Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Baseball Enjoy Event Part 4 - Sperm Balloons!

This brings us to another Hanshin tradition - in all games, the seventh inning is called "Lucky Seven" and to celebrate this, before Hanshin takes the field for the seventh, there is a wonderful balloon launch where thousands of sperm-shaped balloons are released like a massive rubber ejaculation.

Enjoy (note: the beer girls, are all in pink with a massive Asahi can strapped to their backs, and in no short supply)

Well - that's a baseball game in Japan - Hanshin won this one 6-0 with Kanno cracking a three run homer in the fourth inning (His first hit of the season to boot), and earning the title of "Hero" of the game. As the hero, he gets to be interviewed at the end of the match and asked such compelling questions as "What were you thinking when you came to bat" and "How about the next game?" to which he gives equally compelling answers as typical of the always deeply philosophical sports star. (I was just trying to get a hit...We will win the next match...etc.)

A side note about the two "Gaijin"(外人)or 'foreign' players

Matt Murton was originally drafted by the Red Sox, played mostly for the Cubs, and later the A's and Rockies before coming to Japan in Dec. of 2009

Craig Brazell was drafted by the Mets and spent most of his US career in the minors, seeing success in the Pacific League (US minors, not Japan) and ending up with KC before being optioned first to Seibu, and now Hanshin.

Let's Exciting Baseball Time Together Funess For Happy - Internal Park Viewing System Pt. 3 (aka - You tell me this isn't a cult)

Ok, enough mucking about - time to see what 50,000 people moving in unison looks otherwords, it's time to see a Japanese pro baseball game. I opted for the cheap seats in the outfield where the fans are loudest, and the players are smallest.

To my right was the score board in center field.

And now presenting your starting line-up:

Batting first and playing center field - Murton!
Batting second and playing second base - Sekimoto!
Batting third and playing short stop - Toritani!
Batting fourth and playing third base - Arai!
Batting fifth, just in from Seattle - the catcher - Johjima!
Batting sixth and playing first base - Brazell!
Batting seventh and playing right field - Sakurai!
Batting eighth and playing left field - Kanno!
And batting ninth, the pitcher - Shimoyanagi!

Ok - so the game is underway and it's time to cheer these guys on! So how do we do it in unison?

Well, first we need a cheerleader - actually - we need a whole mess of cheerleaders ringing the front row and communicating with hand signals and whistles like these champs here:

Note the trumpet around his neck - he and a bunch of other trumpeters and drummers are positioned around the stands to help play the fight songs for each player.

So let's see these guys in action!

The sign on the bottom of the screen is letting people know to chant "Let's go XX" where XX is whoever is currently at bat (In this case it was the lead-off man Murton) - for each chant there is someone waving a sign cluing the fans in as to what the chant will be.

As you can hear, the crowd is following along in lockstep - like an orchestra following it's conductor.

And what does the crowd look like following along?


So what about the opposition fans? In this game, Hanshin did battle with The Hiroshima Carp whose uniforms and logo are modeled on the Cincinnati Reds (Hence the "C" on the cap, and I suppose the "Carp" name since the Hiroshima Cincinnatis would be an odd name unlike Carp...It makes me wonder what other "C" words were considered - I can see the board meeting now

Owner: Gentlemen, we need a nice "C" word for this team - something that says baseball, victory, and strikes fear into our opponents hearts!
Marketing-san 1: How about the Hiroshima Combine Harvesters!
Marketing-san 2: No, too long - how about the Hiroshima Christ-punchers!
Marketing-san 3: Scary, but maybe lacking meaning for a non-Christian nation...How about the Hiroshima Cillers!
Marketing-san 1: I think that's spelled with a "K" (consults dictionary) yup, "K"
Marketing-san 2: Crunchers!
Marketing-san 3: Consultants!
Marketing-san 1: Cataclysm!
Owner: No, no, no...look, let's just go with Carp so we can all get wasted on sake.
Marketing-sans 1,2,3: Hai!

Anyhow - in Japanese stadiums, there is a special section of the left field stands reserved for the opposition as seen here:

They too get to cheer (the cheers are reserved for your team's at-bat - while your team is fielding you politely wait your turn)

Note the Hanshin fans all waiting (relatively) quietly.

