BUSSUM, the Netherlands - The year 2017 will see the second reiteration of the World Riichi Championship in Vegas, October 4th-8th, demonstrating that it is not just a one-off event, but is solidifying into a reoccuring world event. Mahjong News sits down with its framer, Martin Rep.
Mahjong News: Let’s begin by your telling us a little bit about yourself, who you are, and where you come from.
Martin Rep: I am a Dutch newspaper journalist, born 1946, close to Amsterdam. I worked for a number of newspapers and also some magazines in several cities in the Netherlands.
Mahjong News: How did you come to be playing mahjong?
Martin Rep: My elder brother Jelte taught me and my wife Dicky. He is a real mahjong fanatic, and he wrote several books about mahjong. His books were also published in English; just google him. Jelte is also a journalist, but later went to work for television.
Mahjong News: You have a long history of advocating mahjong in Europe and the World at large. Can you share with us your efforts, and what were your motivations behind that effort?
Martin Rep: I am a journalist, and journalist are teachers - kind of. They want to share things. So when I became a mahjong enthusiast, I started a website to tell the world, beginning with the Netherlands, about it. I soon discovered that, although a few mahjong tournaments were played in my country, results were never published. So that’s one of the first things I did.
This site, Mahjong News, soon became a success, and I started to translate articles in English when I saw that also people from other countries visited. During daytime, I shared news with the readers of the paper I worked for. In the evening, I wrote about this passion of mine for my site. My brother, who had started organizing a tournament in his residence, suggested that I do the same. This fit perfectly in my strive to spreading the word. I decided to teach Hong Kong mahjong to the Dutch (at the time, the Dutch only played a local variant of Chinese Classical). So, together with my friend Sjef Strik, I set up the Hong Kong Mahjong Millennium Tournament (1999, Nijmegen, Holland; later being called the Golden Dragon Tournament).
That was the beginning - then I discovered riichi, and MCR. From there I just started teaching all over again, and initiating tournaments. After I had played in Japan (1st World Championship Mahjong, MCR, 2002) I found this new challenge - organizing a European championship. I imagined that these new ‘Chinese Official’ rules could be the standard for that. At the time, all over Europe, only local variants of mahjong were being played.
Mahjong News: In your growing process, did you have any mentors to look up to and guide you, and did you have any inspirations to help move you forward.
Martin Rep: I learned a lot through Tom Sloper, especially thanks to his software game ’Shanghai: 2nd Dynasty’ which taught me a lot about riichi mahjong. We stimulated each other to go to Tokyo for the World Championship, and he shared with me his love for Chinese and Japanese culture. His Sloperama site was, and still is, a treasure of information and inspiration. (I am very proud of being mentioned, together with him, in an article by the New York Times).
Mr. Kyoichiru Noguchi, founder of the Japanese Mahjong Museum, CEO of Takeshobo, and president of JMOC, invited me to come to Japan in 2002 and provided me with an endless stream of documentation about mahjong. He sponsored the first OEMC and honored me as a European representative of mahjong, which was very flattering and inspiring. I was very sad to learn about his passing.
Mr. Shigekazu Moriyama of the Japanese Professional Mahjong League (JPML), took my effort to launch the first WRC (riichi) seriously, and a decade after Noguchi-san, invited me to Japan to talk about it.
Then there is Dragon Chang from Taiwan, great promotor of the (Taiwanese) mahjong game. We met in Tokyo, 2002, and he never stopped talking about mahjong ever since. He compared me to Babcock, re-inventing the game for the West… I won’t take that honor, yet he always inspired me to do more, and better. In his house in Taipei, he even succeeded in teaching me the 17 tiles game (a bit, that is ;-)
Mahjong News: No doubt a part of your influence stemmed from your founding Mahjong News. What inspired its creation, and how did that process of creation play out?
Martin Rep: I think I elaborated (too much…) about that above ;-)
Mahjong News: You’ve been described as the Godfather to modern mahjong in Europe. Do you accept that title, and how do you feel about it?
Martin Rep: This is the first time I heard that title! I will gladly accept it. I feel honored, although, after Marlon Brando, the word also has a sinister meaning…
Mahjong News: From where did your vision for a World Riichi Championship spring, and how did that evolve?
Martin Rep: There was a world championship MCR, there was an OEMC MCR, and there was a European Riichi Championship. What do we miss here? Nobody else did it, so I choose to.
Mahjong News: And then it happened, for the first time in Paris 2014. What was that like to see it finally come to fruition?
Martin Rep: It was a dream coming true. Although Valentine and Quentin Thomas, Gemma Sakamoto and Moriyama-san did the real work, I was very proud that I could have acted as the bridge between West and East.
Mahjong News: And now the WRC is gearing up for it’s second iteration in Vegas 2017. It’s no longer just a one time event, but is proving that it can become an enduring tradition. What are your thoughts on the WRC becoming a stable World platform for competition?
Martin Rep: That’s just great. That’s what is was meant to be in the first place. I do hope that soon many representatives of other Japanese mahjong organizations will join the party.
Mahjong News: We’ve heard rumors you may not attend the second iteration in Vegas. Would you care to expound on that?
Martin Rep: I have limited means, and I'm not especially fond of traveling. So if I do make a costly and far away journey, it must be to a place which is high on the bucket list. Vegas is nowhere to be found there. But I am at peace with that, since I have understood that it was the JPML who opted for the Vegas location. Let’s not forget that it’s the Japanese who are the actual riichi gods.
Mahjong News: As the events in Vegas continue to develop, what are some things you’d like to ensure become a part of that process?
Martin Rep: I think the organization does not really need me to make wise decisions. And I trust that money prizes will never be involved. It’s not in accordance with the friendship spirit of international mahjong competitions. Many players from Europe would give up.
Mahjong News: Do you think there were any lessons learned from Paris that may carry over into Vegas to help improve the competition?
Martin Rep: One thing, which was already seen in Farnham 2016: the competition should go on for everyone till the end, even during the final between the players 1~4.
Mahjong News: In the process, are there any pitfalls the WRC needs to avoid, or are there any particular challenges that the WRC needs to overcome to make this event succeed and endure?
Martin Rep: Yep. Making sure that the entree fee will be reasonable.
Mahjong News : What comes next for Martin Rep, in life, and in mahjong?
Martin Rep: Playing at home with family and friends.
Mahjong News: Any other words you’d like to share with the readers?
Martin Rep: No, thanks - I’ve used to many already! Please enjoy the following mahjong video produced by my brother Jelte Rep: