The best mahjong tile set guide for buying on the internet.

Now, I’ve seen many people write small articles here and there about where the best place to get a mahjong tile set is.

I originally planned to write this a long time ago but now is as good a time as ever. For one, if you do not have people to play with regularly, do not buy anything over 50$. It’s wasted money, you won’t derive any pleasure at all from the tiles. The first set you should buy is a “China Green” set. You can find these in any city with a Chinatown.

A set of a decent size (Chinese 8, say about 34mm) can go for 30$ to 40$. If the sets are more than this, there can be a few reasons:

  1. Your town is not a port city, thus transportation of goods eats at the margins a shop owner could make. Still, over 50 bucks, and you’re being robbed for a “China Green” set. Wholesale prices are around 10 bucks if you can order 100 sets. Also, you can’t really set up a group purchase, since most mahjong organizations that exist do not even have the numbers to pull this off (aside maybe one pan-europe buy covering three countries)
  2. You’re not Asian, so you get the “white price”. For one, this often means you end up paying the local sales tax and for two, you might get caught paying a higher price, especially when there are no sticker prices. Also, they will try to get you to buy their sets with Western indices. There’s no plus-value. If you really want them, put the pressure on them and haggle with a simulated lack of interest for an “inferior” product.
  3. You are in a game store that bought just a few sets to sell off at a high mark-up. You’d actually be quite lucky to find “China Green” sets there, but they’ll still be expensive. More often than not, they will be American Mahjong sets with a zillion jokers and racks. The tiles will be very thin, and unusable for rapid play (Any tile less than half as thick as both the other dimensions is unsuitable for Mahjong).

For euros, given the cost of “life, the universe, and everything” being more expensive, these dollar costs translate to euros at a 1:1 rate.

Singapore "China Green" set from http://www.shp88.com/mahjong_setDifferent two-tone backs from http://www.shp88.com/mahjong_set

(Left: A Singapore “China Green” set. Right: Assortment of two-tone backs. Not that they give the set more value, but any color other than green makes it nicer to look at.) WARNING: Japanese mahjong players like two things: pure-white white dragons, and two-tone backs. All-white or all-black sets are often undesirable (but there can be exceptions) because of weird crap like having to stand the dora tile when you’ll inevitably flip a white dragon.

To be honest, if you’re far away from a Chinatown, you’re probably too far from any real life mahjong players. However, in the digital age, you can order anything over the internet. Which leads to the biggest killjoy of them all: shipping costs.

With eBay, you can often find good deals along with a lot of bad ones, and even more irrelevant ones. Because a lot of people are trying to peddle cheap game software like “Mahjong Quest Puzzle 76 ver. 2.6″, using a subtractive search is necessary. “mahjong tiles -pc -cd -jewelry -wood* -vintage -bracelet” would be a good search to make. Then sort by “price + shipping”, and set the highest first. It’s very easy to ignore the first hits that are irrelevant (anything over 100$) while not having to browse through all the junk at the bottom that is also irrelevant. Ignore anything with no shipping amount, and start going back up at about 10$. There are currently a few sets up for sale, but are going for 58$ when both cost+shipping is calculated to [a secret location]. (osamuko.com recommends you don’t buy it at 58$ though). If you have friends also wanting mahjong sets, some may offer good discounted shipping. Do play with the shipping applets when available.

Shipping also hampers doing the Asianese thing of wanting “authentic products”. Before even finishing the paragraph, I would like to remind people to not do this, unless you know exactly what you want, and are really willing to pay any price. Save up and fly to China or Japan and send them back to you or a relative to pick them up, in the long run, it’s cheaper. Shipping from Japan is absolutely horrible, as almost anything you’d want weighs over 2kg. I got a used set once shipped in two packages simply because the eBayer would have lost money if he sent it as one. (and even then, this was almost 4 kg. It was labeled as a product of Japan, but I am pretty sure what I got was also Chinese.) Then again, there’s also that time I got two sets of tiles for only 3400Y, but with shipping and service fees (because I got it through Yahoo Japan), it came up to 15900Y. Never buy a set from Asia unless the shipping is mentioned up-front. At least then, you can make a rational decision as to purchase it or not. Extra tip: never assume that you’re getting a Japanese set made in Japan. Almost none exist anymore. Most Japanese mahjong sets are made in China, and have the red fives made accordingly.

