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A Great eBay Find: A Jansui Dealing Machine for $52

In May 2004 I picked up my very own Japanese mah-jongg dealing machine. My friends at the mahjong newsgroup asked me to keep a record detailing its acquisition and its overhaul, so here goes...

  • May 18 - Nath Krismaratala reported that he'd spotted a mah-jongg dealing machine on eBay, and that it was in Los Angeles. When I read that, I went on eBay and put in a bid for $300 (so I'm cheap).
  • May 20 - I got back from teaching mah-jongg at the Pacific Asia Museum and found that I'd won it, for only $52. There were congratulatory messages on the newsgroup. I paid via Paypal.
  • May 21 - Nath posted some links to Japanese sites where I could get information about adjusting the machine (he could read Japanese, and told me the machine's brand name is "Jansui"). No word from the seller as to how to pick up the item. The auction terms specifically stated that I had to pick up the item within 7 days else the seller would relist the item for auction. This was Day One.
  • May 22 - Weekend. Still no word from the seller. Day Two.
  • May 23 - Weekend (Sunday). Day Three.
  • May 24 - Still no word from the seller. Growing quite anxious now, I emailed the seller a couple of times. Returning to the eBay auction page, I discovered that the place where it said "Local pickup (Los Angeles/Orange County) only" was a clickable link. Clicking it, I finally learned the location of the seller - the corner of 36th Street and Industry Ave. in Lakewood (next to the Long Beach Airport). I called my friend Patrick, who has an SUV, and asked him to help me go pick up the table. He agreed.
  • May 25 - Went to Patrick's home at 8AM. We got on the freeway and headed south. On the way, I told him I was concerned that the seller had made it so difficult to find the location, and that when we got to the intersection we might not even find it. On the other hand, I'd observed that the seller had participated in well over a thousand auctions, with a 99.6% good feedback rating. As predicted, when we got to the corner of 36th St. and Industry Ave., we found no obvious building to go to (the only building right at the corner was a Ford dealer). We went to the first nearby office and inquired there. They said, "good luck!" They'd been getting a LOT of queries from folks who'd bought something on eBay and had no more address than the nearby intersection, for several months. Exploring the street, we found an office that dealt in liquidations. Sounded likely. The man who answered the door was very nice, but he didn't know the location of the business we were seeking either. We drove up the street and came back along the other side. A driveway led back along some office/workshop spaces, and Patrick turned up that. We saw two Asian men unloading unkempt boxes of various junk from a truck, and standing near them was a jukebox. It seemed worthwhile to ask them. We'd found the place! While the young man, Ted, printed my receipt and pulled the machine for me, Patrick was checking out the stuff on their warehouse shelves. He saw odd things - prosthetic limbs, theatrical props, a Jaguar with a flat tire. Ted helped us get the machine into the back of Patrick's vehicle, and we headed back. At my place, Patrick and I put the machine in the laundry room. It's very heavy, and Patrick has had both hips replaced. We couldn't manage to get it upstairs by ourselves. I got my camera and took some pictures. Turning on my computer, I found that I'd finally gotten an email from a woman who worked for the seller, giving me the exact address so I could pick up the item!

    Here's the machine in the laundry room.

    And me posing next to it.

    And the lid can be lifted to access the innards.

    It's kinda grimy, but seems to be all there.

    The cord had been cut. I observed that the cord didn't seem to be coming out in the manufacturer's intended hole (it just protruded through between the bottom and the plate).

    The felt's a little worn...

    ... and the center interface is faded and grimy.

    "Jansui." The machine was manufactured by Cosmo.

    Upstairs, Patrick helped me examine the contents of the box o' stuff that came with the machine. These are the sticks.

    The previous owner cut a chopstick short and marked a red dot on it to replace a missing 1000-point stick...

    ... and an unmarked chopstick to replace a missing 100-point stick. I also have extra sticks, so I don't really need to keep the broken chopsticks in the machine going forward.

