Friday 17th August: Jaime Takes the Top Spot at "Ai"!
Three of us met at around 5pm in one of the best okonomiyaki shops in Yokogawa, a place called "Hyotan" in the CAZL shopping mall that leads from Yokogawa station to the Fresta supermarket.
I believe I have said it before, but I shall not disdain to say it again - the okonomiyaki is excellent! I went for my usual "nikku, tama, ebi, soba, chiizu" (meat, egg, prawn, noodles, cheese) combination. A good Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki comes with the ingredients beautfully integrated. It should be moist (the cheese is a great innovation in this respect). The chef did not let us down. We had never seen him before; the place used to be run by a couple of young guys - mind you, we've only been there at lunch time. According to the blurb on the CAZL website, Hyotan,
"is a can-be-happy shop in which the shop master of the smiling face is waiting with a light spirit."I don't know if it is the same fellow, but he and his wife had eschewed any lightness of spirit and were slaving away putting out the ingredients of numerous okonomiyaki in anticipation of the evening's business. Still, as I say, the okonomiyaki was good. I asked him afterwards whether he'd been at the shop for long.
"Ah," he replied, "I haven't seen you before."
The reason why we had met in Yokogawa was because Jaime had seen a "new" mahjong parlour and we thought we'd try it out. However, when we went in it immediately became apparent that the place was probably one of the first institutions to have been opened in the post-war reconstruction of the city. The name of the parlour is "Ai", or "Love".
There had at some stage been an ill-conceived attempt to smarten the place up with a few licks of paint. Sadly, the renovator had thought it appropriate to paint the framework of the mahjong tables a fetching shade of grey. The application was no less flawed than the conception; dribbles of paint had been allowed to run until they dried down the sides of the table. I did attempt to capture the horror of it on camera, but no photograph can do it justice.
The old couple who ran the place were friendly enough. Unlike the Mama at Kodama jansou, the Mama at Ai is also a player; she participated in a game at another table while the old man looked on.
Unfortunately, there is little positive to say about the quality of the snacks that they served with the drinks.
When we arrived there was one table active in the far corner. From time to time one of the old geezers would pause on his journey from the table to the bog to look over Jaime's shoulder and chuckle at the site of a foreigner and his eccentric (but effective - see score chart) play. He moved on and took a look at David's hand as he declared Riichi immediately after Jaime and chuckled even more when Jaime's somewhat dodgy 1-tile wait beat David's conventional 2-tile wait!
A party of younger office workers came in and indulged in childish attempts to "speak Engrish" to each other - of course, not to us - in loud high pitched voices, never stringing more than two assinine words together. Ten years ago they were doubtless those same kids who used to wait until Johnny Foreigner had walked by before shouting "Herro!" at his backside.
At the table, tonight was definitely Jaime's night. He was in positive territory all through. Mind you, by the end of the fourth game, although he was ahead, both David and Ray had each achieved "only winner" victories such that we went into the fifth game with everybody less than 30 points away from zero. Furthermore, in none of the first four games had Jaime got rid of his Yakitori tessera before the South round!
It was the last three games, all taken by Jaime, that turned the evening decisively in his favour and propelled him into first place in the Grand Accumulated Results Table.
Jaime was the only winner of the first game. Then David replied with an attack in the second game, but he blew a gasket after declaring Riichi on a 3-6-9-Coins wait by not noticing that he needed a 9! He picked it up, threw it and immediately realized his error - Chombo!
That gaffe did for his evening! A while later Jaime took over as Oya with an almost empty tray. He survived two rounds, which caused problems as he had no sticks to rack up and so resorted to using his discarded Yakitori tessera. He then declared Riichi and had to make do with a mini-ersatz-salami sausage for a Riichi Tenbo. Needless to say, he went out and took 24,000 points off Ray!
The famous "Ray recovery" took place in the fourth game, but that was followed by a Chombo in the fifth. It had something to do with a late Pon of the White Dragon, but I forget exactly what.
Finally, in one of the late games David was in great danger of getting stuck with his Yakitori when Ray declined to go Ron on one of his discards since he was chasing a bigger hand, but gave David the breathing space to complete and finish the game by tossing his Yakitori tessera to one side with considerable relief!
I return now to the subject of ART by way of a detour through the mysteries of the bladder. Your bladder is something of an unpredictable fellow. One day your bladder will insist upon being emptied as soon as you look at a beer. Then, on another occasion, you'll find yourself on your sixth and not so much as a peep of protest from the old waterworks. I have not yet extrapolated any stats as to how all this relates to victory or loss at the mahjong table, but suffice it to say that Jaime was up and down like a yo-yo (and won) while David and Ray held steady (and lost).
Thus it was that Jaime returned from several trips to the bogola with reports of how a great work of art was rather oddly hung off centre on the back wall. It was a framed print of some flowers that had been stuffed into a vase of particularly odious a character and proportions.
When David finally got around to making a trip to the bogola, he committed the faux pas of opening the unlocked door and walking in on one of the native players who was about his business.
Once the all clear had been sounded, David went about his rather different business, namely, the gathering of photographic evidence.
The question that concerned us was how it could come to be that such a monstrosity should have been painted and printed and sold and bought and then put up in such a position and in such a place. Perhaps it had something to do with that aesthetic sensibility for which the Japanese are renowned - all that to-do about wabisabi, you know, love of empty space and so forth.
I mean, somebody must have thought it good enough for the bog. Was it a gift foisted upon the propreitors? Did they feel obliged to put it somewhere? Or did they actually spend some precious mula on purchasing it?
These are deep profundities!
We come to the (nicely painted) hook. Who put the hook there? Why there exactly? Was the hook already there and simply provided a convenient place to hang the wretched picture? Or did somebody conceive of it as being the best location in the whole mahjong parlour for that particular work of art in the spirit of the afore-mentioned wabisabi and the deep appreciation of beauty for which, as we are told, the natives of these parts are so noted?
David returned to his seat furnished with the evidence, and also with a suitable excuse for his poor performance! It was the distracting concerns of Japanese interior design that took his mind off the game - of course!
Our verdict: an enterntaining evening but not a place high up on our list of mahjong parlours that we must return to...
Jaime +38, -25, +50, -34, +29, +28, +52 = +138
David -5, +51, -43, -28, +9, -12, -21 = -49
Ray -33, -26, -7, +62, -38, -16, -31 = -89