What is Riichi?

Japanese Mahong Tiles
Japanese Mahjong tiles, including red fives (akadora) as well as season tiles, typically not used except is some variants.

Japanese Mahjong, or Riichi Mahjong, is a variant of the chinese game of Mahjong, which is played with tiles (traditionally made of bamboo and ivory, nowadays synthetic resin) and has a similar play style to Poker, Rami or Rummikub.

The story goes that a japanese soldier named Saburo Hirayama brought back a Mahjong set on his return from China in 1924 and went on to open a game parlour in Tokyo. The game grew quickly in popularity, and at first saw the chinese rules simplified. New rules were added later to complexify the experience and resulted in a game style that differed from the original chinese version and which became more defined over the years.

It is currently the most played board game in Japan, with around 8900 Mahjour parlours across the country, and over 1700 professionnal Mahjong players organised in about a dozen leagues. While chinese Mahjong was already known across the world, it’s now the japanese version that is spreading at great speeds, notably thanks to video games, mangas, animes and other cultural products of Japan, which showcase the japanese version and help popularise it.

Riichi in Europe

In Europe, both styles of Mahjong coexist, and many clubs that used to play the chinese version are now also adopting Riichi. There is an association, the European Mahjong Association, which centralises tournament organisation both for MCR (Mahjong Competition Rules, the ruleset used in tournaments for chinese Mahjong) and RCR (Riichi Competition Rules, the ruleset used in tournaments for japanese Mahjong) and maintains national and european player rankings.

While there was a temporary freeze of EMA statistics during the confinment periods related to the COVID-19 pandemic, we can clearly observe that Riichi Mahjong’s popularity has been continuously rising since its introduction to the EMA in 2008, up to exceeding chinese Mahjong in terms of active players in recent years.

Riichi in Belgium

Belgium, membre of the EMA, is home to a certain number of Mahjong clubs, most of which either play chinese Mahjong or alternate between the chinese and japanese versions. The Louvain-la-Neuve Mahjong Club plays Riichi Mahjong exclusively during its sessions, and is currently the largest Riichi club in Belgium. Belgium being a small country, it benefits from favourable geographic repartition, allowing for very active Mahjong clubs, regardless of game style. We hope, through our activities, to continue to poularise this version of the game throughout our country!