Thursday, May 27, 2004

Moving to Osaka helped me reign in my life in many ways. One way in particular, was to cure me of my need to consume baseball.

Before I came to Japan, I used to be a much bigger baseball fan. A long time San Francisco Giants supporter, I would listen to or watch games as often as possible, attend maybe a dozen each season or BBQ and put a few back with the boys while watching one. The days and free moments following games were spent in preparation. I would read the various articles in the sports sections, pore over box scores and statistics in the newspaper or on the computer and argue with my baseball friends, while simultaneously sucking in as much sporstalk radio as I could stomach. I wouldn't say baseball was my life, but it was an impressive feature in it.

Since I've been in Osaka, I've lost much of my interest, partly due to the lack of options to watch or listen to good old Major League Baseball (MLB). The New York Yankees (NYY) and the Seattle Mariners are often shown on television here, but they just aren't my teams. I could pay to listen to audio or video broadcasts, which normally air when I'm sleeping, but then it just becomes something that, as my father would say, "nickels and dimes you to death," and I'm trying to cut-back on those costs. Sometimes, when I'm writing e-mail or doing other work at my computer, I follow a game using Gameday, a kind of 2-D computer representation of the games in progress, but if you think watching baseball is slow already, you've never experienced it on the internet. The time difference, which is 16 or 17 hours depending upon which part of the year it is, doesn't help either.

It's certainly not due to the lack of baseball in Japan, which is nearly manic about the sport. Osaka hosts two teams: The Hanshin Tigers (who won their division last season and played in the Japan championship series, coincidentally sporting uniforms which resemble those worn by the NYY) and the Kintetsu Buffaloes, who are generally viewed by the masses as a second-class team but, for the past few seasons, wielded one of the league's most powerful hitters.

Whatever the reason for my waning interest, I won't completely forget baseball. I simply don't have the time in an afternoon to kill a few hours watching a game. I never even turn my TV on, aside from the fact that everything on it is in Japanese. Nonetheless, I spent too much time over the years studying the game to forget about it completely; buying baseball cards, playing little league, scrabbling for autographs and foul-balls, attending games, throwing baseball parties. I have quite a few strong memories from baseball, which relate to different parts of my life, and that's a good thing.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

I hate when other people e-mail:

5. Christmas blasts. You know those long letters that some people write at the end of the year and send to every person in their address books. Even worse, printing out the letters and enclosing them within Christmas cards. One of those cards with a picture of their whole family taken when they were at some beach resort last Summer. Lick a stamp on that and help keep the post office in business for another year.

4. Uni-paragraph messages. Have some style, damnit! At least, have mercy on my eyesight. It's not exactly easy to read a never-ending paragraph in this format, which is your boring life story since last Christmas because you were too busy to write me at any other time during the year.

3. A list of people who received the message. In theory, the idea of a paper trail is nice. Who cares about the e-paper trail. I certainly don't care who is in your address book AND I don't want to scroll through 2000 names before I get to the joke, which doesn't make me laugh anyway, but I'm gullible because you're a family member and I feel guilty. Learn how to delete information that is just stupid or useless. Aside from that, I don't exactly feel special. I don't feel like you really cared and took the time to write me a message even though the message said that someone was thinking about me and that I should also continue to forward it or my luck will end.

2. Forwarded jokes. And they don't even make me chuckle once quietly to myself when no one is looking. And someone already sent it to me two years ago. Nearly falls in the Junk-mail category, except it's done with more loving care by family members and the like.

1. Junk-mail. Are there foolproof filters out there? I thought I was fairly clever about it, but one thing or another always backfires. Something always gets accidentally dumped in my trash, so I always have to dig through my garbage e-mail to make sure the one message I received this year from my long lost friend from college who was only writing because he changed his e-mail address and was blasting everyone in his address book doesn't get thrown away.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

For a nation that prides itself on its sense of peace and propriety, the Japanese love their noise.

