TOKYO - Taxis and limousines drive to and fro. Our driver opens the door, we get out and here we stand, in front of the Imperial Hotel, Chiyoda-ku in Tokyo.
Just today we have arrived in Tokyo, after an eleven hours flight KLM flight from Amsterdam, followed by a one hour’s drive from Narita Airport.
It’s hot in Tokyo. Can’t tell how hot, my iPhone only works when there’s wifi, and when I finally have contact, the Yahoo weather server cannot be reached. But it’s hot for sure. Yet, we think a stroll through the vivid and stylish Ginza district may be a good idea. Perhaps we can find a nice Japanese mahjong set to add to our collection.
So we are exhausted from jetlag and transpiring from the heat when we are back in the Villa Fontaine Kajabacho Hotel. Without a mahjong set. A quick shower, and then the phone rings. “Hi Martin. Garthe here, in the lobby. Are you ready?” Not quite. Just give us ten minutes, Garthe.
Garthe Nelson is the main source for my contacts with Mr. Shigekazu Moriyama, the newly appointed president of the Japan Professional Mahjong League. Moriyama-san reacted very positive to the letter I sent to a number of Japanese mahjong organisations. A letter in which I elaborated about my dream: realizing the first World Championship Riichi Mahjong. EMA (the European Mahjong Association) and TNT (the French riichi mahjong club Tri Nitro Tiles, the intended organizer of the event) authorized me to make a principle agreement with JPML, the largest and richest Japanese mahjong organisation.
“Let’s do it”, Moriyama-san wrote to me, “we will gladly come to Europe.” After which, he invited me to come and talk about it in Tokyo. “And”, Moriyama-san added, “please come to the Imperial Hotel Tokyo on the day of your arrival. We shall have a party there to celebrate my appointment as the president of JPML.”
All four of us walk into the hotel: my wife Dicky, Garthe, Gemma Collinge and me. Gemma lives in two worlds: she hops between England and Japan. She is a co-worker of the Japanese/English riichi mahjong website and forum Reachmahjong.com. She not only translated my letters to the Japanese, but she succeeded in getting in contact with them in the first place. Without her, this whole endeavour would not have been possible.
Once inside, we meet her friend Jenn Barr, who actually runs ReachMahjong.Com. Both Garthe and Jenn are Americans living in Japan, and they are also pro mahjong players and members of JPML.
We are flabbergasted by the luxury and wealth of the Imperial Hotel, with its beautiful hanging lamps, staircases and carpets. This is a far cry from the worn out community centres where mahjong players in Europe often meet. Hostesses greet us when we enter the halls where the party is to take place. Dozens, no: hundreds of people crowd here and are queuing to congratulate Mr. Moriyama. He has been a vice-president for years, and only recently he was appointed in the leading position. As a present, I have brought a genuine Delft blue tulip vase for him – just too bad that it was impossible to bring fresh Dutch tulips as well.
In the centre of the large hall, the tables almost bend under the weight of the dishes with all kinds of food. Chefs are waiting behind them to serve the guests. But first, we all have our glasses filled to toast on Moriyama-san. Speeches are addressed, the room is filled with laughter, and then we all shout: “Kampai!” Cheers!
Finally, I succeed in getting through to Mr. Moriyama. I make a bow, but he grabs my hand and welcomes me. We have met before in Hanover, Germany, 2008, for the first European Championship Riichi Mahjong, so this is some kind of renewing the acquaintance. “Congratulations on your designation”, I say, “and thank you so much for your invitation to this party.” Have a drink, Moriyama-san smiles. We toast again. Tomorrow we will have our first meeting about the World Championship.
We stroll through the crowded place, we eat the delicious food, we bow at known faces, I take pictures of the female pro mahjong players who, almost without exception, are dressed in amazing Chinese dresses.
Then Garthe comes to me. “It would be appreciated very much if you could say some words”, he says. Five minutes later, Gemma, Garthe and Jenn are standing on the stage, staring at me – just like the hundreds of mahjong players in the room.
So, I start telling about our plans for the world championship. That I hope to see many of the Japanese next year in Paris, France. That I am thankful to be here. Jenn translates my words into Japanese.
I feel humble and proud at the same time. And I realize: this dream of mine, this World Championship Riichi Mahjong – this dream is finally coming true.