To Be Continued...

Let's Baseball Together Funess Pt. 2

Ok - so now for a bit about an actual Japanese baseball game - Think mass political rally mixed with girls in pink bringing beer, and somewhere there is apparently a baseball game going on, but I only realized this when I looked at my pictures the next day since the crowd was far more entertaining.

First is getting to Koshien (甲子園)- As I mentioned in the last post, the Hanshin of Hanshin Tigers is the name of the railway company that owns the team. Now this is one of those things you just don't see in the US anymore; private railway companies that compete with the national company (Japan Rail or JR). There are three main lines running east to west that link Osaka with Kobe - JR's Kobe line, Hankyu (阪急)another private company that links up Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe, and Hanshin(阪神)which runs trains from two terminals in Osaka that link up on the way to Kobe. Since the Hanshin Tigers are owned by Hanshin Railway, you can bet your life that there is a station right in front of the stadium - how convenient. (And of course there is no parking - you have to take the train basically)

The area in front of the station is a true carnival atmosphere with stalls selling anything you can imagine in yellow and black -

Now one of the most unpleasant experiences of attending a ballgame in the states is having massive quantities of cash forcibly extracted from your wallet at every turn. Parking? $20 Ticket? $40 for a seat in the gutter behind a pole that comes with a man who beats you for no reason other than you didn't opt for a $150 seat. Food? Just sign here for your third mortgage, and now you want a beer? No college for Timmy!

Japan has this beat in two ways - one - stadium prices are fairly reasonable (a good size beer is $6, and you can get a set of beer and some snack for $10). But even better than that is this - you can bring your own food and bottles into the stadium. And not like some drug smuggler with your stash tapped to very private areas in attempts to fool the police academy reject now patting you down like you're the next bin Laden with a horrible plot to save money at an Oakland A's game. No - they just don't want you to bring the cans and bottles in, as this sign very cutely indicates.

But what they will do is pour it into cups for you ->

They will even give you a cardboard holder so you can carry all four of your outside-purchased beverages to your seat.


So now we have arrived at the stadium - Koshien is the Fenway or Wrigley of Japanese pro baseball. It is the oldest pro stadium, one of only three with natural grass, and the most rabid fans. It is also the largest in terms of capacity, and one of the only stadiums to regularly fill up.

Outside are of course the mascots and slogan:

This is the most recent slogan - the last one I remember was "Never, never, never surrender" (Apparently no one told the marketing department that surrendering has nothing to do with the end of a game, and that once nine innings are up, you still need to go home even if you don't raise any white flags - but it looks like they got the message)

Ok next post I promise will be from inside the park...

Let's Baseball Together! Part 1

So with a bit of time on my hands, a few thousand yen burning a hole in my pocket, and an eager audience of four awaiting my next incomprehensible driveling on some random topic, I decided to bust out my Hanshin Tigers shirt and bust a move to Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya to take in a homestand for the local favorites, the Hanshin Tigers.

First a quick (or more likely unnecessarily long) primer on baseball in Japan:

Pro Baseball is divided into two leagues - The Central League and the Pacific League.

The Central League is like the National League in the US, with pitchers also batting. The Pacific League is like the American League with a DH position. Each league has six teams

Central League:
Hanshin Tigers
Chunichi Dragons
Yomiuri Giants
Hiroshima Carp
Yakult Swallows
Yokohama Baystars

Pacific League:
Orix Buffaloes
SoftBank Hawks
Rakuten Golden Eagles
Nippon Ham Fighters
Seibu Lions
Lotte Marines

Now if your wondering why you can't find Yomiuri on a map, or you are cannily noting that perhaps Orix isn't a Japanese place name, and you are almost certain that as wacky as the Japanese are, they wouldn't name a city "Nippon Ham" you have noted one of the key distinctions between US and Japanese pro baseball (go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back...I'll wait...). And that is most of the teams are owned and sponsored by a corporation - thus Yomiuri is of the Yomiuri Newspaper, Lotte is a gum company (think Wrigley) Rakuten is an internet company, Soft Bank is the cellphone carrier that sells the iPhone, Nippon Ham is...well...a ham company, Seibu is a department store, Orix is a car rental company (I think), Chunichi is another news service, Hanshin is a train line and department store, and Yakult makes tasty beverages.

