While she is still new to Japan Professional Mahjong League (JPML), Michi has spent the last few years stirring up a storm in the league. She not only moving up to C3 League this year from D1, where she started, but she quietly worked her way up to the final table in the first JPML Womens League ever and took the whole thing to write her name in the history books. We sat down with Michi and as a special surprise, Asatarou Nada, the president of JPML joined us for coffee as well. I was pretty nervous to be interviewing Michi in front of Mr. Nada, but he bought us coffee and since that meant that I didn’t have to expense it to my personal account, I tried to act grateful and hide my nervousness.
JPML President, Asatarou Nada and first-ever JPML Womens League champion, Michi Yuuki
RM: First of all, congratulations on your first big title!! You are officially the first ever JPML Women’s League Champion. What was the first thing that went through your head when you knew you had won?
Michi Yuuki: Thank you very much. First of all, I didn’t even start thinking that I had won until the entire thing was over. We played 12 games and up until around the 10th game or so, it was all really close. During the last game, we heard that Kuwabara would need a limit hand to beat me. During the last few hands, I started thinking that maybe I could win, but it really didn’t hit me that I had won until the next morning.
RM: What was the biggest challenge you faced in the Women’s League?
Michi: Even after the 1st session, there were a lot of people in the black. I wasn’t in a great position. I just wanted to make sure that I made it in the top 20 so that I could be part of the A-League for this year (starting this year, JPML’s Women’s League will be split into A-League and B-League). There were a lot of people that got really high scores, like plus 60 or 70 points in one day. Out of the 6 sessions before the finals, I only had one big win day. The rest of the time I only won a little bit each day, but I never lost. Only winning a little bit, there is a lot of room for someone who can win big on a day to overtake you. That was something I had to overcome.
RM: Do you plan to go straight for some more titles, or just plan to keep going at a relaxed pace, concentrating on your game?
Michi: I really think I have a shot at the Pro Queen title and Champions League because those are both small competitions with less people. I am really looking to take one or both of those. This will also be my last year to participate in the Rookie Cup (JPML’s ‘Shin-jin-ou’ is for JPML pro’s to play in their first 3 years) so I will give it my all there. I will be participating in JPML’s Masters Tourney this month and the 10-tier Tourney in the summer and also the OUI Tourney in the fall, but there are so many people in those tournaments, I would rather concentrate on the more realistic, smaller tournaments.
RM: Have you gotten more work or has your lifestyle changed as a result of this win?
Michi: No, not really.
RM: What got you started in Mahjong?
Michi: I went to an all-girls university, but we joined clubs at other schools. We would do our activities and then go out drinking afterwards. After drinking, the people would always play mahjong. At first I went home when they went to play mahjong, but later I started joining them. I learned the rules and the Hand Points, but I always got complaints because I played too slowly and I wasn’t good enough and they stopped wanting to play with me. Then I started going to play casino-style by myself because I really wanted to play, but I didn’t have anyone to play with.
RM: What made you decide to go pro?
Michi: Whenever I went to the mahjong parlors to play, people always asked me if I was pro or if I wanted to go pro, but I really had no interest and I didn’t think I was good enough at all. It took a long time. After college I got a normal job but spent all of my weekends playing mahjong. I always read Kindai Mahjong (a biweekly Japanese magazine) and I saw lots of girl pro’s. I started to think that I really wanted to meet more girls that played mahjong because all of the places I went mostly had only guys. I also wanted to meet and watch really strong players. I didn’t realize at the time that I could go to JPML’s League Tournaments and watch even if I wasn’t a member.
RM: How do you start out each day?
Michi: I always go to a cafe and eat breakfast. I used to go to the same place every morning, but last year it went out of business, so now I rotate between 2 or 3 places.
RM: How many hours do you play mahjong each day?
Michi: I play an average of about 6 hours a day and I play mahjong about 350 days out of the year. Lately, though, I’ve started to do other things too. Pretty much everything you can think of.
RM: What do you enjoy most about mahjong?
Michi: A lot of people say that mahjong is gambling, and I do think that it might be true, but it’s really different from other types of gambling. With slot machines and horse races, you’re betting on something else, but with mahjong, you’re betting on yourself and your own decisions. I feel like I’m participating instead of watching something that I bet on. I don’t really think that where you sit matters, it depends on how you play.
RM: What do you think is going to happen with the mahjong world?
Michi: I don’t know where it will go, but I know that I really want more and more people to play. We’re coming up on the 100 year anniversary of Mahjong being introduced to Japan. There is going to be a lot going on in the next couple of years with that. In the past there have been 2 big “Mahjong Booms” and I expect that the 3rd one will be coming with the 100 year anniversary. (*Mr. Nada helped us out with this question)
RM: What are your current short-term goals?
Michi: I moved up one league last year and I really want to move up again this season. It took me 2 years (4 seasons) to move up the first time, I don’t want to take that long to move up again.
RM: How about long-term?
Michi: I want to make it to A-League. There are no girls in the A-League right now, the highest are in B2. I want there to be girls in A-League too.
RM: Do you have any advice for people just beginning to play mahjong?
Michi: Please play a lot and really THINK about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it while you are playing.
President Nada: You really should find someone who is strong, who’s playing style you like, and you should do what they do, watch them and play how they play. If you do that you will become good naturally.
RM: Alright, corn-time. What is your favorite food, beverage, color and mahjong tile?
Michi: I like raw oysters, shabu-shabu, sushi, ramen, wait… was I only supposed to say one favorite food? I like to drink coffee, favorite color is pink and I like the 2 of dots.
RM: Any final words for the readers?
Michi: I’ve noticed that the most important thing in mahjong is to feel strong. We played the Women’s League finals for 2 days straight. During that time there were lots of distractions and on the first day, sometimes I would lose concentration or feel weak after letting someone win off of my discard and it would affect my game. After I figured that out, I decided to feel strong the whole time and it showed results the second day.
We had a great time interviewing Michi. She is currently playing on RonRon(http://www.ron2.jp/index2_html), Mahjong Fight Club(http://www.konami.jp/am/mfc/mfc6/index.html) and most major JPML tournaments. Stay tuned, you’re sure to see her a lot more in the time to come! You can see her official JPML interview (Japanese) on JPML’s website(http://www.ma-jan.or.jp/interview/021.php).