Gemma’s Journal #8 – Mahjong in Japan

ImageHey everyone again. I’ve just come back from Japan so I’m going to postpone my entry on scoring another week to tell you my experiences of playing and watching Mahjong in Japan. (Convenient yet good excuse! I’m getting there, I promise, especially now with the good emails I’ve received offering good sites and tips to use. Thank you!)

Mahjong parlours seemed, in the most part to be small, often smoky, ill-ventilated affairs, which I guess was how I had expected. But they were far quieter than I had imagined. Mostly limited to the sound of clicking tiles and concentration!

All the tables were automatic and quite frightening to the uninitiated. It took me a little while to get used to all the buttons and what they did; although it does speed up the process so much. I really appreciated not having to build the wall manually and not having to count the bones (They’re counted automatically for you by magnets). So now I’ve decided that my new aim is to have one in my house (I have to get a house big enough for one first!).

The first time I played was with Jenn and Garthe so that was a nice gentle introduction and allowed me to get to grips with the whirring table, with all its fancy buttons, etc. Despite this though, I still felt unprepared when I played with Masayuki Katayama (author of obaka miiko), another professional and Jenn. I was so tense! You should have seen my hands shake! The game moved so much faster than I’m used it and it took all my mental processing power just to not knock the tiles everywhere! A complete departure from the slower games I had played with other beginners or the faceless Internet games. Saying that, I do think the speed of Ron2 helped me to think quicker, yet I still found it difficult to organise my tiles and work out what my waits were. (My mind has become lazy with Ron2 figuring everything out for me!) Everyone was so kind and patient with me though and I settled into it slowly. Although I didn’t win I played to the best of my abilities so I was really happy – managing to pull off a Half Flush and All Triples. I was pretty pleased with myself! Hopefully Jenn wasn’t too embarrassed by me either!

Other than playing Mahjong, Jenn also took me to watch several professionals. I’d not really given much thought to watching people play before and I certainly hadn’t considered Mahjong to be a spectator sport but I’m completely converted after my trip. Watching professionals play really allows you to see new things that you wouldn’t have even considered before. I really feel that it has helped me improve my understanding of the game. One of the games that I watched from the Mahjong Champions League was particularly exciting. I was sat behind JPML’s Hiro Yamai (Jenn wrote about him earlier so if you missed her column go and check it out here!) There were some really tense moments. One hand Yamai got really lucky and had in his hand 3 white dragons, 2 red dragons and 1 green dragon. He bumped the first red dragon that came out and then pulled a second green dragon. I think I was more nervous than he was! The final green dragon was discarded and Yamai won the 3 Big Dragons limit hand in only a few discards leaving him an easy win after that.

Apart from exciting moments like that it was a great learning experience. I can see where I’ve been having a lot of problems in playing Mahjong and where I could think of other alternatives to my style of play. I would highly recommend watching just as much as playing to improve. I’ll certainly be watching the proz play on Ron2 more now!

So overall I had an amazing trip! Lots of Mahjong playing and learning. Jenn found time to look after me so well even though she’s such a busy person. (She’s really not kidding when she says she’s always doing something Mahjong related!) Thank you so much for a great week Jenn! You’re an amazing teacher! (If you edit that out I’ll be angry!)

As soon as I got back I was playing Mahjong again, newly enthused from my trip. As I wrote about in my last column I’m trying to teach some of my school friends here in Taipei Mahjong to share the joys and broaden our English speaking community. It’s also helping me quite a lot I feel. After recommending watching more Mahjong I’d also recommend teaching more Mahjong to improve your abilities. Sometimes a complete beginners question can really make you think too! So everyone should get their friends addicted too and we can bring even more Mahjong friends to our site!

On a final, slightly random, note teaching has made me hate the Peace Hand more. It’s one of the first hands in the book I was reading but for beginners I still think it’s one of the more difficult to understand and remember. I recall being quite frustrated by it in the beginning when I thought I had it and then realised my wait was incorrect just as I tried to Mahjong.

On that note my puzzle-esque thing today is probably quite easy for experienced players but for beginners perhaps.

1 crack2 crack3 crack3 crack4 crack5 crack1 bam2 bam 3 bam4 bam5 bam8 dot8 dot

Winning Tile: 3 bam

Is that still a peace hand? Why?

If anyone has any questions on my trip that they want to hear a beginner’s point of view feel free to post them up! I’ll reply asap!

And as usual every week I love to get emails and now that I’m home I have lots of time! So email me!

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