Also, the more of a novelty item something is, the more chances it will either suffer from a defect or that as soon as something happens to a single tile, the rest is rendered useless. (Chips, scratches, marks, color fades, paint loss). It’s not even a question of being cool or not (because you’re not) if you have a Saki, Yankees or a Hello Kitty mahjong set, that’s one of the worst ways of losing your money.

This also leads to two other issues: tile sizes and partially transparent sets.

For the former, remember that Japan has been playing with small tiles for quite some time, 25mm as a maximum dimension is the norm, although they may get bigger in the future given the amount of elderly people playing mahjong in Japan, don’t expect it to change overnight though. If you got used to playing with “China Green”-sized tiles, playing with smaller tiles becomes less fun to play with. Also, novelty sets may also be of non-standard sizes in order to make the product smaller, and the profit bigger, which leads to the latter point:

Partially transparent sets. (Washizu-style) Some people have the urge to go buy sets that are 3/4 transparent to mimic the protagonist of some comic character. Fine, it’s your choice. But some of these sets are still small, 25mm, 28mm as a maximum dimension. There was a company called Ace of Heartz operating out of Vancouver that had single-tone white opaque tiles but that were 34mm large tiles at a decent price. Their website is under construction though, I hope they come back someday. I wouldn’t recommend a 25mm transparent set to anyone, and much less translucid ones that add more colour crap into the tile while keeping the see-through effect.

Comclusion and quick summary: If you’re paying more than 40$, you’re not getting the best deal out there. Do not under any circumstance spend over 60$. (unless it’s for the Ace of Heartz semi-transparent set)

32 thoughts on “The best mahjong tile set guide for buying on the internet.”

  1. Fresh bonus for people reading this article until August 18th, 2359GMT:

    If you can link to a mahjong set sale, I am offering free advice and commentary on such purchases before you make them.

    Please don’t link the 50 thousand euro silver set. You’re not buying that, or you would have already.

  2. Hi Senechal, I’d like your advice. I’ve been reading this blog for a while now and really enjoy what it has to offer. I’m an avid Japanese mahjong player with a regular group that has meetings once or twice a week. Each of the players has a “china green” set with the huge heavy tiles with bright-colored faces. I’ve been looking around for a while for a real Japanese set simply for aesthetics, since the sets we have are sufficient for play, but I’d like a set with the Japanese style, more subdued colors, black winds, etc.

    I came across this set at Yellow Mountain Imports:
    http://www.ymimports.com/p-1016-japanese-riichi-mahjong-set-with-white-tiles.aspx
    Their site is attractive and very nicely laid out. The set advertised is what I’m looking for. How’s it look to you? I’m based in LA so I could actually go pick it up and obviate shipping costs.

    One thing I was shocked about was the size of the tiles. Are those dimensions really the standard japanese size? I watch videos on youtube of matches all the time and they don’t seem that tiny. My friend actually has that Saki novelty set that you mentioned (and yeah, it was a sink of 100$…) and it’s about the same size. I’ve gotten way too used to the size and weight of china greens and no one wants to play with the Saki set because it doesn’t feel real enough. I’m reluctant to buy a Japanese set cos the size, but they’re so pretty…

  3. Yes, as I’ve said to others multiple times, 25x20x16 tiles are:
    a) small
    b) if they are not perfect prisms, the glossy finish makes the tiles extra slippery. I can’t say for sure if the white tiles are as slippery, but the black ones are absolutely horrible.
    c) a hell of an adjustment on your eyes, hands, and everything when going from a “China green” which is about 38mm. There are slightly larger (40mm), but 36, 34 or even 31 is easily playable. 28 starts to become really small.
    d) Japanese standard, it’s exactly what comes out of Amos autodealer machines (except that they’re special tiles with weights and magnets) but horribly unpleasant unless you have such an autodealer.

