Sunday, November 25, 2007

Friday 23rd November: Is It All Over Bar The Shouting?

It was the Labour Day holiday here in Japan today, so I didn't have to haul myself out of bed at 6:15am and go on the "Busy Friday" run to the women's college where I attend classes during term time.

I say "attend" because I would blush to say that I actually did anything resembling "labour" during class time. After all, it is the students who are supposed to work (not that many do). My job is to turn up and set the objectives if there are any, and theirs is to appear to be engrossed in carrying them out. But, like I says, it was Labour Day so labour was something I did not have to do that morning.

According to Jaime, who has a remarkable head for trivia, it was on the same Friday of last year that we made our first visit to Jantopia. Jantopia is now our alternative mahjong parlour when we fancy a change of scenery. We therefore agreed to go there for tonight's game and take advantage of the holiday by starting a couple of hours earlier than usual.

When we arrived at the parlour, however, it turned out to be shut for the holiday this year so we agreed to try another parlour called "Suriirando" which was farther down the street.

Just in case you didn't understand the name, it is the Japanese katakana rendering of the words "Three" and "Land". Three-Land, the parlour where three-player mahjong can be played! (Actually, in Hiroshima at least, you can play three-player mahjong in any parlour, but let that pass.)

As we drew near we saw the poster on the right. Three-Land - could it be the Land of Three Young Beauties? - was beginning to look promising! But Ray recalled the time we went to a mahjong parlour whose advertising placard had promised an "all female staff" only to discover that there was not a single female on the premises.

We went into the parlour and found ourselves in a larger, more business-like joint than the little mama-parlours that we usually frequent. The male staff wore white shirts, and the female staff were tarted up just as the poster promised. One was playing at a table and the other was tripping around delivering the customers' drinks and snacks, the third was nowhere to be seen.

What was surprising was number of young players in the parlour. It is often said that in the age of computer and tv games fewer young people take up mahjong nowadays. But tonight, with no Kenyon to bring down our group's average age, ours was the oldest group in the parlour.

Once they'd recovered from the site of three foreigners (plus Noda) traipsing into their parlour and asking for a table set up for the three-player game, they placed us in the far corner and went through the rigmarole of explaining how everything worked.

There was some confusion over the scoring tallies because the colour coding was different and one of the metal score tallies was actually a dummy to make the machine's electronic displays register the correct score.

Every time we ordered beer we were given a choice of side dish - processed cheese, salami or sausage. The sausage turned out to be quite good and became the de-rigour choice, until they decided that we had ordered too many beers to warrant any more snacks and ceased to give us a choice of anything at all.

Another feature of the place was that when someone declared Riichi at some of the tables not only would the table sound system cry out "Riichi da zo" but at some tables (not ours, thank goodness) the staff would give a sort of ritual cry of encouragement which resounded around the parlour.

Ray wondered whether people didn't stay overnight since there was a supply of razors in the gents conveniences.

We were all seated comfortably, Jaime settled nicely in the chair with its back to the room, and David sat with his back to the wall and a good view of the surroundings, which included an expanse of naked female back - not that the female was naked in toto, merely that her top plunged towards her bottom if you see what I mean. I might have gratified your curiosity with a discrete photo had I had the chance to take one, but Noda had performed the seat allocation ritual and Jaime and I had to swap seats and the back was now on my blind side.

Noda was the first player to hit trouble. His game appeared to be faltering when he gave away a Double Ron to Ray (Oya) and Jaime. The much heralded Ray recovery appeared to be in the making.

Then David went out on Daisangen in the first game and announced it loudly enough for the surrounding tables to hear as if to impress upon the insular native mind that it is not entirely impossible for your Johnny foreigner to play a game which was, after all, invented by Johnny foreigners, albeit of another hue.

