Pachinko, a form of pinball deeply loved in Japan, is an industry run by ethnic Koreans, and experts have long believed that the revenues are a vital source of hard currency for the impoverished regime in Pyongyang.
The machines are believed to rake in more than 27 trillion yen a year, some of which finds its way to North Korea. Official figures put the sum of remittances to North Korea from sources in Japan at 3 billion yen in fiscal 2005, more than 90 percent of which was hand-delivered.
But the bookkeeping is murky and some think the real sum could be as high as to 10 billion yen. No one knows how much of it derives directly from pachinko and how much from another major source of income for North Korea in Japan -- imported methamphetamines.
"It's very difficult to say how much cash is actually going from Japan to the North," said Toshio Miyatsuka, a specialist on North Korea at Yamanashi Gakuin University in central Japan who has written a book about the pachinko industry.
"But it does seem certain that a lot of it is winding up in the hands of the North Korean government and military, and that includes money earned from drugs and pachinko," he added.
"Yes, there are a lot of ethnic Korean operators, but the industry is not at all concerned about the sanctions issue," said Takaaki Sasaki, spokesman for Zennichiyuren, an industry organization. "We're not hearing about anyone losing business because of the missiles or the nuclear test."
Still, the connection between pinball revenues and North Korea makes some Japanese pachinko players uneasy.December 3, 2006 THE MAINICHI NEWSPAPER