    I’m not knocking YMI at all but there are sets, regardless of origin that are better to play with and others that are novelty items that can’t really be played with long term.

    http://www.ymimports.com/p-875-chinese-professional-mahjong-set.aspx is a set if I had to buy yet another (I have 7 sets in my possession, so in practice, not) that would be worth buying because it isn’t too expensive, it isn’t two-tone though, but the winds and man-zu aren’t blue so there’s a big plus. No red fives, but seriously, if you want both a good set at a budget price and red fives, you get one of these and a 3$ flask of paint in any hobby store selling stuff for model cars or Warhammer. 31x23x17 tiles are right where you’d want a medium size set to be.

    I don’t know how bad this would be to ship, but if you can get this locally, I’d shell out the 30 plus tax for that any day of the week over a China Green set.

  4. Sonny: By Japanese, do you mean a set for Riichi games or “made in Japan”?

    The answer to the former is: get a Chinese set.
    The answer to the latter is: Probably hasn’t existed since 1970.

    If we are talking about Japan-style markings on tiles, it is almost impossible to find any larger than 28mm. Demand from old people is only starting to kick in.

    If it’s for red fives, get a brush and a flask of hobby paint. No set of even remotely similar value is worth buying a small Japanese set for it.

    If it’s for point sticks, either order then separately or just use poker chips (4 red – 3 blue – 3 black – 5 white per player).

    This is the internet, so I don’t even have to apologize for saying it, but if you think you have found a better set, post a link, and I’ll give you an honest critique. I can’t help you if the only thing you want is something that has been demonstrated to barely exist, if even at all.

  5. Senjo: I meant a set for riichi games.

    Hmm so a chinese set then order separate point sticks, what chinese set would you recommend?

    I want the thickness to be at least 36-38mm, I recently got screwed and lost 60 bucks when I bought this japanese mahjong set and I realize it was freaking 25mm thick.

  6. Looks can be deceiving. Given the size of the pips on the dice, that set is a 25x20x16 set. I may be off on the other two dimensions, but if that’s anything over 28mm on the main dimension, I will not only eat my words, but post it on the front page.

    The weight is another indicator. That set is 1.9kg, if it were over 2kg, shipping costs would be astronomical. I have bought tiles from Japan twice now, one of the times, it was split in two boxes, the other time, I paid through the nose.

    One of these days, I’m going to have a digital scale and then demonstrate what sets weigh what, to establish comparisons to all the others out there.

  7. Sonny,

    That seems to be a good set. Judging from the pictures, I have two sets with tiles just like it. In my experience the Japanese sets (even if manufactured in China) are of a much higher and more even quality than the Chinese. All the “China Green” sets I’ve bought so far have had problems with marks and blemishes all over the tiles (most annoying on the backs).

    I’ve never had a problem with the size of the smaller tiles (even when switching from larger Chinese). In fact the smaller size is more easier to transport, fits on a smaller table and is more convenient when building the walls. None of my sets are “slippery”.

    The aesthetic aspect should not be discounted. In my eyes the muted colors and fine engraving of the Japanese sets is much more pleasant to behold than the often garish and amateurish designs of the cheap “China Green’s”.

    The price of this quality is of course much higher and the shipping costs from Japan are ridiculously high. But then again, it’s not like the tiles wear much in use, so they will be good for many years (decades) of gaming.

  8. Not sure how well YM’s white set is. Their black one however is horrible due to the excess glaze and unrounded corners.

    Burke : I have tiles from an Amos table that have cracked so the finish or manufacturing process has really nothing to do with longevity. I’ve seen easily 50 different makes of various plastic tiles, and my goal here is to make people think critically about their purchases. Most people tend not to. I don’t think you can justifiably say “OMG JAPAN GLORIOUS NIPPON i’ll do anything and put up with these small tiles because japan is chibi kawaii desu” and be satisfied with your purchase long term.

    Unless you talk about the elephant in the room, that a fair portion of the internet doesn’t play mahjong IRL and wants a set that they don’t even use for 5 games a year. If that’s you, or a buyer, go nuts, nothing I will say can change your mind. But if you play 100 hanchan a year or more, you have to make a cost/benefit analysis, “asianeseness” not being a benefit at all, only a raw sample of durability, usability and longevity versus price matters.

    Nothing 25x20x16 is durable enough to warrant recommending it over a china green set. A mahjong set that can see decades of use is one that isn’t used often enough. Thus, the main variable in the equation should always be usability (unless you can obviously tell that the set won’t last a month), QED.