    There are also four yakitori markers, a wind indicator, two blank tiles, and some kind of seal.

    The story of these plain white tiles had me mystified for several days until Nath wrote that they were for use when working on the machine (the white backs being easy to spot among the colored backs). (Not that I understand yet when I'll want to use them...)

    THIS thing made me wonder about the history of the machine. The cord had been cut and it had had this seal on it. Made me wonder if a police raid had netted this piece of "gambling equipment" and it had been "disabled" accordingly.

    The table cover is embroidered with "jansui" on it, and has several nasty stains.

    There are several tiles missing. This is the blue-backed set (with the blank white dragons turned face-down). No red fives, no flower tiles.

    This is the yellow-backed set. Missing a row of craks (manzu) and a row of dots (pinzu. No red fives, no flowers.

    The 1P tile has "jansui" in the center.

    Some of the tiles are dirty - this one is encrusted.

    This is a magnetic toy called "CRDL" (pronounced "criddle"). I brought it out to check out the magnetic properties of the tiles. Note how the diamond-shaped metal pieces stick together along the magnetic lines of force in the crdl's base.

    I had previously been given a set of magnetic machine tiles by my friend Ricky, who owns a mah-jongg club in Little Tokyo. Note how Ricky's tiles act when placed on the crdl base. The crdl has a strong magnet, with north pole at one side and south pole at the other. Ricky's tiles can not be placed on the crdl base in any manner but this - face down on one side, face up on the other...

    ... or when set on its side in the middle of the crdl base, with the face towards one side only. Magnets inside Ricky's tiles enable the proper stacking of the tiles into walls in Ricky's machines.

    But the Jansui tiles behave very differently. It isn't difficult to put the tiles both face-up on the crdl base.

    Or face-down...

    ... or on their sides. Either the Jansui tiles have very weak magnets in them (or the magnets have been degaussed), or the Jansui tiles have just metal in them (rather than magnets). I'd been hoping to use some of Ricky's tiles in my machine (they're the same size, and the colors aren't perfect but I just wanted to see if I could get it to work). But that might not be feasible if the tiles have such different magnetic properties.

    My probable next step (besides bringing the machine up to my apartment) is to put a plug onto the cord, and see what happens when it's turned on. Unless Andre or Nath or Ricky have better suggestions.

    At I found that the Jansui (which came in two types: A and B) were made in the years Showa 58-61 (1983-86). This machine is about 20 years old!

    At I found a seller of Jansui parts at auction.

    At (same adjust2000 site where Nath pointed me to some maintenance info) I found some Jansuis (but with a different base) for sale, at ¥148,000 - 184,000 (depending on which model, and whether you pay up front or not, I guess). Note: ¥148,000 = $1,300+ USD.

    Site of a guy who overhauls and sells dealing machines: His Jansui overhaul page: (you can click the photos to see larger photos). He's even got a discussion forum.

  • May 26, 2004 - I drove over to Sawtelle and Pico where day laborers are always hanging out. I waved my hand out the window and three guys rushed over. While I was talking to one, the other two got in my car. The talker should have just gotten in like they did! I only needed two, so he unfortunately was left behind. I drove the two men to my apartment building and showed them the machine. They lifted it off the dolly. I was converting the dolly from 4-wheel mode to 2-wheel mode for use in moving the machine up the stairs, but they decided they could just carry it on up by themselves. They negotiated for the price - I offered $15 apiece, and they deemed that acceptable. In just a minute or so, the thing went from the basement to the second floor! I had them put it back on the dolly (again in 4-wheel mode) and drove them back where I'd found them. Their names were Umberto and Fredo. Home again, I did some rearranging of furniture and brought the machine into the apartment. Here (below) it is in front of the fireplace that I never use. My American mah-jongg ladies were impressed but wondered why I needed such a thing, since it can't deal American mah-jongg. (^_^)

    Lorraine (upper right) has a drycleaning shop, and she says they might be able to clean the cover. I use the cover bottomside up since the topside looks so grungy.

