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FAQ 7m. Where To Buy (Asia)

Latest update: 2013


NOTE: This FAQ is intended to aid travelers who wish to have a bit of a "mah-jongg shopping adventure" in Asia, especially Tokyo or Hong Kong (other cities added occasionally). The purpose of this FAQ is to help you find interesting shops to visit so you can enjoy seeing products not available in your home area. There are three reasons why I do not recommend that you try to contact these shops from home and order merchandise via email, mail, phone, etc.:

Going to Tokyo? Or going to Hong Kong? You can have some fun doing a little mah-jongg shopping. And you don't even have to buy anything! Looking is free!

Part I. TOKYO

If you go mah-jongg shopping in Tokyo, and especially if (like me) you also enjoy card games, you will want to visit Okuno Karuta. It's in Jimbocho, between the Jimbocho subway station and the Suidobashi train station (they don't usually use street names in Tokyo, but it looks like this street does have a name -- it's Hakusan Dori.

You want the west side of the street. Just look for a shop with games in the window. If you're lucky enough to meet Mr. Okuno himself, tell him hello for me -- he may remember me as the foreigner who bought a lot of yakitori markers (for the AMJA), as well as several hanafuda decks and various card games (for my personal collection). Here is his card:

I can't read the card, but I found an English-language listing for Okuno Karuta at http://web.reedexpo.co.jp/tibf/english/rightsinfo_a.html (it wasn't there when I checked back in 2002):

OKUNO KARUTATEN CO., LTD.
TEL.81-3-3230-1041 FAX.81-3-3230-1512
(Rights)Nobuo Okuno(President)
Since 1922, dealing with the traditional Japanese indoor playthings, games and cards, GO, SHOGI, MARJAHN*, HANAFUDA, IROHA KARUTA etc. widely, together with imported games. KARUTA. a set of cards & poem have been loved and played as an enjoyment of leisure, or as a tutorial game, from the old era in Japan. This time we exhibit newly launched beautifully woodcut-printed YOJIJUKUGO, KARUTA, SINNKA, MIYAZAWA, adding to another our originals.
* ("Marjahn" is mah-jongg.)

Here's a Japanese-language map to the shop, from the back of Okuno Karuta's 2002 catalog:

Okuno Karuta's website is at www.okunokaruta.com.


And you should go to Hakuhinkan Toy Park in Ginza. It's near the Shimbashi station, at the northernmost point of the intersection where Chuo Dori goes under the Shuto Expressway loop. This shop has a decent selection of mah-jongg and go stuff too (but Okuno Karuta is my first choice for classic games).



Here's a photo I took during the 2002 WCMJ, when I visited the store with Ruth Unger.

Whenever I go to Tokyo, I always visit both stores no matter what. They're both great!


During the 2002 World Championship in Mah-Jongg I learned of the location of "the best mah-jongg shopping in Tokyo." It's located in TAKEYA discount/department store near OKACHIMACHI station (even closer to NAKA-OKACHIMACHI station). The phone number is (03) 3835-7777.


Map showing location of Takeya

Martin Rep has visited the store and he advises that the mah-jongg stuff is hidden away on the 8th floor (I should have mentioned that myself). There isn't a lot to choose from, but it's cheap.


Part II. HONG KONG

There are dozens of mah-jongg shops and mah-jongg parlors listed in the Hong Kong yellow pages. Here are the addresses of a few (unless otherwise noted, these are all shops):

Another good place in Hong Kong to get mah-jongg sets is Watson's (a chain of stores in HK), where reader Will Harper writes: "Watson's has a great deal on some nice looking MJ sets. About $138HK for a large size "Crystal series" plastic set, though it may have been a New Years' deal." (Feb. 2004)

The easiest way to get to Wing Shing Cheung is to take the MTR to the Causeway Bay station. Take exit C and turn right. The shop is somewhere near the green "X" I put on the map.

Here is the calling card of Wing Shing Cheung (front and back):

To see photos of Wing Shing Cheung and Hong Kong Mahjong Co., click here (photos of my excellent Hong Kong mah-jongg adventure, January 2002).

More addresses of Hong Kong mah-jongg companies are listed in FAQ 7Q.


On June 1, 2002 I received a wonderful email from Tom Powell, who wrote:


Tom, thank you so much for sharing that wonderful information with us. I'll look those shops up next time I'm in Hong Kong! - Tom

And on January 8, 2003, I got a wonderfully informative email from Dan Glimne, a games writer in Sweden, who had participated with me at the 2002 World Championship in Mah-Jongg in October 2002 in Tokyo. And again at the 2005 OEMC in Nijmegen, Netherlands.