  9. Hi Sonny & others,

    The set you purchased is exactly as Burke says, a good first set, and I’m totally with him in that I’d rather have a smaller, much better quality set than the greenback sets you find in dusty corners of shops in Chinatowns all over the country. The quality of the tiles is decent, but the visual/paint job on them is down right awful.

    I own two sets, my second being a geta set which is fabulous. It’s 7/8mm x 1 1/5″ x 7/10″ (22.5mm x 30.5mm x 17.5mm), which is my opinion is a very good size. Anything in that 30-32mm range is good I think. Go any bigger than that and the board gets bigger and you’d need a custom board/table for it rather than the mats you can purchase for $40 with raised edges.

    I’m always on the lookout for non-white backed 30-32mm tiles. If you know of anything, give me a buzz. Just put at hotmail dot com after my last name below.

    Thanks,
    pallaver

  10. pallaver : Would you be able to send me a picture of your 30.5 mm set? (to spambot#white-fang.info)

    Details on price and other stuff would be appreciated, this is the kind of thing I could add to the article in addendum.

  11. I know it’s very late to comment, but a mahjong buddy owns the set Brent and Sonny linked to and we’ve found it nice for play; much easier to handle than my tiny travel-sized set and easier to lug around than another friend’s Chinese bone and bamboo set. However, we are all young (in our 20s) and most of us learned to play on a Japanese-sized set, so the tile size is “normal.”

    (The travel set is exactly what I wanted – lightweight and cheap – but 15x10x8 is just too small, even for us.)

    Don’t buy the YM set with the nice wooden box – the tiles are fine (except for being pure white, which makes the white dragon difficult), but the glue used for the box stank to high heaven even after being doused in Febreeze and put in front of a fan for two weeks.

    Does anyone have advice on buying a set with Western indices? I can read just fine, but I’d like to teach the game to some relatives who can’t read characters and have no desire to learn. I’d go shopping in Chinatown but the closest Chinatown is six hours away, so that’s not a realistic option. I find the thin and wide tiles used for cheap American sets unstackable, so those sets are out. All else equal, I’d rather have a set with eight jokers so it can be used for American, but all I really need are the indices.
    http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?VISuperSize&item=170500357210 is the closest to my specifications that I’ve seen on eBay, but $48 after shipping is pretty bad.

  12. The advice for western indexed tiles might not please you, but for sake of honesty and completeness, this is my answer:

    You say: “I’d like to teach the game to some relatives who can’t read characters and have no desire to learn.”
    Anyone who can’t pick up 13 simple ideograms, 15 if we count the self-obvious dragons has no desire to learn mahjong. We can’t help people unwilling to help themselves. Chinatowns try to sell their indexed mahjong sets as if they held a higher value. They don’t, in fact, you should always talk to them as if it’s damaged goods, and only accept deals that make them cheaper than regular sets.

    All that aside, as many people tend to ignore my main advice, the fall-back solution is to teach 3-player mahjong, thus removing the man-zu suit. I mean, people have only wasted 20 years of their lives with the matching tile solitaire game you’d expect them to have picked up something by now.

  13. i was looking at the japanese riichi set from YMImports, until I came to this site. I noticed that the sizes seemed a bit small, and I’m used to playing w/ chinese sizes. That said, how does this chinese set look from YMImports?

    http://www.amazon.com/White-Tile-Chinese-Mahjong-Black/dp/B005A2HRQS/ref=sr_1_18?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1317430839&sr=1-18

    Main plus is the free shipping (i’m in hawaii, so it’s expensive to ship) and it comes w/ sticks (which are ~$5 separately, but those don’t have free shipping for some reason).

    I’ll probably check out chinatown later (and maybe talk to friends who bought some sets from there), but I wanted to keep my options open and ask about this set.

    My cousin also bought a travel sized set of mahjong tiles from china…I’ll have to try those as well. If I’m ok with handling those small tiles, then I may reconsider the japanese set.

  14. I’ll be honest, that is far from being a first pick. Having said that, I would recommend it based on the fact that you mentioned coming from Hawaii, which is a special place in itself. I would have told you to do your homework by checking a Chinatown for Chinagreen sets but you might not get the normal results expected.

