Story dated 4 June, 2003

OK, so it's not pinball but the lure of the silver ball stretches out around the world.

Take the case of Takashi Chiba who was Deputy Governor of Akita prefecture (state) in Japan. He was taking a break from the onerous duties of his post and playing the game of Pichinko.

Pachinko is often described as "pinball-like" in the media although it really has very little in common with the game we all know and love. It involved launching numerous small steel balls up a vertical playfield and into points-scoring holes. Pachinko is hugely popular in Japan and there are many pachinko parlours dedicated to the game.

Mr Chiba was in one such parlour when an earthquake struck. It was a strong quake centered under the Pacific Ocean just off Japan's north-eastern coast and it measured 7 on the Richter scale. It was powerful enough to shakebuildings in Tokyo, hundreds of kilometres away. By way of comparison, more than 6,000 people were killed in the western city of Kobe when a magnitude 7.2 quake struck in 1995.

But although his chauffeur-driven car was waiting outside the pachinko parlour, rather than return to his office to deal with the emergency, Chiba kept on playing for another 45 minutes. Even worse, Chiba was in charge of the prefecture because the Govenor was in South Korea on a business trip.

Although the Monday evening quake injured more than 100 people it did relatively little damage, an outcome scientists called lucky.

Chiba had to resign from his position, saying " "I am extremely tired both mentally and physically and have lost confidence in my ability to do my job" and now a local pressure group is looking into how often Chiba used government vehicles for his pachinko visits.

So, take care not to get too involved in your gameplay, keep things in perspective and remember to check if the game you're playing really does have a shaker motor in it.


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