The Real Cause of Mahjong Epilepsy Revealed!

In recent years mahjong has been promoted in Japan as a way for elderly people to keep their brains in trim. Community centres around the country have laid on mahjong sessions for senior citizens. Naturally smoking, drinking and gambling are not permitted in these sessions. (Strictly speaking, gambling is illegal in Japan and so not really “permitted” anywhere else either.)

I wonder if, in safety conscious – or danger obsessed – Japan those mahjong sessions will be shut down as reports surface in Hong Kong that mahjong “can cause epilepsy”.

Apparently, doctors from Hong Kong’s Queen Mary Hospital have written a study based on twenty three cases in which mahjong players or observers have suffered epileptic fits in the course of a mahjong session. Naturally, the medical profession has not been slow to add another “unique syndrome” to the list of human frailties.

It was observed that the people who suffered epileptic fits while playing mahjong had not suffered such fits elsewhere. That does not seem surprising; they probably spend most of their free time inside mahjong parlours. Is it likely that a group of habitual mahjong players whose average age is 54 would be found indulging in other activities likely to induce epilepsy? Am I to suppose that after a long session of mahjong the old timers totter off for a boogie on a disco dance floor where they jive the night away immune from strobe-induced epileptic seizures?

I think not.

Nevertheless, let us suppose that “mahjong epilepsy” really is a “unique syndrome” as the worthy doctors assert. If it is unique, its uniqueness does not lie in such cagey statements of the bleeding obvious as:

No, the nub of the gist lies buried here:

The distinctive design of mahjong tiles, and the sound of the tiles crashing onto the table, may contribute to the syndrome.

BBC (My italics: I like the mealy-mouthed “may”; it is every journalist’s friend, along with the cautious “can”!)

Mahjong is cognitively demanding, drawing on memory, fast calculations, concentration, reasoning and sequencing.


In short, the unique cause of epileptic fits among mahjong players turns out to be THINKING TOO MUCH.

If I say so myself, I must say that I have often said that those that say that thinking is the key to mahjong are mistaken. And now I have medical evidence to prove that “taking thought” while playing mahjong is not merely wrong headed but positively dangerous.

We are too much beguiled by the conceit that it is we ourselves who have a hand in the hands we complete at the table and we reason thus in our hearts like foolish Israelites:

“My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth.”

Deuteronomy 8: 17

“We flatter ourselves,” writes Bernard Hollander, “that it is we who are thinking; whereas the thinking is within us and goes on all the time.” When it comes to mahjong I should say that when we have had a good session it is not we ourselves who have played the tiles well, but the tiles that have played us well.

Once, when that “perfect perisher” Roderick Spode was dithering over his tiles at the mahjong table and protesting that he had thought the situation to be other than it now appeared to be, Bertie Wooster chided him with a magnificent put down:

Never think, Spode.

That turns out to be sound advice for mahjong players the world over as it is now as good as certain (for it now exists as a defined and unique medical syndrome) that THINKING WHILE PLAYING MAHJONG IS BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH.

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