Excited by TV’s treatment of her as an “outsider”…! Popular model, Ayana Tsubaki, makes an exclusive confession about her “profound circumstances that led her to become a professional mahjong player. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Excited by TV’s treatment of her as an “outsider”…! Popular model, Ayana Tsubaki, makes an exclusive confession about her “profound circumstances that led her to become a professional mahjong player.

She studied under Masato Hagiwara, Naotaro Moriyama, and others, and took a fresh look at herself through the COVID-19 crisis. I want to be drafted into the "M League" as soon as possible. His autobiography, "I'm from a boys' school. became a bestseller and swept the TV world.

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Ayana Tsubaki / Born in Saitama Prefecture in July 1984. Debuted as a reader model for a fashion magazine. She is a member of “BUZZ esports,” and is also active in the fields of MC play-by-play and video games.

Her gentle smile tightened for a moment when she held a mahjong tile. She is Ayana Tsubaki (38, formerly known as Ayana Tsubakihime), a TV personality who has been active as a professional mahjong player since the summer of 2009. Tsubaki talks about the best part of mahjong.

Mahjong is life itself. Your personality comes out in all its glory. There are people who put their own hands first and attack aggressively, and there are people who immediately drop out when someone else reaches. …… Because it is not a one-on-one game but a four-player game, it tests not only your ability and luck, but also the way you think about interpersonal relationships.

Originally, Tsubaki was a popular model for such magazines as “Koakuma ageha,” a gyaru-style fashion magazine. How did a charismatic model who appeared in numerous TV programs become a professional mahjong player? We would like to introduce the background behind Tsubaki’s success in passing the examinations of the Japan Professional Mahjong Association.

I first encountered mahjong when I was about 10 years old. My relatives gathered at my grandparents’ house for New Year’s, and I was playing with my father and his family. I didn’t really understand the rules at the time. I was just happy to see the warm atmosphere at the family reunion, so I enjoyed playing.

Tsubaki had been a video game enthusiast since he was a child, and continued to play mahjong software after becoming a student. The first turning point came when he was a student at Aoyama Gakuin University, just over 20 years old. She posted on her blog that she had made a yakuman. This happened to catch the eye of a staff member at a TV station.

I uploaded a yaku-suan-ko, I think,” he said. Then, I received an offer from the mahjong variety show “THE WAME DE PON” (Fuji Television) to appear on their show. However, when I actually appeared on the show, I was completely outclassed and fell apart, and ended up being invited only once or twice, which was really frustrating. Until then, I played mahjong for fun, but after that, I started to take it seriously.”

Tsubaki received instruction from mahjong enthusiasts in the entertainment world, including Masato Hagiwara (51), Naotaro Moriyama (47), and Kazuya Kojima of Un-jash (50). He continued to study diligently, subscribing to mahjong pay-per-view channels and taking notes on how the pros played the game.

In the late ’10s, mahjong programs began to increase. It was probably better to have a woman on the show to get viewer ratings. I was asked by the producer to ‘train the talent,’ so I started the ‘Entertainment Industry Women’s Mahjong Club.

I held study sessions with Hanana Nakata (28, formerly of Nogizaka46) and Akari Suda (31, formerly of SKE48), and in my own way I tried to spread the game of mahjong. Thanks to mahjong, my circle of friends in the entertainment world has expanded dramatically.

Please come out as a comedian.”

However, the new COVID-19 crisis, which began to spread in April 2008, changed the situation drastically. The opportunities to get together to play mahjong were drastically reduced.

My own workload decreased and I had more time on my hands, so I started to look at my life in a new light. I thought, “What can I really devote myself to? That’s when I decided to become a professional mahjong player. I happened to watch a TV drama and learned that Monet’s paintings began to sell only after he turned 40. Until then, I had been hesitant about becoming a professional, but in my late 30s, I decided to give it a serious try.

The professional examination consists of an interview, written exam, and practical skills. Tsubaki, who was confident in her practical skills and in her interview skills because she talked a lot in her job, put a lot of effort into preparing for the written exam, and she passed the exam, which was said to be ten times more difficult than the written exam, and became a professional.

I was doing it because I liked it, so it wasn’t hard at all,” she says. I still play real games twice a week and participate in study groups to get as good as I can.

Behind Tsubaki’s decision to become a professional mahjong player, there was also a public misunderstanding. I would like to go back to the time of her debut. Tsubaki has disclosed her gender identity disorder. Her autobiography, “I went to a boys’ school. became a bestseller. However, when she appeared on variety shows, she was told, “Please appear as a comedian (not a model),” and was treated as an outsider.

I don’t have any special talent like a comedian. I have also felt saddened by the prejudice against sexual minorities. …… I would like to have the skills as a TV personality so that I don’t have to talk about sexuality. When I thought of this, partly because of the frustration of not being able to get my teeth into the show, I decided to improve my mahjong skills, which I had loved since childhood.

At first, I heard that some offices did not think it was a good idea for a TV personality to appear on a mahjong program, perhaps because of the gambling image. However, after Mahjong enthusiasts such as Masato Hagiwara and Sayaka Okada (29) became professionals, the impression changed.

The mahjong boom is growing, and Tsubaki has received many offers to appear on TV programs. She also continues to visit day care centers to teach mahjong to the elderly. Her dream is to become an “M-Leaguer,” a professional mahjong player.

I want to become a mahjong player whose name is mentioned in the draft of the M-League (a professional team league). I’m still a novice as a pro and I’m not good enough yet, but I want my fans to be happy to support me as soon as possible.

Tsubaki was smiling as she spoke, but her expression tightened again at the end.

Still as beautiful as ever–

October ’08

This photo was taken in October 2008, shortly after her debut, when this magazine interviewed her. She was an active university student at Aoyama Gakuin University.

Present day

Taken during this interview. Although nearly 15 years have passed since the photo on the right, her beauty has not changed at all.
Unpublished photograph of Ayana Tsubaki, a professional women’s mahjong player who has devoted her life to the game.
Unpublished photo of Ayana Tsubaki, a professional women’s mahjong player who has devoted her life to her dream of becoming an M-Leaguer.

From the July 14-21, 2023 issue of FRIDAY

  • PHOTO Hiroyuki Komatsu

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