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A History Of Gambling In Japan


The history of gambling in Japan has been quite rocky. Did you know that operating casinos in Japan is illegal? Yes, they do not have casinos, of all things! Now, I love to go to the casino. I wouldn’t say I’m much of a gambler, but I enjoy going once or twice per year. I play roulette, my husband plays craps, and we get a blessed night or two away from the kids. But this just isn’t possible in Japan. They only have a few legal forms of gambling and many illegal gambling places are run by the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. I sometimes wonder what a Japanese Las Vegas would be like…

When I introduced the Japanese clans in REMOVED, I westernized the Maeda, Yazkuza, clan. I figured it was a new time, a new continent, and running western style casinos would be good way for Yakuza to make a (relatively) legal foray into society. Of course, many illegal things happen but Noburu Maeda, the head of Maeda clan, is fairly respected and reputable, even if he’s a tough nut to crack. Sanaa spends a good amount of time discerning how to woo him. It’s not a stretch to say that I wish that were my job.

But the casinos in REMOVED and the rest of the Nogiku Series don’t touch on any of the traditional Japanese games except for mention of pachinko parlors, so I thought it might be fun for this post to highlight the three most popular historical gambling games from Japan.


Are you a fan of the old samurai movies? I’ve seen several dozen and the gambling that usually takes place in them happens illegally behind closed doors. A dozen or so men crowd into a small room, drinking and waving money around while a shirtless man, the dealer, sits in the kneeling seiza position. Two dice are mixed into bamboo cup while players bet on either chō (even) or han (odd). Bets are placed and the dealer slams the cup down, pulls it away, and reveals the dice. That’s it. That’s the extent of the game! It’s a game of odds.

One of my favorite Japanese heroes is Zatoichi, a blind swordsman who is cunningly adept at cutting down his enemies despite not being able to see. He can even tell when he is being cheated at chō-han! It’s hilarious when he makes fools of the people who try to take him to the cleaners.

And yes, chō-han was and still is illegal and run by the yakuza. Supposedly, it’s still popular in Japan.


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S. J. Pajonas