Apart from that early promise, things unravelled for the Poor Little Cypriot. In two hands Noda had taken back everything he'd won with that Daisangen hand. The PLC was then distracted by his Mrs who sent a text message to inform him that she'd forgotten her house key and was locked out and wondered whether he wouldn't mind going home early to facilitate her entrance. Perhaps anticipating the answer, she had decided to drive through town to refresh herself at the hot baths and so at a convenient moment while Ray was Oya David charged out of the parlour to hand over the key. No sooner had he left the parlour than Noda completed his hand so the players had to wait for him to return from chasing down his Mrs.

If David's game had been beset by unlooked for trials, Jaime's was fairing no better. In the second he found himself with sixteen tiles in his hand for tonight's only Chombo (David, the Chombo champ, had a Chombo-free evening).

David was hit with a Double Ron in the third game.

Meanwhile, Noda reversed his fortunes at everybody's expense by winning three games on the trot, +92, +53, +70 to reach his evening's high of +183 on the score card while David headed in the opposite direction, registering his evening's low of -113, thereby opening up a big gap between first and second positions on the Accumulated Points Chart.

Ray recovered his early form in the fifth and final game to check Noda's advance. David also did better in that game, whereas Jaime suffered his customary "last game collapse" to finish bottom for the evening.

Noda has been in top form in recent weeks, and tonight's score would appear to have pretty much secured him top spot for the year unless he suffers a dramatic loss of form and David or some other player enjoys a dramatic run of victories, something which I somehow doubt will occur...

Noda -32,* +92, +53, +70, -22 = +161
Ray +66, -38, -46, -6, +44 = +20
David -29, -20, -24,
* -40, +24 = -89
Jaime -5, -34.** +17, -24, -46 = -92

* Double Ron
** Chombo

David Hurley

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thursday 22nd November: The Sound of Clapping One Hand

Tonight was the evening before the Japanese Labour Day holiday and since nobody was working the next day we played mahjong from 7pm until almost 2am, the longest session ever at that venue.

The first game started off with some lively variety. The junior Doc threatened to produce an expensive hand when he declared a hidden Kan on the North tile, which was the Dora. So keen was he to declare his Kan that he rammed the tiles into the edge of the table with sufficient zest to send one of them flying and he promptly had to grovel on the floor and search around for it.

However, once order had been restored, it was Mrs M who completed first to deny the Doc with a rather more modest hand.

In the second hand the Senior Doc declared Riichi. David felt that the 2-Coins, which was also the Dora would probably go past and enable him to get to Tempai on a one tile Iipeiko wait - the 2-Characters. Mrs M claimed the 2-Coins, and threw - the 2 Characters!

In the third hand the junior Doc made another Kan declaration, but when he took the tile from the back of the wall it became apparent that six tiles which had been separated from the wall had not been picked up. The first player had taken the tiles from the end of the next wall and nobody had noticed! David simply moved round to the other side of the back of the wall and the game continued. Once again the junior Doc was denied a big hand when we exhausted the tiles with no result.

In the fourth hand the Senior Doc's big win at the expense of Mrs M set him up for a series of completions that secured him victory in the game and left Mrs M with an empty tray. The junior Doc came in second and in the black and David was third on -1.

The contents of the Doctors' courtesy beer fridge had been moving rather slowly in the first game, but gradually David's swilling gained momentum as his game turned uneventful, full of situations evocative of the phrase "close, but no cigar".

The usual lashings of sandwiches, cheese and buscuits peanuts had been laid on. However, towards the end of the second game Mrs M wondered whether David was able to indulge his appetite on Japanese rice balls. Well, said David, he didn't mind if he did if the menu included salmon or tuna or fish roe. Mrs M promptly produced a rather tasty "shake musubi for him to gorge upon along with the observation that rice balls are easier to eat at the table than sandwiches, which is really quite a shocking observation to make to an Englishman brought up on the story of our noble Lord, the Earl of Sandwich, who invented the eponymous refreshment for the express cause of facilitating an easier consumption of vittals at the gaming table.

