Pro Interview: Yukiko Izumi (part 1)

Active ImageWhen I started teaching at a new high school and mentioned that I was a Mahjong Pro, the instant reaction was, “No way! Do you know Izumi?”

Yukiko Izumi is a relative new comer to the world of professional Mahjong but she’s already known nationwide and her fame just continues to grow. A stint on a popular reality TV show catapulted her into the national spotlight. Hers is the picture most taken and autograph most requested from adoring fans at events for Fight Club and the like and her shyness only adds to the allure. But she hasn’t let all the fame go to her head. Let’s get to know this girl next door. What got you started in Mahjong?
Yukiko Izumi: At first, my boyfriend at the time taught me. We would play with another couple.

RM: Was that your idea for him to teach you or his idea?
YI: I didn’t come out and say I wanted to learn, he wanted to play and had Mahjong video games and things. I didn’t really know what Mahjong was. At first I wasn’t really into it. I knew the rules, but I really just liked the atmosphere. I just liked to get together with friends and have a good time playing. After I learned the rules, I got a job playing at a Mahjong parlor. It was a “gal-jan” the kind that only girls work at.

RM: So after you started working at the parlor, what made you decide to go pro?
YI: Mai Yamaguchi was the store manager at that parlor at that time and she took the Saikoui test that year to become a pro. I decided to try a test at the same time, but the SNPM test was already over and the next test was JPML’s test, so I just decided to try it out. I almost became a member of SNPM instead! But I’m really glad that I ended up in JPML. Mr. Moriyama has helped me out a lot. At the time I had no idea about the different leagues and organizations.

RM: What did you think a Mahjong Pro was when you took the test?
YI: I had no idea. I didn’t even have an image in my mind of what a pro was. At the Mahjong parlor I was working at, Yuudai Maehara from JPML came regularly so he was the only pro I really knew and the only person in JPML I knew. On the JPML written test there are a lot of questions about members and title holders. Since Mr. Maehara was the only person I knew in the whole league, I wrote his name for every single answer and got every single one of them wrong.

RM: What surprised you after becoming a pro?
YI: I noticed that a lot of people had lives outside of Mahjong, especially regular jobs. Most of the members were really crazy about Mahjong. I liked Mahjong too, but when I first joined, Iwas really surprised at the amount of time everyone was spending on the game.

Active ImageRM: What is your favorite thing about Mahjong?
YI: I feel like I have a lot of things that I need to improve on, but I really like that someone can win even if they are just getting lucky. Over the long term the strongest player will come out ahead, but I really like that anyone has a chance to win. That doesn’t exist in games like Shogi (chess).

RM: What has changed in your life since you became a pro?
YI: Before I became a pro, I was going to school to learn how to do nails and also doing some TV work. I really don’t like gambling and I’ve always been very serious in my work and everything. At first it was more of a side activity. I thought it would be cool if I could write, “Professional Mahjong Player,” on the license part of my resume.

RM: Is that something you really want to advertise to employers?
YI: Now I still go to interviews and auditions for my talent work. Some places really love that I’m a Mahjong Pro, but in some places I have to hide it. I find it kind of sad because there are a lot of Mahjong parlors that have really cleaned up and the industry as a whole is very clean. My parents aren’t very supportive of this career either. I’ve told them that I am a professional Mahjong player, but they just think that I’m working in a Mahjong parlor. They don’t really understand the industry.

RM: What are your goals as a professional player?
YI: I really want more people to learn about Mahjong. There are a lot of girls that have seen me on TV and said that they decided to learn Mahjong because of me. That makes me feel really good. I want more people to play and I think it’s important to spread knowledge about the game. I also really want a title, so I’m hoping one of the leagues I’m in this year could be mine.

RM: What image do you think the Mahjong industry has looking in on the outside?
YI: I think that it has a bad image. A lot of people still think that Mahjong parlors are full of smoke and alcohol and people with bad manners.

Active ImageRM: Do you think that is accurate?
YI: Lately there are a lot of games like Mahjong Fight Club and Ron2 that are getting popular, so people don’t need the dark image, they’re realizing the good parts of the game. Some of those players see pros playing online and gain more interest in the game by reading our blogs and stuff, so I think the image is improving.

RM: What kind of image do you want Mahjong to have?
YI: I want professional Mahjong players to be respected and for it to be a positive profession. I want more players to play and for Mahjong to become more mainstream in the media.

We will continue our interview with Yukiko next time. For now, you can follow her progress in the JPML Professional League(, Women’s League( and many other big tournaments. You can also play against her on Ron2, Mahjong Fight Club 7 ( catch her on Mondo 21(!

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