Thursday 27th December: Old Japanese Proverb: “Makeru Ga Kachi”

A pile of boxes covered the floor of the tatami anteroom of the residence of the senior docs. It transpired that the senior doc and the lady wife had been clearing out some cupboards in anticipation of the celebrated ritual of Japanese New Year house-cleaning. They had dug out a load of old urushi lacquerware trays and some ancient bone-and-bamboo mahjong sets. It was intimated that perhaps Yours Truly, what with his reputation for being, albeit in a modest capacity, something of a Patron of the Arts, might be favourably inclined towards the proposition that the aforementioned portable artefacts be bequeathed upon his person and removed from the premises that same night.

The transaction completed, a festive air lent itself to the proceedings at the mahjong table – until, that is, the mechanics or electronics appeared to give up the ghost right in the middle of the first game (which had been advancing without any player appearing to dominate). The initial attempts to get the table working having failed, it began to look as if the game would have to be abandoned. However, The Poor Little Cypriot called upon his long experience of observing the Mama-sans of Japanese mahjong parlours get their malfunctioning tables back into action and issued a few sage instructions such as “Try polishing the tiles,” and “Let’s unload all the tiles and feed the whole lot back in again.” That cleared the table of the problem and the machine began to make hopeful whirring noises again after the first set of tiles was shoved back into the hopper. There was some consternation when those tiles reappeared in their walls but the second set was thrown into the hopper and the machine went back to work feeding them into place while we all happily agreed that we could play at least one more hand. Happily, though, the machine continued to work smoothly for the rest of the evening.

The Poor Little Cypriot, however, began to suffer a malfunction as serious as the machine’s earlier breakdown… He had sunk into something of a mechanical style of play, while on the other hand Mrs M sr. began to string together some useful victories. She was gracious enough to suggest that the PLC had been distracted by the maintenance work on the machine, and he jumped on that excuse and added one of his own, namely, that when one receives so many gifts the table will favour the giver over the receiver in order to even up the good fortune – well, it seemed to make sense at the time, but perhaps that was due to the beer (after all, the PLC had been off the sauce for most of Advent – ah, another excuse!)…

We agreed to play a third game which sent the PLC further into the red, so tonight was a good evening for his hosts, but a jolly one for every party.

Mrs M called a taxi and we were all surprised when something almost as large as a mini-bus turned up – ideal for stashing all the booty, but the PLC wondered what sort of exhorbitant fee he’d be charged for the 5-mile drive home… The first part is the worst as the digital display that shows the current fare clicks up at a frightening pace even while the taxi is at a halt at any of the numerous sets of traffic lights, but once it gets onto the open road it seems to zoom along at a much less expensive rate and so the PLC was only a thousand yen out of pocket on the ride and as the driver helped him carry his booty to his door he comforted himself with the ancient Japanese proverb, a feature of the Karuta card deck,

Makeru ga kachi.
“To lose is to win.”

Whether a loser be a winner or no I cannot tell; but it is a smooth and unctuous conceit which may be conveniently spread like butter upon the bread of feeble excuses and cast like oil upon the troubled waters of the loser’s soul, where thou shalt doubtless find it as fresh and apt after many days as it was after the first.

David Hurley