Wow, they really pulled out all the stops. I got media access to stuff happening around the opening day festivities at M-League, ‘Raising the Curtain,’ as they billed it. They indeed rose the curtain on a dazzling show, topped off with some truly top-notch mahjong.
New players join M-League
They trotted out the new players each with a round of questioning. Actually they led off with Aki of ExFurin Kazan who said, in response to a question about what she wanted to do differently this year, that probably many of the pros would say the same thing, but the main thing is just to do better than last year. Of course, in Aki’s case that means they have to win it all, given that they were the league runner up last year.
I expect to get a lot of entertainment value from new additions Fujisaki of Konami Fight Club and Hinata of the Abemas. Asked if Fujisaki thought he would be chosen to play their first game, he wasn’t sure but mused that he expected to have to play at least one game this season. Hinata related that Ooi seems committed to again single handedly drag his team into the post season so it is her job to simply enjoy herself. Asked if she was worried about hazing from any particular player behind the scenes or outside of games, she retorted, “Please bully me! My heart will be more broken being left alone on the sidelines!”
In response to how playing in M-League would affect the way they play, Mizuhara of the Pirates and Maruyama of the Drivens had opposing approaches reflecting their differing levels of experience. Mizuhara expected not to do anything special, simply to play her game reflecting her confidence as a veteran pro. Maruyama only joined Saikouisen last year, relating that she expects to change a lot as she learns from her teammates, the reigning 2018 champions. Until now she’s been rather defensive, generally giving up in response to a reach. Now she’s learning to be more aggressive, and never really giving up until the very bitter end.
Hagiwara of Team Raiden rounded out the player interviews revealing that he had been chosen to represent in the first game. His vision of Raiden’s strategy this year is to give fans the winning result in April. He plans to either win big in crushing victories, or go down flaming in devastating defeats. Not just a veteran mahjong pro, he’s also ever the entertainer.
Following interviews at the studio, it was time to shoot over to the public viewing area for opening ceremonies. There was a short interview time with M-league Chairman Kawabuchi and Cyber Agent President Fujita, both revealing their passion for mahjong and desire to spread its popularity around the world. I got to ask if they had any message for fans overseas. They humbly admitted that Japanese riichi mahjong is one of many mahjongs around the world, but that they hope to unite all mahjong lovers in competition, perhaps some day turning it into an Olympics worthy mind sport.
Opening ceremony extravaganza
The opening ceremony was some serious razzle-dazzle. Major pomp and circumstance as they reintroduced all the teams and their members, it was interesting to see mahjong pro lives collide as Katsumata and Sawazaki were both notably absent because they had A1 League play Monday night. It ended with The Drivens ceremoniously returning the League Trophy to M-League Chairman Kawabuchi.