When I first got introduced to mahjong, I have to admit that I didn't think too highly of it. We played with no restrictions on what makes a hand, and it seemed completely based on luck. However, at MIT, my friends introduced me to "actual" mahjong - with hand restrictions, point values, and the like. One variant that I was introduced to was Japanese mahjong, which is the variant played in Saki, the anime mentioned above. (It's actually not a bad series if you get past all the blushing.) It includes special "dora" tiles that increase the value of a hand and emphasizes closed hands, which is supposed to give it a more competitive or gambling-based feel. Though I don't know about gambling, I definitely played a lot of casual games with my friends during second semester (probably played too much, >_>).
Have I found myself a new hobby or just a new way to waste time? Both? I'm not sure, but I'm...trying to make something productive out of it? I'm thinking of teaching a Splash class (I still get e-mails telling me to register as a student...I'M NOT IN MIDDLE SCHOOL ANYMORE T_T) on Japanese mahjong with my friends and possibly even creating an MIT mahjong club. We'll see what happens, and see if mahjong truly deserves all the bad PR it gets.