: Kicking the bucket
760: Thumbing It
759: Fixing the System
757: Smoke rings
756: Stalking the Predators
755: Banding Together
753: No Competition
752: Sex and This City
751: Let's Shogi
750: The Yasukuni Follies
748: Loud and Clear
747: I'll be back
746: Raiders of the lost SMAP
744: Magical Mystery Tour
743: Murder in Lotus Land
742: Stereotypes 'R' Us
740: The Mother of all Mothers
739: Crimes of Fashion
738: The Hafu Dad Brigade
737: The Green Team
736: Fight Club
735: The Paper Chase
734: The Wind-Up Writer Chronicle
733: Food For Thought?
732: Home and Away
731: The 2008 Nazi Olympics
730: The Two-Wheel Revolution
729: Gimme a Break
728: Power Play
727: Dying for a doctor
726: Footloose Revisited
725: Little Fish, Bigger Pond
724: Japan's Peace Monster
723: Language Abuse
722: Scumbusters "R" Us
721: First Action Hiro
720: The Return of Asashoryu
718-719: A Time to Give
717: My Homelessness Dilemma
716: The 30 Percent Solution
715: Past Imperfect
714: Killing the Kimono
713: The trouble with Tibbets
712: Surfing the Shinto-net
711: Falling Stars
710: Macho Man
709: Bad Impressions
708: Bloodsport
707: Our Last Word
706: Anonymocracy
705: The Air Up There
704: Read the Signs
703: The sky should not be the limit
702: My Year Zero Proposal
701: The Joys of Freeganism
700: Prada for the People
699: The Parasite Country
698: Washed up in Tokyo
697: Birthing's Not for Babies
696: On the Handlebars of a Dilemma
695: My So-Called Poverty
694: Get Out the Vote
693: The Ishihara Mystery
691: Let it Flow
690: Caf Culture
689: Oyaji Fashionistas
688: The Democracy of the Dysfunctional
687: Polite Disregard
686: Venting on Climate Change
685: Silent No Longer
684: To protect and serve?
683: Save the Sanshin building!
682: In the Realm of the Pond God
681: The Open Society and Its Enemies
680: Five-Ring Circus
679: Topic of Cancer
678: Pet Peeves
677: Why I am Banned in Japan
676: A long way to the top
675: Euro-vision
674: Child's play
673: Why I did it
672: I Love Japan
671: Running Crazy
670: Planet Apology
669: A peek behind the curtain
668: Opening Up
666: Pitching a fit
665: All wrapped up
664: Yule Rules
663: Field of Dreams
662: Save Lives, not Face
661: Why Do I Buy a Ticket?
660: Dying for a Nap
659: We, the jury
658: Grain of truth
657: Remembering The Maverick
656: A Rose by any Other Name
655: Heir today, gone tomorrow
654: Manhandled on the Metro
653: The bodyguards of the road
652: Separate but equal
651: Going for the gold
650: Being Audrey Hepburn
649: Not Sitting Pretty
648: Get Smart
647: Through foreign eyes
646: A failing grade in cute
644: Club Lands
643: Sayonara, Hide
642: The JET SET
641: What, me worry?
640: The Da Vinci Load
639: Making Waves
638: Final Cut
637: Resave the whales
636: Soccer Silliness
635: I, Smoker
634: The Ultimate Loss
633: Shoot the Messengers
632: The second sex
631: A Maverick Moves On
630: The curse of Baron Mitsui
629: Waiting for Heidi
628: Memoirs of a fake celebrant
627: Take it Outside
626: Wa? What wa?
625: A well-drawn life
624: St. Patrick the abducted
623: Bend over
622: The (Un)Late show
621: Oil spill
620: Ice Follies
619: Pride Goeth
618: Lost roles
617: Saying it with Cookies
616: Wrestling with foreigners
614-615: Blank Pages
613: Fretting Over Freeters
612: Farewell, Sensei
611: Sympathy for the wild ones
610: Back in Black
609: Out of many, one
608: Youth culture
607: The Russians are coming!
606: Meddle Detector
605: Tokyo, Mon amour
604: The Wailing Wall
603: Getting Abreast of Cancer
602: Willing Ally
601: New war,same story
600: The Big Chill
599: The Gray Zone
598: Jail break
597: Extremely Lost in Translation
596: Wounded Despot
595: History Lessons
594: Valhalla of the Imperial Army
592: Culture crash
591: Complaints Department
590: What lies beneath
589: Strange Games
588: Junk Science
587: The day the invaders came
586: The Test that Drove Me Crazy
585: Smile and say “lesbian”
584: Keep Article 9
583: The Great Divide
582: An ad for all seasons
581: Killing the Golden Goose
580: The other half
579: Give me back my bye-bye
578: Araki in Focus
577: Head out on the Highway
576: The hate that won't go away
575: Here's the beef
574: Yukking it up
573: Squatter’s rights and wrongs
572: The Trouble with Yokoso
571: Fire from the sky
570: Invasion of the gairaigo
569: Good company
568: Find Out What it Means To Me
567: Field of schemes
566: In the Name of Justice
565: Winner or Loser?
564: Staying Foreign
563: The Scare after Tomorrow
561-562: The Spirit of Things
560: War for remembrance
559: Storm damage
558: The Meaning of Godzilla
557: Who’s left to listen?
556: Paying respects
555: Gender Trouble
554: Coming clean at last
553: Go our own way
552: Hits of yesteryear
551: Heir apparel
550: Personal Reflections
549: Nuclear Reactions
548: Article of faith
547: Martyrs for the firm
546: A different anniversary
545: We, the jury
544: Wrongs & rights
543: Moore or less
542: Fair games
541: Developmentally challenged
The Last Word
By Benjamin Boas