Hiroshima and Yokohama are both city names, but they have corporate sponsors who have kept the name mostly out of the title, and recently in an attempt to build more local support, companies have begun including the locality as a way to build support, particularly as teams have moved away from the Tokyo/Yokohama and Osaka/Kobe regions (Still today, the Lions, Swallows, Bay Stars, Marines, and Giants all play in the greater Tokyo area) so that we have the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, and the Fukuoka Soft Bank Hawks.

And then there are the stadium names - which are often where the locality comes into play (opposite of the US, where the S.F. Giants play in AT&T Park, the Yomiuri Giants play in the Tokyo Dome) - So if you are still wondering where the Chunichi Dragons play, knowing that they play in the Nagoya Dome (ah ha!) will give you a clue to the locale. Two notable exceptions - The Golden Eagles play at Kleenex Stadium and (my absolute favorite ever - ) the Carp play at Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium.

Team names also change as ownership transfers, thus the Nankai Hawks (train company) moved to Fukuoka and became the Daiei Hawks (retail chain) and then the Soft Bank Hawks (cell phone company)

So that was a pretty long aside - enough for its own post.

I've decided to make this part 1 of ? as I need to go enjoy the weather and do some actual work.

Part 2 coming later today (or tomorrow for you? I hate time zones)

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake (Hanshi-Awaji Daishinsai)

I mentioned earlier about the great Earthquake that struck Kobe in 1995 - so a little more on that.

First, it is odd to find that 15 years after the quake, there are still signs of its damage in the neighborhood - below is a picture of one house that still remains untouched since the quake hit.

The quake was a magnitude 6.8 on the MMS (the 70's revision to the Richter Scale) and 7.3 based on the JMA Scale (Japan Meterological Scale). All that is to say it was a big one - the biggest in Japan since Tokyo was turned into charcoal in 1923 with the Great Kanto Earthquake. The quake struck at 5:46 AM on January 17th, 1995. The earthquake and ensuing fires left over 6,000 dead, 45,000 injured, and crippled the city's infrastructure, toppling rail lines, elevated highways, and cutting the bridge that connected Rokko Island from the mainland.

This image is from an area called Sannomiya which is the heart of the city.

A number of supposedly strong buildings toppled and pancaked in spectacular fashion such as..

the Kashiwai Building just before completely toppling into the road...

(And after...)

An view of the collapsed Hanshin Expressway can be seen here (opens in a new window)

It would be hard to underestimate the effect of this disaster on the country as whole - It undermined people's faith in the government; response to the disaster was slow, and the earthquake-proofing technologies in place proved inadequate. The total damage was 2.5% of GDP for that year, likely prolonging the effects of the recession the country was already experiencing, and it was also the end of Kobe's roll as the premiere port in Japan.
The response to the disaster has been credited with bringing about the birth of volunteerism in Japan.

Japan has always had a "uchi" and "soto" mentality (inside and outside) - if you are "inside" a certain circle, its members will go to no end to help you. But if you are "outside" a group - you are pretty screwed.

However, in the wake of the government's non-response, people from all over Japan poured in to help in rescue and clean-up efforts. Private companies with national distribution networks (read: convenience stores) stepped up to get supplies to the affected areas, and the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia, which has its largest operations in Kobe) was even seen passing out food and blankets. Since then volunteer work has become a mainstay of the culture.

A family with whom I am good friends lost a daughter in the quake and they come to the memorial in Sannomiya every year on 1.17

It's a lovely memorial, built underground and away from the noise of the city above. I will post some pictures soon if possible.

One bright spot was that to lift the city's spirits following the disaster, Kobe began a festival of lights every winter known as "Luminarie"

Words (or at least my words) can't quite describe the dazzling event, so I will just have to snap some shots next winter.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Short Bus

It may be the short bus, but it's still beats our buses in math tests...