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