  • May 27, 2004 - I went to the hardware store and got a plug and an extension cord.

    It's a non-polarized plug, because I know Japanese devices are usually non-polarized (and besides, I wouldn't know which of the 2 wires goes to which plug if it WAS a polarized plug). If anybody cares, the plug was made in Mexico.

    All wired up, and ready to try...

    When I plugged it in, nothing happened. So I opened the top to have a look. I found a plastic rod the perfect length to hold the top open.

    There's a switch here...

    ... and the switch is opened when this spring pushes the switch down (like the way the lid of a washing machine turns off the motion inside when the lid is opened).

    Working the switch didn't do anything, so I went looking for an on/off switch on the machine's outside and bottom. It was awkward to take these 2 pictures (of the machine's underside) because my head insisted on resting on the machine's base, which caused the machine to tilt on the dolly. I kept envisioning my obituary: "Aging video game designer crushed to death by falling Japanese mah-jongg dealing machine. Survived by cat." Not only that, it was difficult to angle my head so as to put these labels into focus in my trifocals. I only managed to read them now that I see the photos. I found this boilerplate (which, oddly, says in katakana on the bottom, "I Love You")...

    ... and another kind of label. Looking at the photo now, I see that it's a fuse. I see something else in this photo that I didn't see then. I wasn't able to get the machine to do anything at all, so I unplugged it.

  • May 29, 2004 - Nath posted another link on the newsgroup, which pointed me to that same "" website - this time a page that walked me through the startup procedure. One glance at the first picture told me there WAS an on/off switch on the machine bottom, but I'd missed it! Looking under the machine, I finally found it, up in a hole in the machine's underside. You can see it in the photo of the fuse label above - it'd been staring at me all the time!

    So I plugged it in again and pressed the On button. Nothing. I pressed it again and hallelujah! I heard a sound, and the lights lit up on the center interface panel. I pressed a button and it lifted up.

    I put a set of tiles in it. Pressing the switch, closing the panel, I heard whirrings as stuff moved around inside, but I didn't hear what I expected - the tiles being "washed" like the inside of a washing machine. Lifting the lid, I saw what was going on. Underneath the tiles is a large green-and-black circular rubber sheet. That's what moves the tiles. It was not moving. All the gears and belts were moving as they should, but not the rubber sheet.

  • Now I have more clues. Ought to be able to get it to work. But I fear it'll involve taking the machine apart to get at the innards. Stuff may need tightening and/or cleaning. OR maybe the "adjusting" PDF files Nath pointed me to earlier will offer some ideas.
  • May 29, 2004 - Re-examining the troubleshooting info Nath pointed me to, I learned that the green-and-black rubber sheet is called the "TT Sheet." Maybe it means "tile tumbler sheet." Luckily, this information exists not only in PDF format but also in HTML ( Since it's in HTML, I was able to get a translation via I AM going to have to do some disassembly, but it doesn't look as bad as a complete overhaul. The troubleshooting page discusses how to EXCHANGE the TT sheet - which may mean that I am in need of a new one (maybe they go bad when they age, I don't know).
  • June 4, 2004 - After teaching Chinese Official mah-jongg at the Pacific Asia Museum, I stopped at Little Tokyo to talk to my friend Ricky. He invited me to play. After I'd settled into the Japanese riichi/dora game (switching gears after teaching Chinese Official), I told him about the machine. He pointed to a covered table by the wall, and said he had a Jansui too. Apparently his isn't working, because he said I was welcome to any of its parts! I told him the TT sheet wasn't turning, and that I'd found instructions for replacing it. He didn't think the sheet needed replacing; "It's probably a gear or something." One of his regular players (who wasn't in the club that night) is an auto mechanic, and frequently helps Ricky repair the machines in his club. I have the number.

