Say Hai to Japanese Television

So, we get back from another exhausting day of running around Tokyo and turn on the TV. Baseball game is on -- perfect. It's a late inning, and the Hokkaido Nipponham Fighters are locked in an epic struggle with the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants. The Giants are at bat, and the pressure is visibly getting to the Fighters' pitcher: His team is down and the Giants have runners on base. He's definitely American and he's definitely not getting the calls he wants from the umpire. He's on the mound cursing a blue streak in English (lots of "Fork!" and "Schmidt!" and "Mother Trucker!").

A conference gathers at the mound (as I recall, the manager is American, too). The cursing gets so bad that one of the pitcher's Japanese teammates puts a glove in front of the pitcher's mouth: Maybe he figured even a Japanese audience with no help from the sound could understand the filth coming out of this guy's mouth. Eventually he's replaced, and the Fighters get out of the inning and begin to try mounting a comeback. All of a sudden, they cut away to another program!

A programming note had indicated that another program would come on at the top of the hour. (Laura's memory is more charitable than mine: She remembers them breaking in with the news. I remember it as the Japanese equivalent to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It was one or the other.) But I assumed that, as on American television, if the game ran long, then they would " ... join our regularly scheduled program, already in progress." This assumption is so ingrained I would never have thought to question it. The Japanese are having none of it. Time for the next show. Moving on.

(OK, so maybe the struggle wasn't so epic. The Giants were up by a few runs and, from what I could tell, this was a largely meaningless regular season game. And they probably warned everyone a million times, in Japanese, that they would be cutting away. Still, as the man once said, "I need closure!")

That was the most frustrating thing that happened watching Japanese TV. And there was plenty of the crazy stuff you'd expect (pictured above). Then there was one show that I got completely addicted to.

While on a post-baseball binge of like four episodes in a row(!), I wrote an URL down after it appeared on screen: www.tv-tokyo.co.jp/inaka. (I've got to warn you -- I don't know if this is the URL of the show I was actually watching. And also that link is in Japanese -- here's the Google translation: http://tinyurl.com/3aw328.) Because of production values and a dearth of commercials, I got the idea it was public TV, but I don't even know that. In fact, I have no idea what I was watching at all. But here's hoping the following capsule of one episode is half as entertaining as actually watching--

A well-dressed guy addresses the camera before taking a journey on boat. (Is this symbolism? How big is Japan? Don't they have bullet trains?) He is going to an obscure part of Japan. (I know this because they show a map with a star at the starting point and the destination.) Guy gets off the boat and asks a stranger for directions. Guy wanders around, seemingly aimlessly, addressing the camera occasionally. Guy finds the big, nice house he's been searching for (it's now dark outside) and rings the bell. Guy asks the woman at the door a serious of questions. The answer is always "hai" [yes] until the situation becomes somewhat clear to her and she asks the man in. (Laura remembers an epiphany; I remember her getting tired of standing at the open door talking to a man she doesn't apparently know.)

Woman lives with her husband and son, who are also home. Guy and Husband sit down to chat. Son (who is wearing what appears to be a Japanese doo rag) drags a futon out of a closet and begins preparing the guest room. Woman prepares, like, a nine course meal, which they all eat. Guy goes to bed. In the morning, everyone chats. Son has thankfully taken off the doo rag, and Husband has a maudlin moment in which he almost cries. They all pile into a van to take Guy back to the boat. Boat takes off, and Guy and family wave to each other for, like, five minutes. Seriously. So much waving. Guy turns maudlin himself and also calls out "arrigato!" [thank you] many, many times. End of show.


A Red Sox Fan in Hawaii and Japan


Like a lot of people, I feel a certain pride by proxy when those with something in common with me do well. I'm often interested in the success of members of my family, people from my hometown, my fellow alumni, and even alumni at the school where I'm employed. And as Red Sox fans, Laura and I are often interested in the success of our favorite former Red Sox. Assuming they're not actually playing the Red Sox, we'll cheer for Kevin Millar, now of the Orioles, or Orlando Cabrera, now of the Angels. (Sorry Trot -- we couldn't possibly root for Cleveland unless y'all got rid of that Indian-equivalent-to-blackface mascot.)

By the time we were leaving for Tokyo, Honolulu had begun to feel like a hometown, so I was becoming interested in the success of Hawaiians. In the airport, as we were going to our gate, I noticed a display about Wally Yonamine, a Hawaiian who had played baseball in Japan.

As it turns out, our Homeikan was just down the street from the Tokyo Dome, where the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants, Yonamine's former team, plays. The first night we were in Toyko, we went exploring and found a mall right next to the Dome. At the mall, you can't hear a peep from the Dome, so we had no clue that a game was actually in progress until we got back to our room and turned on the TV. All the more amazing because at Japanese baseball games, like at soccer games around the world, there's a lot of chanting. (We had actually heard some of the game on the radio at dinner, but we thought the cooks and patrons at this particular Ramen joint -- all men, and none terribly happy to see us -- were listening to a soccer game. We recognized the commentators' voices from the radio once we saw the game on TV.)

After watching part of two games on TV and having stayed down the street from the Dome, I was just about ready to make the Giants my Japanese team. Then suspicion sunk in: This is Tokyo or, as a good friend calls it, New York, Japan. It's a huge city with a lot of influence and money, and it could probably afford to have a great team at any cost. Any Red Sox fan already knows what I'm driving at: What if the Giants are the Japanese Yankees?

This possibility was only reinforced by the fact that the Giants were the team of Godzilla (Hidekei Matsui, whose face is all over the Tokyo subway) before he went to the Yankees. Despite my sentimental feelings toward Hawaii and Tokyo and my formative experiences of Japanese baseball, I had to guard myself against this possibility. A Red Sox fan -- being defined almost as much by a dislike for the Yankees as by an affection for the Sox -- could never be a fan of a team that smells even a little bit like the Yankees.

A quick visit to Wikipedia has confirmed my suspicion: "They are regarded as "The New York Yankees of Japan" due to their past dominance of the league". Sorry, Giants -- you'll never be my team.

By the way, that proprietary feeling is clearly at work in Japan: Because of Dice-K, the press reports on the Red Sox, at least when Dice-K is playing, almost as though it were a Japanese team. If only that feeling worked in reverse: Then I would support the Seibu Lions, Dice-K's former team, hands down.