Okay, so in addendum to the last post I figured I would take some nice pictures of the sets I own.
First set I bought, before Yellow Mountain started selling their nice cheap set, was a standard set with Junk Mat package. Pictures is taken from an old post, sorry it kinda sucks. The weird discoloration you see in the photo has to do with the light, not the tiles. I paid too much to import this via Rakuten, and though I've had good times with it (like the time the guys and I set up in Union Square), it really wasn't worth the money.
The set is average quality. Tiles are very small, very light, handle well. A little flimsy-feeling. On the same basic level as the Yellow Mountain set. The Junk Mat is a great, smooth surface for your tiles. The plastic bumpers are obviously very handy for scoring at a glance, actually much more convenient than the drawers we usually use on our (wooden, not auto!) mahjong tables at USPML games.
The packaging is troublesome: the mat comes in a big, cheap shoulder bag that has had some tears since I first bought it. The tiles, in four plastic bins as is standard, hang precariously in Velcro-secured sleeves on the side of the bag (hold that side towards you when you carry it). Whenever I carry this thing somewhere, I feel like the tiles are going to fall out all over the place-- and when you ride the subway that's a terrifying prospect. Find something else to put the tiles in.
This next one is an absolute must-avoid. It goes by the "Dragon Tile Set".
DO NOT BUY THIS SET AT ANY PRICE.
The first thing you will notice when you open up the flimsy case is an overpowering plastic smell. Those of you who buy figures made of PVC or ABS plastic know something of what I'm talking about: it's a dull smell that usually goes away in a few hours after opening the item up. This is different. It's many times more intense, like fumes are wafting up off of the tiles. I got this set around six months ago and it reeks just as badly as the day it got here. The material's disgusting, maybe toxic.
Zooming in on the tiles a little bit, the low quality is apparent. The paint is horrendous. There's visible plastic wear, and even some chipping on the tiles. This damage started to take place the moment I took the tiles out of their plastic. They handle extremely poorly: building the walls is a legitimate hassle. These tiles have been used to play one hand of mahjong. We all agreed that was enough.
I won this set when I was beta-testing on Joyjan, and I don't really feel like I won anything. This set retails for 1,300 yen on Amazon Japan before shipping, and it's a ripoff at that price too. Reachmahjong.com sells the tiles for $80 shipped, which is, to be frank, shameful. See also the mjpai wiki for the other colors.
Here's a perfectly good set, on the other hand. The name is "Take", bamboo. I got this when a friend asked me what gift I wanted from Japan. I sent him to Don Quixote, a common chain store, to get this set. It was 3500 yen, or about $44. Obviously, shipping costs did not apply in this case... but the set is about 2.5kg, over five pounds. Much heavier than it appears. Internationally shipping this should cost around $80.
I believe the tiles speak for themselves.
In addition to just looking really pretty, these are slightly bigger and heavier than most tiles. As such, they are much more pleasant to handle overall. Without a doubt the best set I've used, by a long way. A couple of USPML members have this set, and everybody always wants to play with these tiles rather than the Yellow Mountain ones.
As a tacky bonus, the red 5-pins have rhinestones in them. Why? Why not?
Both reachmahjong and japanesemahjong sell this very set for $140 shipped. Yes, that is absurd. You can save $20 or so if you can navigate Rakuten, but $120 is still absurd. Amazon.jp has the best prices, but they won't ship just about anything internationally, and if they do their shipping rates are completely insane. I get the feeling that Amazon.jp doesn't really want foreigners to use it.
If you want to really be sad, check out the mjpai wiki for a listing of all the beautiful tile sets that it would be completely impractical or insane to buy, including sets from Nintendo. Of course, if you're in Japan you're golden and you need to send me some more sets over, c'mon buddy.