    That's Ricky, waving (left picture). The mechanical wizard, Steve Sera, is on the left (right picture).

    * * *

  • March 19, 2006 - A two-year hiatus due to my budget not permitting spending money to buy parts in Japan. But as 2006 rolled around, a light appeared at the end of the tunnel. One night while playing in Little Tokyo, I'd asked Steve Sera for help with my machine. He'd agreed to come have a look for it, and this was the day.

    He brought over his tools and opened the sucker up. He took the front panel off...

    ... he loosened some drive belts and removed some brackets and lifted out the tile-tumbler housing...

    ... and removed the TT sheet.

    You can see in these photos that indeed the TT sheet is the problem. It's old, stiff, and cracked. And although you can't tell from these photos, the edges of the sheet are gummy and sticky from the discombobulating rubber. (That's a technical term, "discombobulating." I used to work with tools, materials, and machines, before I became a game designer and producer.)

    Steve Sera didn't stay very long, and I neglected to take photos of him at work. He gave me some extra cogs and gears, telling me that these parts also tended to break.

    August 12, 2006

    And so the poor machine sat, in pieces and with its parts in boxes, for another five months, until the light at the end of the tunnel finally became the bright light of day. Better able to afford the luxury of parts for the Jansui, I contacted two very good friends, Steve Hanawa (who lives in California but does business daily in Japan) and Hisashi Yabui (who lives in Yokohama). It's easy enough to find new TT sheets for sale in Japan (and new tiles), but I wasn't able to actually make the transaction and get the items shipped here to me in Los Angeles alone and unaided. Two problems: my Japanese is only so-so, and the sellers won't ship to the United States. Steve agreed to place the order for the parts, and "Yab" agreed to receive shipment of the parts and send them on to me.

    This is a photo of Steve, me, and Yab, taken in 2002. I'd gone to Tokyo for the World Championship of Mahjong, and as it happens Steve was in Tokyo then too. Steve, Yab, and I all used to work at Sega. Ohmigosh, that was over 20 years ago, and we've been friends ever since. Anyway, while I was there an "ex-Sega party" was held, and we had lots of food and drink. That weekend, Yab took me with his family on a day trip to Nikko, while the other attendees at the WCMJ went on a day trip to the Mahjong Museum in Chiba (I'd already been there). But I digress (I do that a lot. Why, one time I was on such an extensive digression that... um, never mind).

    So, the next part of the Jansui story is.. some day SOON my parts will come. Then I can put the machine back together. Steve (Hanawa, not Sera) highly recommends that I get a power transformer for longer machine life. One thing at a time...!

    August 18, 2006

    Today I got an email. Yab has received the TT sheet and the new tiles. He and his family are going to climb Mt. Fuji this weekend, so he'll ship the parts Monday. I wish I could go to Mt. Fuji too!!! \(^_^)/

    August 25, 2006

    Today I received the tiles.

    The box contains 2 sets of tiles...

    A blue-backed set and a yellow-backed set.

    With four red fives and four flower tiles, each set makes a neat tray of 144 tiles.

    Hope the TT sheet comes tomorrow, then I can put the machine back together at last! On the advice of Steve Hanawa, I've also ordered a power transformer from (coincidentally, "Mt. Fuji dot com"). The machine requires 100V but American power outlets put out 120V, and this can mean a shorter life for the machine if I don't use a transformer.

    August 28, 2006

    The TT sheet came today.

    Here's the new TT sheet, shiny, flexible, and curled up from being in the box.

    August 29, 2006 - Had some time to start working on the machine.

    The TT sheet is in place, and the big ring-shaped housing assembly is in.

    There's another ring that goes above that one...

    But there was a problem. The ring wouldn't turn, and I found that there was a bad O-ring.

    See? Totally broken and all sticky and degraded.

    I went to the auto parts store and found something that might be "close enough."

    More of the old parts went back in to the machine...

