Standing on Our Own

I think what I’m about to write is in some parts going to smack of the hypocritical but I want you to hear me out.

I don’t think we need to translate strategy content from Japanese.

Let me temper that. I don’t think we need to obsessively focus solely on Japanese content being translated into English.

I raised this as my topic on my section of Riichi Mahjong Central’s 24 hour stream in celebration of National Mahjong Day. Kenji had some very fine opposing views, and I expect many others will also object to the line of argument I’m about to put forward. However, I’m going to do it anyway.

From the very start of riichi in the West, we’ve quite rightly looked to the way the game is playing in Japan as a reference for how we should play it. We surveyed rules, we consulted with members in the Japanese community, and we translated. All of this was good and proper. We didn’t need to re-invent the wheel after all.

It naturally follows that we looked to Japan for our strategy, too. Those of us who can understand Japanese tried to disseminate it in our own clumsy way. Other used google translate. The western market is ravenous for anything that looks or sounds like it can be strategy out of Japan. The belief being that we will only get better if we learn it from them.

I don’t hold to that faith so strictly. I think we’re selling our own talents short and our ability to discuss strategy. I understand that I’m saying this from the highly privileged position of being able to play at a professional level in Japan and I read book after book in Japanese about mahjong strategy. Let me let you in on a secret. Not all of that strategy and those books are good. There is a lot of gumph published as well. Not every shred of mahjong text is golden just because it’s rendered in kanji.

The same can go for the commentary. Some of it is good, but there are many hours of unenlightening conversations about very boring games. This is where translation achieves very little. Sure, we could spend hours upon hours translating that commentary and uploading it for perhaps a couple of points or two that are helpful, but it’s not an effective use of time for any of us.

Translating books would have more impact and we can be selective. It is something I have fought long and hard and continue to fight to get some of my translations out there (with a publisher’s permission), but as a professional localizer, you should be aware that the formats and writing style might not be within your hopes and expectations. They’re writing for a Japanese audience and playing context, which means not all of it is going to resonate over here.

It can’t be denied that some core theories are great and we need to get them out there. We can basically fast track our way to the front using their technology.

So what do we do while we wait for manna from heaven (or Japan)? This is where I think we don’t give enough credit to our homegrown talent. We’re constantly looking over the shoulders of Western faces talking in English about strategy to ask when the Japanese translations will come. Not only does this belittle personal achievement but it stunts us as a whole. We’re not giving people confidence to speak with authority on strategy in the Western mahjong community. Greater cache is placed on what it might or might not say in Japanese. Instead, we should be boosting those who are opening discussions on strategy and we need to be positive. We can respectfully disagree but there have been too many incidents in the past where content offered has been aggressively torn apart by other community members.

We’ve already made a massive contribution to riichi in a profound way right here in Europe. World Riichi Championship as an event and as a ruleset were very European ventures and we have positively contributed to the Japanese mahjong scene with it. Everyone who has supported and participated in WRC can lay claim to that community achievement. I strongly believe some of us have the intelligence and ability at riichi to make a personal achievement and contribution in getting more home-grown strategy content out there.

Cycling back round to being a hypocrite, I am still working hard on getting book translations out and of course I’ve been working hard with JPML to get some sort of educational programme together in the guise of Crash Course. The second beta test of which happens this month. But I’m now applying my new philosophies to my own mahjong teaching. I used to rely heavily on material I’d translated from JPML to teach. Now I’m starting to write my own, not only is it quicker but also more rewarding in all honesty.

And do I really need to remind any of us that the way the game is played in Japan and the way it is played in the West is very different. Your Japanese jansou strategies may not work so well within a tournament set in deepest Europe.

I guess my conclusion after this rambling rant is that if you think you have a strategy article in you, write it. For those of us readers, we should be supportive. Even if you don’t necessarily agree, enter a discussion. We can work on our homegrown strategy right here and right now. We don’t have to waste any more time. There’s a WRC 2020 for one of us to win!