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First Open European Mahjong Championship Starts in the Netherlands

Wednesday, June 22, 2005 Posted: 06:52 PM JST

Mahjong is an immensely popular game in Japan with mahjong parlors just about everywhere in Japan's large cities. It is no surprise therefore that the World Championships in Mahjong were held in Tokyo in November 2002. The success of those championships has given birth to the first Open European Mahjong Championship, to be held in the Netherlands this week-end.

The Dutch mahjong players are the clear favorites. But, says a spokesman of the Dutch Mahjong Association: "No doubt the first prize will go to the Japanese." Dutch Mahjong expert Martin Rep reports:

(by Martin Rep) - If some people play mahjong in a public place in the Netherlands, people stop and stare. They ask: �What kind of game is that?� or perhaps some elderly folks say; hey, that�s mahjong! We used to play that at home!�

Unlike in Japan, mahjong in the Netherlands is a pretty rare game. Sure, during the heydays in the 1920�s, hundreds of thousands in this country on the North Sea bought mahjong sets and played it all day long. But when the craze was over, the boxes with the sets were banned to the attics, to be forgotten for decades.

That is about to change. This weekend mahjong players from all corners of the world travel to the Netherlands for the first Open European Mahjong Championship. Ma Yongliang, the champion of China will be there. A deputation from Taiwan. Players from Reunion Island, an island in the Indian Ocean that belongs to France. Players from the USA, from Sweden, from Denmark � and even the best players from Japan.

Amongst them Ms. Mai Hatsune, the current world champion in mahjong.

They don�t come to gamble. Prizes are modest at this championship: some shields with �first prize�, �second prize�, and �third prize� engraved on it, and three dings from China � cups, sponsored by the Chinese mahjong association for the best national teams.

The first Open European Mahjong Championship will be held at Nijmegen, a beautiful city that promotes itself as �the oldest town of the Netherlands, and celebrates its 2000th birthday this year.

It is the first international mahjong event of this scale in the history of mahjong after the World Championship in Mahjong, which was held in Tokyo, November 2002. At that time the new international rules established in 1998 by the China State Sports Commission, were used for the first time. They ended a ban on the game that lasted almost half a century. Keywords of the new rules were: no gambling, no smoking, no drinking.

Of course most Chinese still play mahjong the way they have done it for many years, and perhaps many still gamble, drink or smoke during the game. However, the new rules seem to set an international standard. The problem with mahjong is that there hardly are fixed rules. Each country, each village, even each family can set their own rules.

So when in 2002 the Japan Mahjong Organizing Committee, together with the city of Ningbo (China) and the Mahjong Museum in Chiba (Japan), organized the world championships, the reaction of the international mahjong community was quite enthusiastic. At last it had become possible to participate in an international mahjong event.

In Tokyo, there were a hundred players; mainly from Japan and other countries in South East Asia, and a handful of players from Europe and the US. In the Netherlands, there are about the same number of participants (108), but now they come from many European countries. The �new mahjong� has spread its wings. Players like the many combinations that are possible. There are 80 of them, which makes the �Chinese Official rules� quite attractive.

The largest team is from the Netherlands: 43 players. In a poll, organized by the Dutch mahjong website Mahjong News, they seem to be the favorites. But the real experts are not so positive about the chances of the Dutch. �No doubt the first prize will go to the Japanese�, a spokesman of the Dutch Mahjong Association says.

Open European Mahjong Championship. De Vereeniging (concert hall), Nijmegen, the Netherlands. June 24~26, 2005.
More information: Mahjong News

Keywords: culture_news

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The now legendary Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929) was a member of the British legation in Tokyo for twenty-one years. This classic book is based on the author's detailed diary, personal encounters, and keen memory. In it, Satow records the history of the critical years of social and political upheaval that accompanied Japan's first encounters with the West around the time of the Meiji Restoration. Fascinating.
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