At the end of the second game it fell to David, who drew the East tile, to select a seat first and he chose to occupy the seat opposite, that is, the seat that had been the junior Doc's. It proved to be an inspired decision because towards the end of the third game it yielded him the best hand he has ever had. David was Oya and as the wall was beginning to run down he declared Riichi and then went out on the next tile (Hatsu to score:

Riichi, Ippatsu, Tsumo, Haku, Hatsu, Honitsu, Sananko, Dora x 4

That brought in a haul of 16,000 points from each of the other players and singlehandedly turned the game around. The other players cheerfully payed up and applauded the hand, pleased, it seems, that the game had produced something so remarkable.

The third game finished just before one o'clock and all players voted to continue playing so as to get through four games in a rather leisurely paced and very enjoyable evening.

I don't remember much about the last game as I was fairly addled, but not so addled as to bring disaster. The flow of mahjong is such that even an addled player can go with it intelligently enough and (if not distracted) avoid serious mishap - and then immediately forget what took place.

I seem to remember that at one stage in evening David swept the Wind marker into the guts of the table along with the tiles, but that hardly rates as a serious mishap, just par for the course of an evening's mahjong around a mechanical table.

When the results were added up it turned out that David, solely on the strength of that one mega-hand, was the only player to have come in over the bar.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Friday 9th November: Noda Goes Top & Breaks The Year's High

Noda does not manage his game by standing on the sidelines sheltering from inclement weather conditions beneath a massive umbrella and keeping himself warm with a paper cup of coffee. Despite that fact that Noda has not always had its eye on the ball and that his defence was a bit dodgy and that his keeper let in a few goals earlier in the year, Noda has hit winning form just at the right moment, i.e. a few minutes before the final whistle. His team's demolition of Ray City on their previous outing took Noda to within a few points of the top spot. This week Noda was once again in full-on winning mode, bringing all his guile to the game, and without his accustomed full compliment of refreshments while in the dugout.

The other pretender to the crown, David, started off brightly - until he was floored in a moment of distraction (was that Tim's fault? I forget!) when he went Riichi on a Chiitoi hand but plucked the wrong Riichi-tile from the hand and so was left with no hand at all! That now puts his Chombo record for the year into double figures...

Two games later he added to his abysmal cock-up record by failing to complete a hand and so was left with his Yakitori on the table.

With David's campaign faltering he was relying on Jaime and Kenyon to peg back the Noda charge, but they were consumed with their own problems, with Jaime plunging to -82 after just two games. Nevertheless, Jaime, who is something like the Newcastle or Tottenham Hotspurs of the Mahjong league, always up and down, began to recover from disaster and after five games he was more or less back where he had started.

With Hide's arrival David took some time out to chat to Mama-san about the way things were in the mahjong parlours of yore. Apparently, the early tables used to dispense the walls out of the side, pushing them out like a child pushing a toy train from the guards wagon at the back. That must have been productive of many a disaster. Mama was rather disapproving of the method the old Akadenwa Mama (a Japanese voluptuary of blessed memory) used to clean the guts of the table. Whenever a table began to malfunction Akadenwa Mama would grab a can of compressed air and blast the various moving parts of the table to get rid of the accumulated detritus. I have to say that it was remarkably effective, but Kodama Mama prefers to use a whole range of customised chopsticks and wooden yakitori skewers.

The break seemed to do David's game a lot of good as he came back and won the sixth game with enough points to enable him to finish in the black. Hide, in the meantime, provided more fodder for the unquenchable maw of Noda so that by the time he left, Noda was on +115 which put him firmly at the top of the table and in new uncharted territory with a year's high of +485 points.

At the other end of the table, Hide sank below Ray and set a new 2007 lowest points record.

All the variation was in the middle of the table. We agreed to play one more game, and guess what - Kenyon won it!! Kenyon had earlier shown signs of reviving when Jaime revived, but he sank again, not a Ray-like defenestration into the dunghill, but more of a gradual sinking into the mire. But mire is good for growth, and plant a seed long enough in it and it will flourish. Thus we have the case, now thoroughly documented that semen homo-computerius doth flourish at the end of a long germination in the muck.

