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The Yomiuri Shimbun – A hiring event held at a mahjong parlor. A company employee in a white shirt, center, plays with students in casual dress.

2:00 am, October 11, 2015

By Masanori Yamashita / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer – From the start of this month, companies are officially allowed to begin making informal job offers to university seniors. While this year’s job market is said to be a sellers’ market, some companies are turning to tools other than the usual written tests and interviews to discern candidates’ potential. I went along to two such events — mahjong and a riddle-solving game.

“I’ve got Kokushimusou (thirteen orphans).” “Wow! Incredible.”

It is Aug. 27 at a mahjong parlor in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, and a total of 40 company employees in suits and students in casual dress huddle around mahjong tables. Cheers can be heard at a table where a student obtains the “yakuman” score of “thirteen orphans,” the highest score in mahjong.

The occasion was an event held by Kakehashi Skysolutions Co., an employment-assistance company in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. Employees from firms in industries such as IT and medical equipment trading that are looking to hire new employees play mahjong with students while recruiting personnel from those companies watch discreetly from the sidelines. Seeing a student discard a mahjong tile without thinking for very long, a recruiter from a staffing-services company jots down notes such as “Not wearing a suit” and “Able to foresee how things develop.”

Kakehashi first held this mahjong employment event three years ago.

“While playing mahjong, students are required to make a series of decisions. It’s an ideal way for today’s companies, exposed to constant change, to find the talented people they are looking for,” says a Kakehashi staffer.

According to them, companies put more weight on how the students play than on whether they win or lose. Through the mahjong events, some students have been exempted from a part of the selection process and have been successful in getting hired by a trading company and a consulting firm, according to Kakehashi.

  • Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 9.13.33 AMThe Yomiuri Shimbun – The writer, left, taking part in a problem-solving escape game at a hiring event alongside staff from Digital Hollywood University

Besides mahjong, Kakehashi also holds events for clients that are looking for candidates with audacity and originality, such as “ogiri” in which students have to give impromptu funny answers to a question, and “instant theater” in which students are asked to perform an improvisation.

XING Inc., the Nagoya-based firm that operates the online commercial karaoke brand JOYSOUND, began last year holding contests in which job seekers submit karaoke videos. The applicant who submits the best video is exempted from having to go through a first-round interview.

This year, the second time the contest was held, the firm had 22 applicants including a male student who sang a song in a happi coat while pretending he was beating a taiko drum. XING plans to give informal job offers to six students, one of whom reportedly passed through the karaoke video selection process.

Chisa Yamada, who now works at the firm, was selected for hiring last year after submitting a video in which she sang an anime song with great enthusiasm.

“I’m an ‘otaku,’ a big fan of anime, but in an interview I would be so afraid of how I would be judged that I would not be able to put across the real me. I’m good at karaoke, so through karaoke I showed myself just as I am,” Yamada recalled. She said that her video became a topic of conversation, and that the subsequent interviews went smoothly.

This spring, in line with its philosophy of “what one likes, one will do well,” the firm made Yamada the first rookie to be assigned to the department that chooses music for karaoke distribution.

Even major corporations are beginning to look beyond traditional methods to evaluate the talents of job-seekers.

Panasonic Corp., headquartered in Osaka Prefecture, recognizes that diverse and unique personnel are needed to create new business lines and last year launched an “unconventional hiring path.” Now candidates with special experiences, such as having received an award for saving someone’s life or having been the first to climb an unscaled peak overseas, can bypass one of several interviews in the selection process.

This summer, I heard that Kakehashi and Digital Hollywood University in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, would be putting on a joint hiring event in the form of a problem-solving escape game, so I took part.

The participants were given about 40 problems, such as number puzzles or finding words encoded among randomly arranged letters. The idea was that by solving all the problems they would successfully escape from the imminent danger of a giant meteorite colliding with the Earth.

The students and other participants were divided up into teams of four to five persons and evaluated on qualities such as mental flexibility, logical thinking and leadership. If they succeeded in correctly answering all of the problems within the one-hour time limit they would receive a high evaluation. On that occasion, the session was being held to help the students discover their own strengths, but at the real event the winners would be exempted from first-round interviews at participating companies.

The people on my team were all rather reserved. There was little exchange of opinion, and we were able to solve only about half of the problems, so we finished in last place. The person in charge of the event commented that my mind was more rigid than those of the students and that my teamwork was poor. Realizing that I was not at a level where I would be likely to get recommended to a company, I was a bit depressed.

