Traveling Missionaries of Mahjong at Otakon | アニメ!アニメ!

Traveling Missionaries of Mahjong at Otakon

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"Letters from the New York Otaku"

By David Cabrera

For my buddy Carl and I, one of our ongoing missions at Otakon was to spread the good word of Japanese mahjong. It's a job we've taken upon ourselves. If we don't do it, well... nobody else will, that's for sure.

Our panel on the subject was, again, a surprise success. We were inconveniently scheduled at Friday morning, among the first panels of the weekend, but this was as much an advantage as a disadvantage. This early in the day, not a lot of the big attractions have opened up (the dealer's room, the game room), no major event is going on, and there's little to do but attend panels. Obviously this worked in our favor, as we wound up filling a conference room that seated 400. Were they a captive audience? Perhaps! But we can't afford to be picky.

The last time we did the panel, we didn't actually bring any of our mahjong equipment with us to play on at the convention, which was a terrible idea. Afterwards, people had come up and challenged us to matches, and neither of us had the time. We regretted this, of course!

So this year I brought my set and a mat (even something as simple as this this cost me way too much money to buy from Japan). Carl and I carved out a few hours in the schedule during which neither of us were busy (7-10PM Friday and Saturday) and we took to the game room: past the arcade machines, at the tables where most folks were playing Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh.

The plan was just to sit down at a table, set up, and see what happened. We didn't even have a proper table of four people, but we weren't concerned. Someone would show up. They always do, even for this.

Our setup fascinated a lot of passers-by-- it's large, unusual, and difficult to ignore-- and it was only a few minutes until we had two other players. One wore the uniform of the Ouran High School hosts, the other was a blonde in a Japanese dress. Both were familiar with the game from playing online, but had never actually had the chance to sit at a table and handle the tiles.

It felt pretty good to be able to make that experience happen for people. This was not a scheduled or official event, but being able to make people happy like that was one of the most rewarding experiences I had that weekend. We came back the next day with two friends and impressed the crowd again, drawing plenty of observers and potential newcomers. Looks like things are going well so far...