Talking of the muck, that was what Jaime found himself back in as a result of playing "the last game" (our results would be much better if we could avoid ever playing a last game). He was the chief sufferer of the ill-effects of the Kenyon Revival and ended up with his Yakitori on the table and back in the red again on the Grand Accumulated Points Chart. Actually, now I come to think of it, Jaime's game is currently more reminiscent of Watford's or Leicester's, teams that bounce between promotiion to the Premiership and relegation to the Championship...

That reminds me, there were quite a few cases of people going out on the first tile tonight. That was what kept David's game in the black. However, Jaime managed to complete what he says is his first ever successful "Double Riichi" in the first game of the evening. Of course, it only came about because he said to Tim, "It never works when I go Double Riichi"...

Noda -10, +110, +9, --, +25, -19, -- = +115
David +46,* -28, -44,** -7, --, +46, -3 = +10
Kenyon -24, -22, +5, -12, -25, 0, +49 = -29
Jaime -12, -60, +30, +46, +2, --, -48
** = -42
Hide --, --, --, -27, -2, -27, +2 = -54

* Chombo


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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Flemish Paintings from Prague, Okuda Genso Art Gallery: From the Mysteries of the Flesh to the Mysteries of the Spirit...

The attentive reader of this blog, if there is one, may recall that its author has a penchant for the things of the flesh, preferably female and of ample but pleasing proportion and a comely countenance. Save your fasting for Lent and Advent, sweet ladies mine, and in the meantime be good Christians and follow the council of the Ecclesiast, who was a cheerful Epicurian and of the healthy opinion that there's better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry &c.

Vast, e x p a n s i v e, as boundless as the sea and as voluminous beyond proportion or girdling restraint as the subject of the female form may be, may it not be summed up in an adjectival phrase as brief and to the point as a bodkin, videlicet, "voluptuous and Rubenesque"?

Now it just so happens that an exhibition of Flemish paintings from the National Gallery in Prague is currently being held at the Okuda Genso Sayume Art Gallery which features several works by our hero, Peter Paul Rubens, as well as some by Peter Breughel the Younger, and even one or two by our old quaffing partner Teniers the Younger, who hardly ever failed to include a relatively inconspicuous fellow pissing against a wall in his pastoral scenes.

Almost as inconspicuous as the pisser-against-the-wall in Teniers' Peasants in Front of a Tavernis the Nativity scene in Breughel's The Adoration of the Magi, one of the first paintings the visitor to the exhibition will see. The setting is Flanders in the middle of winter. The bustling crowd of peasants are going about their daily affairs and look as if they are chilled to the bone. It makes you feel chilly, just going over the details of the painting.

The Rubens collection did not contain so many voluptuous beauties as one would hope for after making the effort to drive out to the gallery. Moreover, several of the paintings are copies by accomplished imitators, although we can't complain about the painting by one of Rubens' protégés, Jan Boeckhorst, The Virgin with the Sleeping Infant (right).

There were still several exhibited works that are credited as being orignals, including two of his copies of panels from Mantegna's The Triumph of Caesar and a beautiful monochrome painting of The Visitation. That painting alone, a fine study of composition and gesture, is worth the trip to the gallery.

There is also a fine portrait in profile of a bearded man looking up which looked like a contemporary work to me and not as if it had been painted more recently than 400 years ago.

The biggest work by Rubens at the exhibition is his portrait of St. Augustine of Hippo in full bishop's regalia. He is by the sea, and appears both monumental against the low horizon and intimate as he stares into the sea in contemplation of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. His hands stretch in blessing towards a child who is attempting to ladle out the sea with a scallop shell.

O altitudo divitiarum sapientiae, et scientiae Dei: quam incomprehensibilia sunt iudicia eius, et investigabiles viae eius!