My thanks to Dan for the wonderful story, and for the permission to share it with the readers of the FAQ. I hope to put some of the pictures up someday. - Tom


Part III. OTHER PLACES IN ASIA


Some photos of mahjong shopping in Taiwan, sent in by mahjong newsgroup regular John Low!

Photo 1: Gold tiles.
Photo 2: Colorful choices.
Photo 3: Chinese Chess tiles.
Photo 4: Water Margin tiles.
Photo 5: Wall decorations.
Photo 6: Paigow tiles.

Thanks again to John Low for the photos! John reports that you can do mahjong shopping in Taiwan at:

  • Jhongli: The store is called "Ma Que Bian Feng Huang" (麻雀変鳳凰), which literally means "Sparrow turning into Phoenix". It is a joke on the Chinese term "Wu Ya Bian Feng Huang" (Crow turns into Phoenix, or Rags to Riches). The address in Chinese is: 中壢市 中央西路 2段 18号. English: Jhongli City, Jhong Yang West Road, 2nd Section, No. 18. Phone No.: (03) 493-9832
  • Taipei: The store is called "Dong Fang Bu Bai" (東方不敗), which means "East Side doesn't Lose". This is actually a significant Mj franchise store, they have other "東方不敗" stores across the rest of Taiwan. Website: http://www.eastking.com.tw/company.php. The address in Chinese is: 台北市 延吉街 153號. English: Taipei City, Yanji Street, No. 153. Phone No.: (02) 2740 2346


    Shopping in Japan

    > From: Jawaad M
    > Sent: Saturday, October 26, 2013 7:17 PM
    > Subject: Mahjong in Tokyo
    > Hi Tom,
    > I was reading your wonderful FAQ about Mahjong in Tokyo. I've been playing the game here now for a few years (mostly to get along better with my father-in-law).
    > I think it may be of some benefit to your readers to know about Don Quijote. It is a ludicrous store, in which one can find nearly anything; frankly it is usually so overcrowded with merchandise that one would surely perish should there be an earthquake. However, besides the costumes and other assorted junk, they happen to have quite a few decent Mahjong sets. I've had good luck buying Mahjong sets from there; they are usually a good value, and they have a range of prices.
    > They have a website too.
    > http://www.donki.com/index_en.php
    > I hate sounding like an advertisement, but I definitely would recommend visiting it if one is coming to Tokyo.
    > Sincerely yours,
    > Jawaad M

    Very nice, Jawaad. Looks like they have quite a lot of locations. Not only Tokyo.
    May the tiles be with you.
    Tom Sloper

    Creator of the weekly Mah-Jongg column and the Mah-Jongg FAQs -- donations appreciated.
    Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
    Los Angeles, California, USA
    October 26, 2013


    Shopping in Hong Kong

    From: "Arjen
    Sent: Monday, July 13, 2009 8:07 AM
    Subject: perusing mah jongg sets in Hong Kong, July 2009
    > Hi Tom!
    > While on holiday in Hong Kong with my daughter, I was researching
    > places to find a nice bamboo/bone Cantonese/Hong Kong set, naturally
    > also using your pages as a guide (thanks for collecting and
    > maintaining all that info!). From that and while on the ground, I
    > learnt a few new things that you may find of interest.
    >
    > Went past Wing Shing Cheung (Causeway Bay) today, and was actually
    > quite disappointed with their current selection; at least, they had
    > only one bamboo/bone set and it wasn't particularly interesting. I did
    > buy a little plastic travel set from them.
    >
    > While perusing antique stores around the Hollywood Rd area, I noticed
    > that they have some very nice boxes, but as far as I could tell only
    > new sets - additionally, nearly all with Arabic numbers on them so
    > clearly aimed at the non-locals here. At first I put the "new
    > pretending to be old" down to what one might expect (I don't know if
    > it was on your pages, but somewhere it told that Hong Kong craftsmen
    > are very skilled in the art of aging things, from creating fake
    > Egyptian artefacts), but tonight I found one reference online that
    > might actually make more sense, see http://blog.seattlepi.com/redlantern/archives/142840.asp)
    > In short, the lore is that one should never buy a used set, because it
    > might contain residual bad luck from its previous owners. As you will
    > know, various types of bad luck surrounding game flow are firmly
    > entrenched with the Mah Jongg tradition, so this set related one
    > actually appears to fit well.
    >
    > Considering this, the best place to buy a set may indeed be one of the
    > local manufacturers, as then you'd be certain it's new. One can always
    > buy a nice box from elsewhere - and again, the antique stores and
    > market stalls do have some very nice ones (undoubtedly some will look
    > old rather than actually be old, that's for the individual to decide).
    >
    > I don't have any confirmation of this, the locals I've dealt with so
    > far (in Mah Jongg context) don't share any common language with me, so
    > the interactions have been interesting but were not suitable for
    > figuring out such stories, let alone explore taboos...
    >
    > I might still go past Ying Fat Cheung (manufactory) and possibly
    > others before leaving, and I will let you know about their current
    > state (from my viewpoint, of course), perhaps of use to your pages.
    >
    > As a suggestion, since you do appear to be "mah jongg grand central"
    > on the net... have you considered using a CMS (content management
    > system) like Drupal or Joomla for your site, or perhaps even just a
    > wiki? The latter would allow (selected or all registered) users to be
    > able to add/edit/annotate content, which may be a great asset. For
    > addresses in various countries, Google maps may also be useful. It's
    > quite easy to create a map with a number of points on it.
    > Cheers, Arjen.
    > (based in Brisbane, Australia - originally from Amsterdam, The
    > Netherlands)

