I didn't get to play at a parlor (jansou) because we just didn't have four game-ready people at any one time. We had three most of the time, but three-player isn't the same. There are lots of parlors around, and given the fact that gambling is (TOTALLY NOT) going down, they're all hole-in-the-wall kind of places. Never the main floor of a building, from what I saw.
The true sanctioned gambling over there is in the form of pachinko and slots. The halls are way larger than the arcades, packed row-to-row, screaming loud. Because I wanted to play pachinko at least one time in Japan, I played a non-gambling Fist of the North Star machine at Don Quixote. 100y was 100 balls. Real pachinko joints usually have higher rates than this. (And there's one right under Donki if you want to find out.)
The scene where Ken hits Souther, and Souther asks him "How many more seconds do I have to live?" and then counts them off played. Naturally Souther did not die, just like in the comics, and I lost.
Though I didn't get to hit a jansou, I took the opportunity to buy a beautiful new set. It's known as the “Tenhou” and is prohibitively expensive to actually ship to the States (an English-language store sells it for $500 shipped!!) so I sent it to a friend's house via Amazon JP and picked it up once I was in the country. 15000y. I came to this set via the mjpai wiki and its original 2ch thread, which basically just says "BUY THE TENHOU." Some auto tables use these very tiles!
I thought a few people might be curious as to how the Japanese mahjong arcade games work: certainly I was. They're always out of the way, for a pretty simple reason: people smoke like chimneys at these things. A lot of regular arcade cabs have ashtrays on them too, but the MJ ones all do. (At TRY the machines are “self-service”, meaning “bring your own damn ashtray”.) A guy next to me at MJ5 Evo was puffing so hard that I was coughing until the next day! There are plastic shields between monitors but this is more for screen privacy's sake than to block the smoke. So you might want to do a “when in Rome” and wear a surgical mask like so many people all over Tokyo did.
(At HEY the mahjong section actually played old-man idol pop and everything: I heard Fly High from Gunbuster during one hand.)
I mostly played Sega's MJ5 and MJ5 Evo (the new version was location testing), but I gave Fight Club a try as well. Obviously I was drawn to MJ5 because it has the look, sound and feel of an AM2 game. The table is 3D, there are a lot of flashy effects like missile lock-ons to your tiles, lights from the skies, running TV-style commentary, and full video cutscenes for yakuman hands. It's two of my favorite tastes together.
(I had this hand where, during reach on a good hand, I dealt the very last tile-- West!!-- into someone's kokushi musou. Imagine my sadness.)
After that hand I was blown up by lasers.
AM2's name isn't on it but it's on previous versions and I'd be shocked if they didn't have guys involved in it. You know that American 80s-movie aesthetic of so many of their games? It's got that vibe. It's also got buttons even though the game has a touchscreen that can do all of these things, because these guys know that it feels good to press buttons. Especially the huge red one that says WIN. Also c'mon this music. Obviously the match is taking place on a fighter jet.
MJ5 also has the Saki license, so if you're feeling lonely, right now the game supplies a single-player mode where you play against the Achiga girls. Wasn't lonely enough to find out what this mode was like, sorry. The Saki Cup is also ongoing as I write this: sadly, I didn't play enough games to rank. This structure was the same as Tenhou's championship: you played an amount of games and the game would take your highest total score. Rather than an actual tournament or league structure it's sort of just “grind until you're extremely lucky”.
Fight Club is a little simpler with fast, crisp 2D rather than 3D, but it's an arcade game and it still has a certain level of flash. Explosions and dragons and stuff like that. Music is probably by some of the Bemani guys; it pounds. Does wonders for the tension. It's backed by the bigger pro league, so maybe you'll run into Jenn and Garthe. (Jenn had a pretty good spot on the poster, but poor Garthe was all the way in the back!)
These games all have their ways of pulling you in, it's part of the trade. If you play either game on 100y, it'll LET you play, but circumstances will kind of suck. On Sega MJ, you have a bank of time you use to make your discard, and if you run out of time you can't continue playing unless you put in another 100y. You can bypass this by just putting in 200y at the start. (Most machines will give you 3 credits for 200y: when you've leveled up enough and are allowed to play full east/south games, they will cost 3 credits.)
Fight Club has a meaner version of this: for 100y you start with a “life bar” of 5000 points, and if you lose more than that you've got to pay up to continue. 5000 points is very little to lose. I'm not sure if you then continue with another life bar or what. If you don't pay up you lose instantly, and the other players have to deal with your replacement by a CPU drone. Obviously you can bypass this crap with 200y. It's completely possible to start MFC with 100y, have another guy pull a really good hand immediately, and just lose the money. Both of these games train you fast to either pay 200y or not play at all. Being as you play for 20-40 minutes in one shot, I can't really blame them.
Winners play again for free on both games. I was lucky and much more skilled than my opponents on MFC and was able to play three full matches on 100y. Obviously you are paying a whole hell of a lot more to play on these machines than you would on Tenhou, where the least you can pay is zero and the most you can pay is 525y/month. You'll also need to buy a card to keep your records: this costs 300y.
Next time I'll let you know how the parlors are. Of course, in the meantime I've been right back to Tenhou. The league's started again, so I should at least grind up to 30 games...