Thursday, 16 July 2015

Gambling in Japan, Part 2: The Blunderdome!

In case you missed it, click here for Part I of Gambling in Japan




I have no idea how it came to be that I, alone, accompanied my Japanese father-in-law to his favourite gambling facility. It was my first trip to Japan and my ignorance of the language had, basically, reduced me to the dependency-level of a two-year-old, and two-year-olds don't question adults. My wife led me to my father-in-law's car, buckled me in, shut the door and waved goodbye. The next thing I knew we were cruising down the highway thinking of all the questions we had for each other, but trying to enjoy the awkward silence.

My father-in-law (whom we now refer to as "Jisan" because this is how our kids pronounced the Japanese word for Grandfather) is a small, energetic, smiley man. He is 75 years old and a very successful farmer who owns a lot of land and still rises with the sun to work his fields. Because of the language barrier, I still know little about him except that he seems extremely kind and patient and I like that he smiles at me so much, though I suspect it's because I amuse him much in the same way a chimp would, dressed in a business suit. He often attempts to talk to me and, left on our own, we have, on occasion, actually conversed—or at least shared the illusion.

Jisan has visited us, in Canada, twice. One time, as we all sat around the dinner table at my parents' house, Jisan and I had a relatively lengthy exchange. I remember feeling my parents flush with pride and wonder as I interpreted and responded to Jisan in his native language. Afterward, there was a brief silence which my wife, Junko, tactfully ended with a fit of giggles. After drying tears of laughter, she recited our conversation. Jisan had been talking about Junko's nature when she was a child. Apparently, she often got angry and ranted. (I don't think much has changed, except that, perhaps, marriage to me has provided her good reason.) I misinterpreted and thought he was talking about relationships in general. We both contributed several sentences to the conversation; he on Junko as a child and I, my lofty thoughts on relationships, translated into Japanese baby-talk. Finally, I said something profound regarding sheep nipples and Jisan furrowed his brow and chose not to comment, which ended the conversation.

From this I have deduced that main the problem with me communicating in Japanese, is Junko.

On the road trip toward gambling, we conversed once again. I think he said the weather looks bad. And I agreed, even though it was a clear and sunny day. He talks weird like that, sometimes.

The gambling center was a gymnasium-sized concrete arena which I have since dubbed, The Blunderdome. It could seat hundreds on bleacher-style benches and the walls were lined with giant TV screens, each showing a different race: horses, bicycles, dogs, motorcycles and powerboats, beamed in from various locations across Japan. Other screens post statistics and odds.


I had no clue what was going on. Jisan thrust a betting form into my hand and encouraged me to take part. I hate gambling. This is probably because I hate losing. I especially hate losing money, which just seems to me to add insult to injury.

The only other time I had ever seriously gambled was in Vegas, about 20 years previous. The company I worked for at that time, sent me and a co-worker for seven days to attend the Computer Electronics Show (CES). The guy who went with me was a newly married, born-again Christian who did not gamble, drink, dance, attend live shows, flirt with women or smile. That last one probably being the result of the others, or possible just marriage. If you were such a person and you were in Vegas at that time, then you basically sat in your room alone watching Donny and Marie while your roommate went off participating in most of those activities while trying to avoid marriage. Two days in, we had finished exploring the CES and still had five days left to burn. Eventually, I got so bored that I started playing Blackjack.

I am not much of a card player, but I guess to balance out my bad luck in roommates, life allowed me to win about $900 in the space of 3 hours. I tipped the dealer $50 and spent the remaining four days in a drunken stupor. I lost my last dollar in an airport slot machine, on our way home.

For me, the biggest lesson in all of this was that playing for money is stressful. I had to use so much of my brain that it ruled out calling it recreation. In the end, I really didn't think the $300 per hour was worth it.

I have always valued my time more than seems justified. This may be a writer-thing. We want to be writing so badly, that things like jobs, government forms, long-winded people and going the bathroom seem to be time-wasters and we want to be highly compensated for the loss. To me, my best efforts are worth more than the $300 per hour I made playing Blackjack. Because of this feeling, I don't give every activity my best effort. Sometimes I feel sorry for my day-job employers. But, hey, you get what you pay for.

After Jisan handed me that betting form, a feeling of intense pressure descended upon me. I simultaneously did not want to gamble, and yet did want to win big and impress my new father-in-law. I sat quietly and began scouring the statistics, hoping that six years of University math (no matter it was a 4 year program) might make up for having not a single inkling about gambling and my inability to read Japanese.

We were there for about 3 hours and, occasionally, Jisan came over and prodded me to place a bet. I'd go over my calculations and shake my head. Not yet ready. He smiled and returned to his own game. Eventually, the entire backside of my betting form was a scrawl of complex mathematical formulas and I went to him and said that I'd like to place a bet in the amount that I had indicated on the sheet. He examined the form, smiled, scratched his his head then asked if I was sure that I wanted to wager that amount. I remained firm. He chuckled, shrugged and led me to the wicket. At the wicket a Japanese woman took my form and my money and gave me a chit. She also chuckled and may have shrugged.

I want to reiterate that this was my first trip to Japan and beyond an inability to speak the language, I had not fully mastered the simple fact that one Yen is pretty much the equivalent of one penny. After hours of calculating and fretting, I thought I would boldly wager about twenty American dollars. In actual fact, I had bet the grand sum of two dollars. So much for six years of University mathematics.

At any rate, I did what most gamblers do; waited anxiously, watched the race, cheered and felt flush with unjustified hope, had that hope dashed against the rocks and tore up my chit.

Having fallen $302 short of the $300 per hour mark, I was now determined to double down and redeem my hours of patient scrutinizing and calculating—not to mention my University education—but as I headed toward the wicket, Jisan gently placed a hand on my shoulder and steered me away, toward the exit gates. At this point, I still believed I had wagered at least $20 and now worried that it might have been $200 and that this was an intervention. But then I noticed that everyone else was also headed for the door. The Blunderdome was closing for the day.

My father-in-law has not taken me gambling since, which is a great relief to us both. He jokes that he’s waiting until the next time I have 200 Yen burning a hole in my pocket.

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