Friday 6th March: Woodblock Prints, Newspapers and Mahjong…

I arrived in town on Friday afternoon with a list of stuff to do, but I was thwarted by the disappearance of one of the places I had intended to visit. Places come and go at the drop of a hat in Japan. You only tend to notice the existence of a place you are not in the habit of frequenting when you are confronted by a yawning gap where whatever it was had once stood. Nobody can ever remember what it was that once occupied the yawning gap. Places that you are familiar with shock you by their sudden unannounced disappearance and the shop that had been there yesterday was not there today – the building was, it had not been demolished, but the shutters were down and notices were pasted up announcing that the shop had moved.

Anyway, I diverted my steps and my bulging wallet to towards another place and relieved the proprietor of a woodblock print by the Japanese artist Ooso Yoshitoshi. I had become quite familiar with it over time and intended to buy it one day when I got around to it… I quite expected it to disappear before that moment arrived, but suddenly, on Friday, the moment of decision was upon me!

The rigmarole that accompanied the purchase, the getting of the picture lowered from the high place where it hung, the search for something to wrap it in, the attempt to make a facsimile copy of some pages of a Japanese encyclopedia of art about the artist’s career, the background detail that the proprieter supplied, all this served to put off my arrival at Bizenya for a bowl of yasai ramen prior to the evening’s mahjong.

Not a lot is available online about Yoshitoshi Ooso – until you realize that his name could also be read Taiso; it appears that the seller had misread his name. Nothing touching Japanese culture is ever straightforward. Ooso – I mean Taiso – Yoshitoshi is listed in wikipedia as Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892). He is famous as an artist of the ghostly and the sinister, the violent and the wierd and as the last great master – one of the great innovative and creative geniuses – of the Japanese woodblock print.(Wikipedia)

Check out this Japanese Wikipedia page and you will see what I mean about “the violent and the wierd”…

In the 1870s Yoshitoshi worked for the Houchi Shinbun and it was for a special edition of that newspaper that he is said to have produced this scene of an “incident” in a cemetery.

Armed with my loot I hotfooted it up to Bizenya for that bowl of noodles and then headed off to Kodama mahjong parlour.

I later discovered that the Houchi Shinbun, later the Yomiyuri Shinbun, was famous for establishing the rules of Japanese “Riichi Mahjong” at the beginning of the great Postwar Mahjong Boom, in 1952 to be precise.

Mahjong had declined in Japan during the war but it seems that the demobbed soldiers of the Kwantun Army revived it on their return to Japan and also introduced the Riichi and Dora rules to Japan.

It was in these circumstances that Amano Daizo* announced in the Houchi Shinbun the commencement of the Japanese Riichi Rule – the “Houchi Rules.” Maajan no Rekishi

*Author of Riichi Majan Shirizu, 1968.

Jaime arrived five minutes after Kenyon and I and chose to sit to Kenyon’s right, opposite me. It was a well considered move as Noda-san arrived in time to slot himself into the fourth seat while David was still starting Oya. That meant that Jaime would be sitting out of the game while Noda was Oya…

However, Noda did not perform so well in the first game and even suffered the indignity of paying out a on a Double Ron when Kenyon was Oya. It was not one of the higher paying games and Noda ended up bottom on just -15, with David on -13 and Kenyon on -6, but it all added up nicely for Jaime.

In the second game, however, Jaime’s wise seating arrangement became apparent as Noda went on one of his seemingly inevitable winning runs while David sank, his tray rapidly emptying before a wave of utterly dud hands. I mean, how can one do anything with a mixed hand with three 9-Coins stuck on the end of it when Noda is on a Ryanshi charge?? Jaime had taken up residence behind Noda and David for the duration of Noda’s Oya-ship and was able to shake his head in disbelief at the pictures he was looking at in Mama’s supply of magazines, but more especially at the way Noda could conjure tiles out of thin air, usually on one-tile Chitoi waits. And Jaime could only shake his head in commiseration as David drew dud tile after dud tile from the wall.