    If you can get it for 47$, shipping included, do it. 34×25.5×16 tiles are the perfect size for playing. Do not get the similar black set that costs about the same but is not on sale, the tiles are 31mm which is okay, but they’re ugly as sin and black reflects nail scratches and finger grease very well, which is a bad thing.

    Sorry for the delay in answering (one week), I was in Europe, and am writing an article as we speak.

  15. Actually here in Singapore, there are many places that sells those mahjong tiles and tables for cheap prices. It’s just a pity that I’m finding some difficulty finding an automatic mahjong table at a good price couple with that magnetic Japanese mahjong tiles for such tables. But I’m sure for most people reading the blog here, the shipping will be a killer no matter how you look at it. Even if I were to ship some mahjong tiles from Japan to me, the weight itself would be quite a turnoff unless I can secure a good table first. Just a minor question Senechal, for magnetic tiles, is it possible to get it from any other makers if let’s say that I’m planning to get an Amos Gaibin table but the tiles may not be so. Would it be a significant problem for me?

  16. I just bought a traveling maj jong set and the tiles are very thin. How do I build the walls? If I build the wall of 19 twice it extends off the table and way past the racks. can someone tel me ow to set up the walls?

  17. Anyone looked on Rakuten?
    There’s a very attractive set of tiles with black backs, and very affordable. There appear to be 3 sellers on Rakuten selling almost identical versions. The only difference I can see is that one of the sets doesn’t include a red south/east dealer button. Its also the lightest of the 3, at 1.8kg and the cheapest at 3,255Y ($32.48 or £21.27). For those interested, here’s a link:
    http://global.rakuten.com/en/store/goldstar/item/1485771/

    The other 2 sellers’ sets are over 2kg:
    http://global.rakuten.com/en/store/sasaki-mj/item/p10060004/
    http://global.rakuten.com/en/store/eagleeyeshopping/item/mirai1-250918/

    Here’s a review of what I assume is the same set, with some BIG photos:
    http://www.japanese-games-shop.com/mahjong/the-white-tiger-recyled-pet-japanese-mahjong-set/

    Thoughts?

  18. The Byakko set is probably one of the best starter sets if you absolutely need a smaller Japanese style tile. If you can get a China green set for 30$, I still recommend you do get the china green set to start, and eventually this after wear and tear if you’re certain you can invest in this plus shipping.

    Note that Rakuten says for the first link that Shipping will be 4000Y to Canada, so it’s like having an 80 dollar set.

    If the China green sets are selling for more than 30, then do weigh your options. The only other recommendation I can make is this: buy two nail clippers and leave them with your mahjong gear. And use them. You don’t want guys playing with long or chewed/jagged nails, nor girls with stripper nails.

  19. Are the 3 sets of tiles I’ve linked to on Rakuten not identical then? I was thinking of buying the one in the first link just to save a few pounds (GBP) but you’re recommending the Byakko set over the other two?.

    My parents bought a Chinese set while they were in Hong Kong in the 70′s. Typical garish tile faces but with 3 toned backs (2 shades of purple) instead of the usual two tones. I myself have two travel sets in brown leatherette cases, one set with blue back tiles and the other with green. I’ve been looking for a better set and I’ve been aware of the Japanese tiles and Riichi for a few years but I’m not willing to pay hundreds. That’s why I’m giving these black-backed tiles some serious consideration. I would buy them without hesitation if they were available with AMT-style blue backs, but the more I look at them, the more attractive they seem.

  20. They are the same.
    Also, to pop a bubble now, autodealer-style colours are nice, but most tables can use whatever colour the tiles supplied are. Yellow is ugly as sin though. In my opinion, I’d rate Red > (dark) Green > Black > (dark) Purple > Blue > Pink > (light) Green > Yellow.

    So black is a good colour, you won’t get shunned for having black-backed tiles.

  21. >So black is a good colour, you won’t get shunned for having black-backed tiles.

    Unless the front is also black.

      1. Yes, they’re shit, haku (kuro) dora indicator, unstackable, easily scratched.

        The only diff is that the one I,have has green on the tiles, not yellow.

        I do not recommend it in either circumstance

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