    Goedemorgen, Arjen,
    Thanks so much for the detailed report! It's so helpful that I plan to add it to FAQ 7m. To reply to selected items:

    disappointed with their current selection; at least, they had
    > only one bamboo/bone set
    Bone/bam sets, hmm? Plastic is better!! Bone-and-bamboo is for antiques. There is one company still making bone/bam sets, and I don't think they are made for domestic use. Only Westerners want bone/bam, and many Chinese think as I do - that plastic is better.

    as far as I could tell only
    > new sets
    I slap my forehead - all these years, I've only been thinking about shopping for new sets. It never occurred to me that anybody would want to go shopping for old sets in Hong Kong. I hadn't even thought about it.

    (I don't know if
    > it was on your pages, but somewhere it told that Hong Kong craftsmen
    > are very skilled in the art of aging things
    Yes, that's in FAQ 7g.

    http://blog.seattlepi.com/redlantern/archives/142840.asp
    Nice article. But I disagree with Nancy about one thing - it's not necessary for the new set to contain an instruction booklet. The instruction booklets those sets DO come with are USELESS. They're written in Chinglish and the rules they describe are incomprehensible. One common booklet even shows a Chinese joker and says it's a white dragon! If someone wants to learn mahjong, better to buy a good book from among those listed in FAQ 3.

    As for the superstition about old sets. I hadn't heard that before, but it fits. And it explains why we don't see many old sets in those streetside stalls. The eBay sellers offer those, when they can get them, of course, along with the artificially aged ones (which are always bone/bam, never plastic) but the street sellers don't seem to be aware of the sales potential for those bad-luck sets to foreign devils.

    have you considered using a CMS (content management
    > system) like Drupal or Joomla for your site
    I'm a video game producer, not a web programmer. And I don't have time to learn programming, or money to spend on web programmers.

    For
    > addresses in various countries, Google maps may also be useful. It's
    > quite easy to create a map with a number of points on it.
    Yes, I've thought about making a map, but of what? Mahjong shops? Too much work.

    Thanks again for the informative email, Arjen!
    May the tiles be with you.
    Tom Sloper
    Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
    Los Angeles, CA (USA)
    July 13, 2009


    Shopping in Hong Kong, part 2

    From: "Arjen
    Sent: Monday, July 13, 2009 4:40 PM
    Subject: Re: perusing mah jongg sets in Hong Kong, July 2009
    > Hi Tom
    > Thanks for your reply.
    > Thanks also for the insight about preferring plastic tiles. I suppose
    > that too makes sense in the new context. Seeing it as a playing
    > utility rather than as a collectable... then apart from the
    > superstition, a new/plastic set would then be fine, and even preferred
    > - no potential marking and so on.
    > And, it explains why the bamboo/bone sets I saw had the Arabic
    > numerals, and why Wing Shing Cheung only had one such set; so please
    > disregard my earlier note about their selection, in this case it
    > wouldn't be relevant. They've indeed got a large selection of plastic
    > sets.
    > Thanks again.
    > Cheers,
    > Arjen.

    Hi Arjen,
    Great, then we both gave each other new insights! (^_^)
    May the tiles be with you.
    Tom Sloper
    Author of "The Red Dragon & The West Wind," the definitive book on Mah-Jongg East & West.
    Los Angeles, CA (USA)
    July 13, 2009


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