In a Durham Hall classroom, students gather around two mahjong tables with riichi tiles as they put aside hands of tiles to eventually win the game.
The Riichi Mahjong Club meets on the Tempe campus every Wednesday from 5 to 8 p.m. in Durham Hall on lower level one, room eight.
Mahjong is a tabletop four-player game using tiles and strategy. Riichi mahjong, also known as Japanese mahjong, is a variant of Chinese mahjong but is more defensive and each player has his or her own discard fund for tiles. Chinese mahjong is more offensive and players share a discard fund of their tiles. A discard fund is where tiles lay once they are discarded by a player.
Riichi mahjong's president, Elijah White, is a senior majoring in electrical engineering and minoring in Japanese.
"I've just been interested in Japanese culture. I've been there a couple of times," White said. "I think it's (mahjong) pretty awesome."
White has been the president for about three years. He hosts online mahjong sessions through the club's Discord server on Saturdays at 5 p.m. and provides his personal collection of mahjong tiles and tables for the club to use during in-person club meetings.
The riichi mahjong club has gone from having two members last school year to a new high of 16 members this semester.
Elizabeth Leung, a senior majoring in animation and minoring in Japanese, has family in Hong Kong and would visit them almost every summer before COVID-19. Her grandparents taught her to play Chinese mahjong.
"Usually I'll go back to Hong Kong every summer, and I hadn't had the opportunity for a couple of years," Leung said. "I was like, 'I really miss mahjong. I want to get back into it.' So I looked (it) up on Sun Devil Sync, and was like, 'I'm going to join this club.'"
"I learned with the Chinese (mahjong), but I feel like riichi mahjong is more technical," Leung said. "You need to learn certain types of card positions stuff. For me, sometimes it's hard to win because I forget what kind of hands there are."
Leung said that she has often seen older generations play mahjong due to it being a traditional game but enjoys that she gets to play with people her age at the Riichi Mahjong Club.
“Be open-minded to (the) mahjong club at all if you have any interest in Asian culture (because) if you like Asian culture at all then mahjong is great," junior global studies major Joseph Hommrich said. "It gets you involved in the culture."
Hommrich had never played mahjong before this semester but joined the Riichi Mahjong Club after learning about it at Passport to ASU.
White encourages everyone to come to play and learn, with no experience or knowledge required. He provides new players with papers of helpful notes about the game to help.
Four years ago, the mahjong club used to have a mini-lecture to help teach strategies and techniques on how to play mahjong. White has considered starting these mini five to ten-minute lectures at the beginning of the club again to help beginners learn.
Despite having never played mahjong before this semester, junior political science major Julian Klein has already picked up some techniques and won a few games since joining the club.
"I want more people to come here," Klein said. "If there's more people to talk to and interact with, that'd be the number one thing."
Edited by Jasmine Kabiri, David Rodish, Sophia Balasubramanian and Kristen Apolline Castillo.
Kylie Saba is a reporter for the Community and Culture desk at the State Press. She embraces ASU life and is ready to report life as it happens.