Note: not all the tiles were exactly dud, some were plainly malevolent. Given a choice of tiles to throw, David would seek to get rid of one of an unpromising (and relatively safe to discard) 1-2 Bamboo combination only to draw the 3-Bamboo and add it to the remaining tile of a now broken combination…

Not even a spectacular Chombo on Noda’s part could stop him. Noda was Oya (actually, Noda was Oya for most of the second game, it seemed) when he realized, after claiming an open meld on the East Wind, that he was short of a tile. Usually, a player who is short of a tile is not subject to a fine. The hand is played out but he is unable to go out. Noda, however, in a fit of frustration, tossed his remaining nine tiles into the wall of tiles and scattered the whole lot over the table, effectively bringing the hand to an end and conceding a Chombo!

By the end of the second hand David and Kenyon, both playing against Noda-as-Oya were in the red, Jaime finished on +16 and Noda finished on +81.

By now Hide-san had joined us and he took the baton from Noda and ran with it. This time it was Noda and David (again) who suffered the long reign of the Oya. Jaime, as second placed player in the second game, sat out the third to avoid the dreaded five-player seat hopping scenario. That put Kenyon in the nice position of not being in one of the hot seats, as Hide took Jaime’s place to Kenyon’s right. David’s fortunes continued to founder and he pretty much gave up believing that he could complete a hand ever again. Hide got to Ryanshi and David fiddled around, and then discovered, almost by accident, that he was Tempai on a middle-tile 6-Bamboo Iipeiko wait. Having missed it first time round, he declared Riichi to qualify his hand for Ryanshi and glumly awaited developments while Jaime declared that he would get it and Kenyon that he wouldn’t. Mind you, David’s discard row favoured his getting it as it had 3-Bamboo and 9-Bamboo in it. Eventually Hide threw the 6-Bamboo and David managed a very mild recovery from deep-in-the-red to less-deep-in-the-red…

Kenyon, meanwhile, finished positive on Hide’s coat tails. Noda gave back to the table a large chunk of the previous games winnings, but finished positive, while David had lost enough to fall three-figures into the red…

By now David’s head was pounding under the weight of Noda and Hide’s assault and Kenyon’s unrelenting commentary (and remarkably penetrating cough, which Mama had attempted to abate by placing a saucer of cough sweets on Kenyon’s table, most of which were swallowed – or dropped – by the solace-seeking Poor Little Cypriot).

Despite being heard on several occasions to mutter, “I’m definitely catching the tram home tonight,” David was almost tempted to stay on for a fourth game… but then took up Noda’s offer of a lift to Nishi-Hiroshima and the tram. Under trying circumstances, cut your losses and run for the tram!

Mind you, with Lent being more closely observed tonight Mama’s bill did not come to much and the payout has been known to be worse, and the tram home saved the taxi fare, so all in all it was not a bad retreat despite the loss of the top spot to the elusive Tsuyoshi.

Kenyon’s hopes of chasing that top spot went into reverse gear as he found himself back in the red. Meanwhile Noda continues to rise from the bottom like a trout that has spotted a particularly tasty Mayfly – if I may adopt the register prophetical. Jaime, meanwhile, has got himself within one point of where he started the year!

That was, I should add, after the three bachelors had played out another game. Jaime once again chalked up a moderate double figure victory as the only winner and the cumulative result of moderate victories was a very healthy +82 finish. Hide’s final score of +66 saw him get off the bottom of the table, leapfrogging his younger brother, and getting into negative double rather than triple figures… Thus the table has tightened up somewhat as Easter and the second quarter approaches…

Jaime +34, +16, –, +32 = +82
Hide –, –, +73, -7 = +66
Noda -15, +81,* -47, = +19
Kenyon -6, -26, +5, -25 = -52
David -13, -71, -31, — = -115

Good luck to you, Kenyon, in your new job! We wonder whether it really will keep you from the mahjong table Friday evenings…!