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LOTTERY

Against high odds, masses chase luck

by Kanako Takahara

What would you do if you won ¥400 million? Would you buy a convertible, a new house, start a business? All of the above?

The dream of winning big is the lottery’s lure, and as the economy turns bleaker, inflation kicks in, the pension system turns cloudy and the future looks uncertain, the lottery becomes all the more attractive.

The lottery under its current form has been popular for decades, but such gambling actually goes back centuries. Today’s Summer Jumbo and Yearend Jumbo seasons are habitual crowd draws.

Following are questions and answers about lotteries in Japan:

What is the extent of sales and what lottery options are available?

In fiscal 2007, which ended in March, lottery sales came to ¥1.04 trillion, down 4.5 percent from the previous year. But it is still a big leap from ¥780 billion in fiscal 1997, thanks to the rise in prize money and the 2000 debut of the popular Loto 6, which accounts for a fourth of total ticket sales.

Japan ranked eighth in lottery sales worldwide in fiscal 2006. The United States topped the list with the equivalent of ¥6.34 trillion, followed by Italy with ¥2.1 trillion and Spain with ¥1.9 trillion, according to a local government brochure.

Lottery tickets in Japan are mainly of three types.

The oldest and most popular are those bearing five- or six-digit numbers that purchasers check against the winning numbers when they are announced. These include the Jumbo series, whose grand prize is ¥200 million. Jumbo tickets are offered several times a year.

There are also instant-winner tickets whose buyer uses a coin to scratch the covering off the number to see if it is a winner. These debuted in 1984.

Newcomers to the market include tickets based on number selection, including Numbers, Miniloto and Loto 6, which quickly became popular with younger people.

Loto 6 players for example can choose six numbers from 1 to 43. Wins are determined on how many numbers match the winning numbers with the possibility of the total take reaching ¥400 million.

Is it true that horse racing and speedboat races pay greater winnings than the lotteries?

Yes. Of total lottery sales, about 46 percent is used for prize money. The lottery law prohibits prize money from exceeding 50 percent of sales.

Meanwhile, 75 percent of horse and speedboat racing sales are spent on prize money.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, which oversees the lotteries nationwide, says the purpose of organizing such gambling is to secure financial resources for local governments for public works projects.

“We don’t want to stir up a person’s gambling spirit too much by offering a big amount of prize money,” said Naoaki Hashimoto, an official at the ministry.

About 40 percent of total sales are spent by local governments on projects like building schools, roads and bridges.

When did the lottery debut in Japan?

Although the first known lottery worldwide is said to have originated during the Roman Empire more than 2,000 years ago, the concept did not occur in Japan until the 1630s during the Tokugawa shogunate.

Temples and shrines were the first to introduce lotteries.

For example, during the first week of the year at Ryoanji Temple in Osaka, visitors wrote their names on a wooden tablet and put them in a box.

On Jan. 7, monks picked three tablets by hurling a spear into the box and gave out amulets to the three lucky winners.

But after people increasingly squandered money beyond their means, the shogunate banned lotteries.

When was the lottery reintroduced?

The government reintroduced the lottery right before the end of World War II in an effort to obtain much-needed cash to cover skyrocketing military spending.

The Imperial government faced a major dilemma before making the decision to run the lottery, wrote Mahito Oyama in his book “Takarakuji Senso” (“Lottery War”).

“(Influential politicians and top government officials) argued that because (Japan was waging) a holy war, the country must use untainted money,” Oyama said. “But as time went by, their voices grew silent as the nation faced a desperate situation.”

In July 1945, the government, consigning sales to state-affiliated Nihon Kangyo Bank, the predecessor of Mizuho Bank, organized the “kachifuda” (victory card) lottery for ¥10 per ticket. The grand prize was ¥100,000.

Tired of the prolonged war and hungry for hope, people thronged to buy the tickets. By Aug. 15, the last day of lottery sales, the bank had sold ¥200 million worth of tickets, as planned.

Ironically, this was also the day Japan surrendered to the Allies, and “victory card” lotteries became “defeated cards,” Oyama said.

After the war, the government continued selling lottery tickets to gather funds to rebuild the nation.

It is true that organizers offer advice to big winners?

Yes. Winners of ¥10 million or more are given “The Book You Read from the Day.”

The booklet tells winners to remain calm and advises against doing anything rash.

“You want to be careful not to take careless actions such as talking to people about winning the lottery, making big and meaningless purchases, making promises to give away prize money and quitting your job,” the brochure says.

After the initial excitement eases, winners tend to become anxious, suspicious and even distrustful of those around them, it says.

“If people around you suddenly change toward you, you may feel a sense of distrust,” the brochure says. “If you can’t do away with your anxieties, you may want to consult a psychologist.”

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays (Wednesday in some areas). Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to National News Desk