The exhibition continues until 2nd December.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Friday 2nd November: Irish Famine

Ray came into town from the sticks tonight and joined us at the table of conviviality. The first two games were played by him, Noda and Jaime. David arrived towards the end of the first game and already the foreign players had a gloomy air about them. David ordered yakimeshi and passed on the second game so as to dedicate himself to the cause of dispatching his repast with due decorum.

By the time both dinner and the second game were over Noda was on +125, Ray on -58 and Jaime on -67. Unsurprisingly the foreign party strongly requested that the seating arrangement be changed. The result was that everybody moved to the seat on his immediate right, but Jaime and Ray's luck remained unchanged.

David won the third (his first) game, and he and Noda were assisted by winning a Double Ron off Jaime. Noda, of course, finished in the black too. With things looking bleak, Jaime adopted the Hurley-strategy of drinking more beer. It worked!

The fourth game served as a bridge between between the early and middle games as Noda emerged the only winner. What became evident in the fifth game was that luck had swung away from David and over to Jaime. Ray's descent and Noda's ascent continued unabaited. David was stuck with his Yakitori on the table.

There was another change of seats and suddenly Jaime started winning and retaining his Oyaship at the expense of the two players who claim some degree of descent from the Emerald Isle. Their game had suffered the blight, David's to the tune of -136, Ray's a deeper -60.

In the sixth game Noda registered his only loss for the evening, a mere -7 to finish his evening on +201, closing the gap on David's now precarious-looking position at the top of the Grand Accumulated Results Table. David didn't help his cause when he committed one of his more absurd Chombos at a point where he thought he might have turned his game around. He had not declared Riichi and was Tenpai on Chiitoi (7 pairs). He took a tile and promptly dropped it on the floor. Jaime jokingly claimed that it was a "Chombo". David picked it up and discarded it and then Ray immediately discarded the 7-Coins, which David claimed while laughing at Noda and Ray who added their cries of Chombo to those of Jaime. David, continued to count up his supposed score until it was pointed out to him that he had already thrown the 7-Coins! That mishap emptied David's larder of the last morsels of luck and he registered his second Yakitori of the evening. Meanwhile, Ray "recovered" by only dropping six points. Jaime was the only winner and was now back in clover on +51 points.

Noda departed and the three foreigners played much of the rest of the night away. With Ray's Scourge was out of the game the famous last act of an evening with Ray, "Ray's Revival", was anticipated, but never materialized. Indeed, Ray continued with his outstanding loss of form, adding a third (his first) Yakitori penalty to the scorecard in the seventh game. However, at the end of the eighth game a mighty cheer resounded around the mahjong parlour as Ray registered his first postive result of the evening. Jaime won the game, but Ray finished on +4.

That proved to be significant because he went on to perform a last game losing finalé, finishing it on -66 and his evening on -263. True, that is the worst evening's performance of any player so far this year, but nevertheless, that precious +4 point victory preserved Ray from the greater ignominy of registering the lowest total for the year. Ray now sits on the bottom of the table on -326, but that does not displace Kenyon's low-point score of -327! However, there is plenty of time for records to be broken. Last year's worst score was registered in December during David's dive to the depths of -646.

Rays unsatiable decline enabled David to struggle back to the minor negatives for the evening and preserved his place at the top. Although David was not favoured by the seating, being sat to Jaime's right and Ray's left, whenever Jaime declared "Riichi" David was able to pluck a safe tile from his hand and then happily shelter behind Ray's outlandish discards.

So, Ray breaks the "worst result" record, drops four places and hits the bottom while Jaime moves back into the black and up to 4th place.

Noda +44, +81, +22, +47, +13, -6, --, --, -- = +201

Jaime -40, -27, -21, -1, +83, +57, +9, +33, +32 = +83


David --, --, +45, -19,* -36, -45,*** +27, -1, +34 = -21

Ray -4, -54, -46, -27, -60, -6, -36, * -32, -66 = -263

** Chombo

* Yakitori

David Hurley

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