Dumb Luck
Japanese gamblers love hunches—and throw statistics out the window

Benjamin Boas is a Visiting Researcher at the Institute for Amusement Industry Studies at Osaka University of Commerce

During last year’s All Japan Poker Championship, one of the finalists made a play that seemed strange. Despite only having an unmatched ace, he called an all-in bet by his opponent at the flop, caught nothing on the turn and river, and lost to his opponent’s pair of tens. Since he could have folded his hand and taken a small loss instead of losing the whole championship, making that call was at best very risky and at worst a terrible play. I mentioned this to some of the expert players at the tournament, and they agreed, but one Japanese spectator had a different opinion.

“Did you see that last hand?” he said. “You didn’t know who would win until the end. It was so exciting!”

When I pointed out that that the chances of the losing player winning that hand were very low he was unmoved.

“But you don’t know what card is going to come next!” he maintained. “He could have gotten the ace.”

Assuming my Japanese had been misunderstood, I got my friend, a former champion, to explain that although there was a chance of this happening, it wasn’t high enough to justify not folding. This, too, fell on deaf ears. It was more than just not understanding how poker worked; the guy didn’t seem to understand that there’s a difference between luck and probability.

In my years studying the Japanese gambling world, I’ve run into this a type of thinking quite often, and sometimes I wonder why.

Now, myopic reasoning is definitely not limited to Japanese people. No one besides card counters, poker sharks and casino owners comes away from Las Vegas ahead in the long run, but that doesn’t stop millions of people of every nationality from trying. What makes Japan different from America, however, is that gambling parlors aren’t limited to a couple of cities and Indian reservations; they stand on nearly every street corner of Tokyo and dot practically the entire countryside.
Emi Yokoyama

I am speaking, of course, about pachinko parlors, which account for roughly 4 percent of Japan’s GNP and are patronized by nearly a quarter of the population. Although commonly described as “Japanese pinball” and legally defined as something close to an arcade game, pachinko is machine-operated gambling and nothing more. Thanks to the advent of automated shooting and computer controlled payouts, after a player sits down at the machine, skill is practically nonexistent. Despite the fancy CG and byzantine prize-redeeming system, pachinko is probably best described as a slot machine in a kimono.

And that’s not the worst of it. If you factor in all other forms of gambling and take into account differences in population size, Japanese and Americans spend roughly the same amount on gambling—but Japanese people lose twice as much money. What accounts for this difference?
Part of the answer may be found in another Japanese gambling game, mahjong. Although Chinese in origin, mahjong was introduced here over 100 years ago and is currently one of the country’s most popular board games. Several manga dealing with mahjong are released every month, and the stories, written by pros, often touch on the subject of luck. Some of these writers’ ideas about how probability works are pretty suspect, particularly when they recommend “analog” methods over “digital” approaches.

Analog players try to play in accordance to their luck. If they feel lucky, they make risky plays and shoot for big hands; if not, they give up on hands regardless of how promising they may look. Digital players, on the other hand, make plays which are statistically likely to favor them.

Think about that. If this debate were brought to the attention of skilled poker players, it would get laughed out of the room. Yet I have interviewed very senior mahjong pros who insist that the young ’uns who play only according to the numbers are “idiots.” “If you can successfully take your opponent’s luck,” they say, “you can win in any situation.” Just like with the spectator at the poker tournament, no explanation will get through to them until they recognize the significance behind probability math.

So, in the end, I had to agree that yes, the losing player was very unlucky and yes, poker is interesting because you don’t know who is going to win. What I will always remember about that conversation was seeing the expression on my friend’s face as we gave up. It was the same face I see Japanese people put on when they just can’t get a foreigner to understand the way things work in Japan.

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