Mahjong tiles are special tiles used to play Mahjong (Mah-Jongg), Mahjong Solitaire and Shisen-Sho. They are also used for Mahjong variants such as American Mahjong. In a standard set of mahjong tiles there are 144 tiles, divided into different categories and suits.
Each tile appears 4 times in a standard set, except for the Flower and Season tiles that appear only once.
Mahjong tiles by category
The suited tiles have a suit (dots, characters or bamboo) and a rank ranging from 1 to 9. Each suit and rank combination appears four times in the tile set, so there are 3 x 9 x 4 = 108 suited tiles.
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Dot tiles are also referred to as coins or circles. The circles on the tiles represent copper coins (cash).
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Bamboo tiles are also referred to as sticks or strings. The sticks on the tiles represent rope strings that tie 100 copper coins together. The sticks look like bamboo plants, so the American popularizer of Mahjong, Joseph Park Babcock, used the name bamboo for this suit.
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Character tiles are also referred to as myriads or numbers. These tiles have a Chinese number at the top representing the rank of the tile, and the Chinese character for myriad (10,000) below the number. The myriad character below the number represents 100 strings of 100 coins, so 100 x 100 = 10,000 coins.
Unlike suited tiles, the honor tiles don't have a rank or suit. There are two honor categories: winds and dragons. Like suited tiles, there are four identical tiles of each honor tile in a set.
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The four wind directions are represented by their Chinese character. From left to right: East, South, West, and North.
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The three types of dragen tiles are Red, Green, and White. The Chinese refer to these tiles as the three fundamental tiles. Babcock invented the dragon tiles name. From left to right: Red, Green, and White.
The bonus tiles appear only once. There are two quartets of four tiles: Flower tiles and Season tiles.
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From left to right: Plum, Orchid, Bamboo, and Chrysanthemum.
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From left to right: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter.
Mahjong tiles meaning
The symbols on the mahjong tiles all have a meaning. The circles on the Dot tiles represent copper coins, the sticks on the Bamboo tiles represent 100 coins stringed together, and the myriad symbol on the Character tiles represent 100 of these strings of 100 coins. The meaning of the other tiles is more obvious, being the four wind directions, dragons, flower types and the four seasons.
Mahjong tiles material
Mahjong tiles were traditionally made of bone, but nowadays they are made of various plastics. The symbols on the tiles are almost always engraved or pressed into the tiles, allowing expert players to determine the face value of a tile without actually looking at it.
Purchase mahjong tiles
You can buy a mahjong set on various websites on the internet. Make sure that they are suitable for the specific mahjong variant you want to play, and that you don't require any additional tiles. Prices start at around $40, and can go to $100 or higher for a decent set. Of course if you play mahjong on the computer, you don't need to buy a set!
Mahjong tiles are so iconic that they even have their own Unicode characters, including one emoji. We used these characters to depict the mahjong tiles on this page.