Eight years ago, when I received an informal job offer, I was proud that my talent had been recognized. Has cranking out article drafts day after day tired me out so much that I have lost what I used to have? I felt like asking our company’s personnel department: “Uh, excuse me, but what exactly was it that you found appealing in me?”



IMG_1029Here’s another Q&A from the wonderful Gladys Grad, the Grand Master of American Style Mah Jongg, and the brains behind the website, MahJonggMadness.

Q. I played with new people yesterday at the community club house.  When they put up their exposures, they didn’t separate them, even when I asked them to.  I never played that way.  They said that’s how it’s done, and that’s how they do it!  They gave me the impression that if I didn’t like it – too bad. Mary M, FL

A.  Nice, huh?  That’s a rather clear (if bloodthirsty) way of telling you “it’s their way-or-the-highway.” By “packing the exposures” it’s a strategy to throw other players off.  Some will also put their jokers at the end of the individual exposure, so you won’t know which exposure it belongs to.  Nasty way of not giving you a “clue” about what they’re playing. We won’t condone this in tournament play….and I can almost guaranty that the NMJL won’t either.  Find a more sporting game.

I agree with Gladys although sometimes you have to decided if leaving your group is going to be worth it. Can you find another group? Can you just somehow ignore the problems that certain people cause? It may not always be so easy to find a new group.

When I am teaching Mah Jongg, I always instruct my students to a) put the Jokers in the middle of the exposure on their racks and b) separate out the exposures, including when you call for Mah Jongg. The above photo is from a hand by one of my beginning students who completely understands where to place her Jokers and how to display her winning Mah Jongg. I try to instill within my students the fact that Mah Jongg is a friendly game (at least it is under my roof!) and that the most important part of playing is to have fun! Do you agree?


From time to time people will send me messages about table rules invented by their Mah Jongg group. Some of them make a lot of sense and some of them are just plain silly. I’d love to hear about your table rules, whether they are funny or fabulous. Send them to me – along with photos whenever possible – and I will post them up on this blog.

Here’s one to start…

This group has a specific way to set up “Mia’s” – or “Wally’s” – wall when they are playing with only three people. They call it a “Suzy” wall (obviously named after the person who figured out this way to ensure an easy Charleston for the missing player). Check it out – I got a kick out of it. What do you think?

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There have been many articles written (and some of them re-posted on this blog) about the benefits of playing Mah Jongg and specifically about increasing brain power and staving off dementia. And now Bill Cunningham, in his weekly Evening Hours pictorial column in The New York Times, “documents” this very same thing. Mrs. Koo plays Mah Jongg three times a week (and wins!). My money is on a bet that the celebration of her 110 birthday has a lot to do with her Mah Jongg passion!!!

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Quite a while ago I posted a shout-out for help with finding a Mah Jongg teacher for Susan T. Our dear, dear friend, the wonderful Phyllis C, responded immediately. Yesterday I received the following wonderful message along with these fabulous photos from Susan. Her message really touched my heart and I am so thrilled about having a very small part in what appears to be a really special and lasting friendship. And also that Susan is now yet another Mah Jongg addict!

Hi Ann, 
You told me you wanted to see a picture when Phyllis and I finally hooked up and we have some beauties here for you. I am having so much fun! I love mahjong and I love Phyllis! She is the nicest woman I’ve met in a long time, and an excellent teacher to boot.
Thank you so much for using your network to help me find a teacher. I really feel that because of your kindness I have found both a friend and an activity that I will cherish for a long time.
With gratitude,
The first photo is the license plate on the front of Phyllis’s  car.


The second photo is a picture of Phyllis and me,


and the third photo is a picture of Phyllis.


I want to add that I have never met Phyllis but through her wonderful emails I feel as if we have known each other forever – I must tell you that I feel the same way about her that Susan does – I adore this woman! By hook or by crook I will get to Florida this winter to give her a big hug! And this is the message I received yesterday from Phyllis (have I mentioned that I adore her?!!):

Ann, hopefully you have received pictures taken at my class this morning.  Sue T found me on your web-site and wanted to take pictures of her and me along with my front plate on my car. I am also wearing the “Ann Israel eyeglass holder” I purchased from Sandra Davis. Sue lives in my development in another sub-division 5 minutes away.   Hugs always, Phyllis


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