Yoroshiku onegai shimasu
This editorial was originally posted on DFW Mahjong in May 2018. There have have been some contentious conversations on Discord relating to casual vs. competitive play, when certain manners should be observed, how stringently they should be enforced, and who’s values they represent. None of that changes the assertion that you should always respect your opponents, regardless of skill level, and bring your best game. Comments are open.
Yoroshiku onegai shimasu (よろしくおねがいします)
If you have ever played a hanchan of riichi mahjong with Japanese players or other traveled individuals, especially in formal play, you have likely seen players bow to each other at the table saying, “yoroshiku onegai shimasu,” before beginning the game. This formal opening is carried over from Japan, where social harmony is woven into the fabric of the culture. The words are a quintessential Japanese phrase that is difficult to directly translate to English, as the meaning implies a host of sentiment and manners that vary based on context. The general idea, in the context of mahjong, roughly translates to, “thank you for your time, nice to meet you, I am excited for our game, and will do my best.”
Not only does this show manners and respect towards your opponents, but it is also a promise to bring your best game to the table. I want to dig into this, as well as how it dovetails into good manners at the table.
An anecdote was recently related to me about a player who spent a good amount of time between their own turns chatting with others outside the game or was distracted by their phone. At the end of the hanchan, an opponent at the table said to them, “That was a good game. Too bad you missed it.” Nobody wants to compete for a victory that feels empty because an opponent phoned it in. What satisfaction is there in the challenge if other players, regardless of their skill level, didn’t make any effort to truly participate? Through either negligence or intent, that player is sending a message to the others which says, “you aren’t worth my time or effort”.
Respect at the mahjong table is a mutually beneficial arrangement. Four players convene in a common place at a given time, each armed with the sum of their own experience. Each offers and receives an opportunity to test their own skill against those of their opponents, as well as an chance to learn and improve. Poor sportsmanship, bad manners, or a half-hearted effort not only deprives ALL players of an opportunity to improve, but also cheapens the experience.
The most immediate way to be respectful at the table is with your manners. There are a number of conventions in riichi mahjong intended to formalize manners:
Where possible, play with only one hand. There are extremes to this one (Google games between Japanese pros and watch how they handle tiles) and players are going to vary in dexterity, but the spirit behind it is draw your tile and discard with one hand. This shows the table that you aren’t up to any possible shenanigans.
Play your discard before putting your drawn tile into your hand. The next player can’t start their turn until your discard hits the table. It is considered rude to make the whole table wait while you shuffle and rearrange tiles when this can easily happen while it is not your turn. Draw. Discard. Then sort.
Put away potential distractions. There is quite possibly nothing more frustrating to a player than consistently reminding someone that it is their turn, or repeatedly being asked, “what was your discard?” Putting a nose into a smartphone or holding a conversation on the side is not only distracting to other players, but says to the table, “this isn’t worth my attention.” Stow the phone and hold the conversation for a break. Use the time to look over your hand and consider possible discards. Speaking of which…
Know your potential discards. The shape of a hand can change quickly based on the draw, and sometimes a few extra moments are needed to consider this new information. But if the table is consistently waiting on you to choose a discard after your draw, you aren’t using your time wisely and the rest of the table is paying for it. The time between your last discard and your next draw should be used to evaluate your hand and consider what you might discard if you drew x. You’ll generally have a better idea what you’re about, the game can proceed quickly, and you’re showing a healthy respect for the time of the other players.
Be gracious when winning or losing. Nothing says “poor sport” like storming away from a table having lost, or gloating over your victory having won. While it feels superb to win a hanchan, if everyone has brought their best game to the table, then everyone walks away with something valuable.
Thank your opponents for a game well played. Win or lose, if everyone played their best, everyone had the opportunity to learn something. Thank the table for the challenge and opportunity.
What other conventions in manners do you know and use at the table that relate to respecting the other players?