Ask Mama Jong: Elitism

Mama Jong, I want to learn riichi mahjong and lots of my friends play, but they always make excuses when I ask for a lesson. What’s up?

You know what really ruins mahjong? Hint: It’s not kiriage mangan.

People. People ruin mahjong.

As with every activity since the dawn of man, what was once great and pure is turned into a festering hive of scheming and badness when humans get their grubby little opposable thumbs on it.

“It’s levi-O-sa…

To be more specific, it’s elitism that ruins mahjong. We all know that person. The one who learned mahjong in a real mahjong parlor in downtown Kabukicho. The one who once beat the best player with a kokushi yakuman and everyone in the parlor stood up to applaud the majesty of the non-Japanese player. Of course, this individual doesn’t use the word “parlor.” English only sullies the true form of Japanese mahjong. We must say “jansou” and they’ve probably corrected your pronunciation when you’ve attempted to ascend to their conversational level.

“It’s so-u, that’s very important to lengthen.” 

Remember, they’ve never had a structured lesson in Japanese—they’ve learned their Japanese from the streets. They only use Japanese on twitter and get ALL the jokes. The Japanese Language Proficiency Test actually can’t measure their fluency and the closest it can be expressed is N0.

That’s an extreme example, but it happens at lower levels. The little group that always prefers to play with each other so they can get a “good” game of mahjong, leaving the noobs to exchange poor play habits among themselves on a table in the corner. Perhaps the Riichi elites sit on a shiny autotable while the beginners (plebs) have to make do with an old set found in the cupboard where the red 5s are all discolored and a table where one leg is way shorter than the other three.

When these super-humans do deign to descend from their ivory tower to play at the learner table, their language is punctuated with obscure Japanese strategies and words. They scoff as you throw a tile into their half-flush (sorry, “honitsu”), and claim that they knew exactly what everyone was doing due to their amazing riichi brains. The rest of us are soon praying for the sweet release of being made bankrupt to escape the torture. (Note to the US Government for their next torture camp – mahjong would be an excellent and cost-efficient addition.)

These elitist snobs pay lip service to wanting to “expand the riichi community” but put minimal effort into actually teaching.

“It’s hard to find a location.”

“I’m always so busy.”

But they have plenty of time for leagues and tournaments and online mahjong. Some may believe that they just don’t want to do the hard work, but the truth is far more insidious…they don’t want to share the knowledge because then someone else may just get better than them. Then what will keep them warm at night?

Mama Jong

Mama Jong has been playing mahjong since there were only three winds.