CAMBRIDGE, England - Daina Chiba has written one of the first original English language strategy guides for riichi mahjong, and has released it as a free download from dynaman.net. Mahjong News sits down to get to know Daina (you can pronounce his first name like diner), and shares that interview with our readers.
Mahjong News: Let's begin with your introducing yourself to the Mahjong News audience. Tell us a little bit about who you are and where you come from.
I was born and raised in Japan. I moved to the US (Houston, TX) in 2006 to do a graduate study in political science. After completing my degree in 2012 and doing a one-year postdoctoral work, I moved to the UK in 2013 to start my career as a lecturer. I wish I had been aware of the mahjong community in the US when I lived there.
Mahjong News: How long have you been playing mahjong, and how did you first get introduced to the game?
I started playing when I was in college, which was some twenty years ago. My friends introduced me to the game, but they didn’t really teach me. We played with money, so in order not to lose a lot of money I needed to study hard. I think I got better than most of my friends pretty quickly (though, of course, my friends may disagree with this assessment).
Mahjong News: Tell us about your history in mahjong: learning, competitions, travels, and whatnot.
After all of my mahjong friends graduated from college, I started going to mahjong parlors to play with strangers. I got to play with really strong players there, some of whom are professionals. That was when I realized that I had just been a big fish in a small pond. I kept losing at first, but I managed to keep up after a few months. I still go to mahjong parlors and play with strangers whenever I go back to Japan.
During my time in the US, I had to focus on my studies so I couldn’t really play. I played only three or four times with some Japanese friends when I was in the US for seven years. I also couldn’t find players around me for a while after I moved to England.
Since I’ve been asked this several times, my intentions in writing the book were not purely altruistic. I enjoy mahjong the best when I play it with strong opponents, so it is actually in my best interest if the strategy principles are more widely shared among European players.
It all changed in July 2014, when I tried googling the word mahjong in English. Before then, I had never thought that mahjong is actually this popular outside of Japan. I found the websites of European Mahjong Association (EMA), UK Mahjong Association, and Osamuko, where I learned that there are many non-Japanese mahjong enthusiasts. I also learned about the UK Open Riichi tournament. I participated in it (I came in second place), and this is where I met many players from all over Europe for the first time. It was really exciting to see so many Europeans play the game I love. Since then, I have participated in a few more tournaments in Germany, Czech Republic, and Denmark.
Mahjong News: Were there any particular mentors that motivated you to continue your journey in mahjong?
I have always adored Masayuki Katayama. He is the best mahjong manga author in the world, and I think I have read everything he has ever published. It is a real shame that his work has not been translated into English yet. Mr. Katayama has been very supportive of efforts to promote the playing of Riichi Mahjong across the world (the official poster of the 2008 European Riichi Championship has an illustration drawn pro bono by Mr. Katayama). I have learned so much from his manga story books, such as Obaka Miiko, Noomaaku Bakuhai Tou, Paizoku Okaruti, just to name a few. I keep saying this to everyone who might know him, but I had a chance to play with him some ten years ago!
Mahjong News: What keeps you moving forward playing mahjong and participating in the greater mahjong community?
Mahjong News: Besides mahjong, tell us a little about yourself. Who is Daina Chiba?
I teach at a university. My job is to do research and teaching on the causes and consequences of violent conflict using statistical and mathematical models. My academic profile is here. I enjoy swimming, traveling, reading, and cooking.
Mahjong News: You’ve written a new strategy guide for riichi mahjong. Tell us about this project.
It started with a conversation I had with a fellow player (Philipp Martin) at the 2015 UK Riichi Open.
My primary motivation was to address a big gap in the learning resources available to English audience. On the one hand, introductory books on how to play mahjong do not cover strategies extensively. On the other hand, there are quite a few blog posts (e.g., Osamuko) on strategies, but they tend to be too advanced even for intermediate players. I thought what non-Japanese players need the most is something in between these two sets of resources.
Mahjong News: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
This may sound contradictory to what I emphasized in my book, but winning a game is not everything. Being respectful toward your fellow players and playing fair are way more important than just winning. As we get stronger and learn more about mahjong, we tend to lose humility. In particular, experienced players sometimes blame the opponents for being ‘unreasonable’ or ‘irrational’ when they lose (I am guilty of that myself). Everyone should keep in mind that such an attitude is not very productive.
Mahjong News: Any other projects in the works that readers should look forward to?
Unfortunately, I’m afraid I have to put my mahjong project on hold for a while. I have spent my entire winter break finishing my first book, and now I have to catch up with my work.
Mahjong News: What else does the future hold for Daina Chiba?
I’d like to achieve tenhoui (the highest rank on the online mahjong platform tenhou) some day, but there is a really, really long road ahead of me.