Hello, my name is Jamie Johnston. I’ve lived in Japan for a little over 2 years now, and took up Mahjong about 6 months ago so I’m still very much a beginner. Where I live, we don’t have parlors, and games are hard to come by, so in an effort to get better at Mahjong, I’ve taken up reading books about the game. In these articles, I’d like to talk about some of the various books / resources I’ve come across, how to use them, and useful tips that one could pick up from them. I’ll also do my best to provide sources where one can find or purchase these books.
Being that it is the first article, I wanted to go with a light, easy to understand book. This book also happens to be my personal favorite and go-to book when there is a debate in my games.
麻雀：入門 (Mahojng: Nyumon) or “A guide to Mahjong” by Yosuke Ide
This is an introductory book to Mahjong that covers all the basics, rules, and regulations. In its most basic form, it is like any other “learn how to play” resource out there, but where this particular book shines, is its presentation. This book explains all the rules and regulations using manga characters and mini-comics. Mahjong is a complicated game. The language barrier alone is enough to turn off many people, and even if one can get past that, the sheer amount of rules is also very intimidating. The good thing about this particular book is you never feel overwhelmed. In fact, I’ve used this very book to teach three people how to play now.
What I like about this book, is one can tell just from reading it, the author put in a lot of through about how to best relay the information without throwing off the reader. He start off the book introducing 4 characters named 南国 (Nankoku)、東字 (Touji)、北原(Kitahara)、and 西郷 (Saigou)、which is a play on the North, South, West, and East tiles. These characters are essentially narrating the rules of Mahjong. While this book does have many of the charts and examples you’d find elsewhere, the author makes sure to ease you into the harder stuff. Another thing I really like about this book is the mini-comics thrown in after each section. These comics show the 4 characters playing Mahjong and using the rules that you were just taught. The comics are done in a way that you can take a break from the rules, but reinforce what you just learned at the same time. You read about the characters making novice mistakes so you know not to make them yourself. The book is also written in a way that you can both read it like a book, or use it as a manual. I mentioned above that this is still my go-to book when there is a debate over a rule. Most of my friends that play mahjong also own copies now.
This book has everything you need to get started in mahjong, or to reinforce the rules you may all ready know. It covers the tiles, terms, the set-up, game play, yaku (HP), scoring, and penalties. There is even a section of different variations of Reach mahjong, and a small review of online places to play. The book also goes in-depth with each Yaku (Hand), devoting a page to each Yaku (Hand). During the explanation of each Yaku, it also provides 2 or 3 example hands, restrictions on that particular Yaku (like if you can steal or not), and what I found the most useful, which particular Yaku combinations appear the most. For example, the page explaining Tanyao (All Simple), shows you an example hand of it being combined with Pinfu (Peace Hand), and another of it being combined with Toi-Toi (All Sets) also. In the back of the book, there is also a straight chart information section designed so you can cut it out and keep it on reference. There are references pages for scoring, terminology, and Yakus. Another great feature of this book is the quiz section. There are quiz sections for scoring, and for determining the wait of hands in tenpai (Ready). The tenpai section is a little short, but the scoring section is very nice. It provides about 20 problems.
Being that these books are in Japanese, I wanted to add this section in to help explain how difficult the book is to people that speak little or no Japanese. I would say someone able to complete the JLPT 3, should have just the slightest difficulty with this book. If one knows katakana and hiragana, this book could still be very useful as a reference manual. There is a bit of kanji in this book, but it’s all mahjong related kanji. This book appears to be aimed at high school / college Japanese people, so the book is very inviting, light hearted, and easy to understand.
All in all, I’d recommend this book to anybody that is interested in Mahjong, or looking for a good user manual. It’s not too difficult, and very easy to reference during play. On a scale of 1 to 10 easiest to most difficult to understand, I’d rate it a 1. On the Japanese ability you need to appreciate the information, I’d rate it a 3 or 4.