    ... and now there's nothing more to put back together than the dice box.

    Then it occurred to me: I don't need to roll dice to find out if the machine will build walls now. I put a set of tiles into the machine, plugged it in, and turned it on. The TT sheet moved beautifully, but the machine stopped after a while, without having done everything it was supposed to. Someone on the newsgroup asked for a movie, but by this time the sun was going down, so that'll have to wait.

    August 30, 2006

    Today I realized that the big top ring is a magnet ring. As the tiles got "washed" by the rotating TT sheet, some of the tiles were picked up by magnets in the bottom of the magnet ring. But there they sat. The ring apparently was supposed to turn! I had already put a new O-ring into the wheel that's supposed to turn the magnet ring, and I didn't know why the magnet ring wasn't turning. Didn't have much time to fiddle with the machine this day.

    August 31, 2006

    Had lots of time for the machine. First - why isn't the magnet ring turning? I loosened some screws and adjusted the idler wheels the magnet ring rests in, turned the machine on, and the magnet ring turned freely.

    Next, I put tiles into the main tumbling area, and watched how things transpired now that the magnet ring was turning freely. I noticed that the tiles still were not moving out from the central tumbling area into the outer belts. There are two ramps the tiles are supposed to move on, to get from the turning magnet ring out to the belts. One ramp was moving tiles fairly well, but the other was not.

    So I removed the nonfunctioning ramp and checked it out. It seemed that its belt roller wasn't turning as freely as it ought, so I opened it up, cleaned out the gunk, and put in some graphite. I put the ramp back in place, and now that one worked fine.

    Then the other ramp didn't seem to be working so well. I noticed that the tiles were jamming at the top of the ramp. A corner of the tile was getting caught on an edge of a plastic cover. I unscrewed the plastic cover and filed it to make the edge more rounded, to reduce the catching.

    Then I noticed that that ramp was moving slowly. I unscrewed the ramp and repeated the same roller cleanup process.

    When I put everything back together, the machine for the first time actually went ahead and built walls smoothly! It's working again!

    I took a few little movies with my digicam. They're large, and not fun to watch, so I made one that's smaller and most simply shows the machine in operation, using my tripod. Click the thumbnail below to see it. The file is over 7 megabytes, so it may take some time to load.

    Click this image to see the machine working. Large file - over 7 megabytes.

    I expect that there are more parts that will occasionally give out, need adjusting, need cleaning. But now the machine has been restored to functionality. The power converter hasn't arrived yet, so I should probably keep its operation to a minimum for the time being. And I still need to put the dice box back together, too. I suppose I should see if I can get a new one (this one is in nasty shape, the surface plastic is badly degraded). Maybe later...

    September 5, 2006

    Today the power transformer arrived. Here it is, unpacked and plugged in.

    I haven't been able to get the dice box back together. The cover is back in place, so I can use the buttons to make the table work, but the dice aren't in it, so only one button works (the red one at lower left corner of the cover).

    Right after taking the photo of the dice box, I pressed that red button, and the red plastic over the button flaked off. You can see in this view that many of the buttons have no plastic coating anymore. Some other Japanese friends are looking into seeing if a new cover can be purchased. I'm going to have to ask Steve Sera for help putting the dice box back together - I can't figure it out.

    Name = Steve Sera
    Email = kurumayasan-usaⒶ (copy and paste this into your email program and change Ⓐ to the @ symbol)
    Posted = March 11, 2008
    Service offered:
    Do you live in the Los Angeles area and own a Japanese automatic mah-jongg table? Steve Sera is a highly skilled and experienced mechanic, has spare parts for many table models, and even better, he makes house calls! Email him, and tell him Tom Sloper sent you.

    I also discussed dealing machines in FAQ 7f.
    You can also see photos on Uwe Martens' site where he reported the work he and Andre Marohn did on their Kakinuma machine.
    © 2004-2007 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.