I wrote once before about the music that can be heard in a multitude of places throughout Japan, some of it difficult to classify as music, but I'm not talking about that, generally, attention-grabbing sound. I'm talking about just plain noise. Walk into almost any place of business here and the staff shouts "irasshaimase!" Try to say this word as fast as possible and you can reach a close proximity to the Japanese version. I've become quite good at mimicking shop clerks and izakaya staff.

The subway stations are noisy places, as you might expect, but I think they do it bigger here. Not only are there little chimed tunes announcing the arrival of a train, which is stylish, if you fancy such things, but there are also buzzers that sound when the doors are about to close. Once on board, the magic lady-voice of the train spews the next destination, which may be a key transfer station, in both Japanese and English.

In front of large department stores or near major arcade or shopping areas, there are perhaps a dozen people shouting at passers-by. They want you to come into their restaurants or karaoke bars, many holding large signs, passing out flyers or tissue or augmenting their voices with megaphones.

Pachinko parlors may be some of the noisiest places on the planet. Imagine hundreds of tiny steel balls flying around in a vertical pinball machine chock full of metal pins to bounce against. Mix this incessance with ear-splitting house music, cartoon voices and music from the video displays (which double as a simultaneously operating slot-machine), and the real voices of the MCs rising above the din to announce the current big players, and you have an experience that leaves you numb long after leaving, yet some people play the game for hours on end. It's the right approach to running a casino, though.

Aside from that, it's a fine Spring day with the rain drowning out even the sound of the traffic.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

It's embarrassing to be an American these days. If you've been reading the newspapers and e-rags or the other internet chatter from your e-friends and whatever, it's easy to see what I'm talking about. Some of my students, daily, ask me what I think about Iraq, but I just don't understand the scandal. Is there a noble way to rectify that situation? It has turned into the greatest sadomasochistic circus freak show on Earth, starring the rebel Iraqi lion tamers and the Bungling Bros., Rumsfeld & Abu Ghraib military nitwits. Is it possible to say "oops" and leave quietly, like the Spanish who are currently withdrawing their troops?

I don't usually touch such hot topics so directly, preferring to take a more aloof stance about my political bravado, but I've been saddened by the events in that country. In my current circles, politics is just a topic best avoided in mixed company, especially when that mix is international in nature. I can't imagine ever being able to say "I told you so" about any of the Iraq crap, which is about the only motivation my untrained eye can see for our initial presence there. Good luck, America.

I've been sitting on this post for a few days now, waffling about whether I should reveal it or not. Well, there you have it. It will be conveniently buried in my archive in a few weeks.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Happy Mother's Day to those of you who are distinguished as such! It was a rainy grey morning in Osaka today when I rode my bicycle home. It's not raining now, as usually happens after I arrive home, but the sky is still grey.

I'm too tired to write anything exciting. Sometimes the words just don't allow it. I've been working too much and I'm just trying to make it to my weekend. If I don't force myself to stop sitting in front of this computer, I could end up staring blankly at the same words for another hour.

I'm going to call my mom and then go to sleep.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

I've been away for a few days, our last dash before Angela leaves on Thursday, vacationing on Shikoku, so I haven't updated with the usual regularity. I won't write much today, as we're going to her sayonara party in a few hours, but I just wanted to catch y'all up as I might not get another chance for a few more days.

Transportation costs are one of the most expensive parts of living in Japan. There are many options, most of them privately owned, but none of them are cheap. We saved some money when we were traveling in Shikoku by hitchhiking, which I highly recommend if you get out of the major cities and time is not an issue. Not a bad idea in one of the safest places to live in the world.

We never waited more than five minutes for a ride, most people taking us to our exact destinations. One couple even going as far as finding us lodgings for the night when we were in the middle of nowhere. Hitchhiking is also one of the best ways to meet Japanese people who are otherwise more reserved in the daily workaday world. Armed with a few expressions and, most importantly, the names of our destinations, we muddled our way through most conversations, met many people and had a great time.

Shikoku became my favorite place in Japan, particularly the small island of Shodoshima off the Northeast coast of Shikoku, which can only be reached by ferry. The people were especially friendly and helpful while we were there. We also found a cheap place to spend the night, Dutch Pancake Camping, which rented us a tent and sleeping bags.