Saturday, August 29, 2009

Countdown to the Japanese Baseball Tour - Five Days!

Five days until arrive in Tokyo!

It's unbelievable that I'll be leaving for Japan on Wednesday (arriving on Thursday due to flying to the other side of the world, thereby crossing the International Date Line). I'm excited about joining the JapanBall Tour of baseball games for the first week and hanging out on my own in Tokyo during the second. In addition to posting on this blog, I'll be writing for other sites and uploading videos and pictures. I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences with everyone.

The Barney Movie!

No, not the purple dinosaur. This is Barney, one of my favorite cats in Midlothian, Virginia. I've talked about him before; he hangs out at my mother-in-law's house. Unfortunately, he's a stray, but he's sweet and gentle. My husband, Marc, played around with our video camera and with iMovie and posted this on YouTube. He's using it as a tool to teach me how to edit.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Countdown to the Japanese Baseball Tour - Seven Days!

Seven days until I arrive in Japan!

I asked a few of my co-workers to look through my Insight travel guide to Tokyo and give me suggestions about where to go during my trip. Even though this will be my eighth visit to Tokyo, I wanted advice from fresh eyes about what to see. I always try to see something new, but I generally revisit the same places. (Not that there's anything wrong with that...) Here's what they came up with so far:

  • Wako - I walked into this upscale department store in Ginza a few years ago, but didn't purchase anything. The facade was being upgraded last year, so it's time to check it out again.
  • Sumo - If I can conjure up the nerve to go by myself, I should spend at least an hour observing this ancient and revered sport.
  • Prada Aoyama - My friend who vacations in Italy at least twice a year suggested this one. Just as with Wako, I probably can't afford to purchase anything there, but I'd love to see this building up close.
  • Yakitori restaurant in Yurakucho - Yakitori is skewered and grilled chicken meat, but it encompasses all kinds of meats and vegetables. Yurakucho is an area in Tokyo that has lively restaurants under railroad tracks. I've walked through Yurakucho, but only during daylight hours. I'm eager to try it at night.
This is a good start. I'm going to check out my guides on my own to find new places and things to discover in one of my favorite cities.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Documentary Review: "The Zen of Bobby V"

I'm gearing up for my upcoming tour of Japanese baseball, so last week I watched The Zen of Bobby V, a documentary based on Bobby Valentine, the manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Nippon Professional Baseball league in Japan. Done without narration, filmmaker Andrew Jenks tells the story of the Marines' 2007 season through interviews, news clips, game footage, and graphics describing the situations.

I've seen better documentaries (Ken Burns's The Civil War, Wings of Defeat, about kamikaze pilots), but Jenks did an admirable job of catching the essence of Japanese baseball and how foreigners in Japan adapt to the Far East's version of the national pastime. In one scene Valentine talks to Rod Delmonico, a Florida State baseball coach (who was incorrectly fonted as Rob Delmonico), about practice and describes Japanese baseball in microcosm: "At the beginning of practice, you don't have to look around and find out who's not here. Everyone's here early."

Another delightful moment is provided by infielder Jose Ortiz. Ortiz describes ordering spaghetti at a Japanese restaurant and asking his server not to sprinkle the customary seaweed on top. This causes confusion, and the manager of the restaurant subsequently comes out and is baffled by Ortiz's request. "It comes that way," it's explained to the infielder. "That's the way it is." I loved this story, and I think anyone who has tried to order a Japanese meal with something on the side or without onions can relate. "They just have to do it the way they're supposed to do it," says Ortiz with big smile.

Now that I've read Andrew Jenks's essay on Huffington Post, I understand why this documentary isn't as polished as it could have been. That's because he was an 18-year-old freshman at NYU when he first pitched the idea of documenting Bobby Valentine's season. Still, it's professional, and it's amazing that Jenks and two of his college buddies were able to follow the most popular baseball manager in Japan with a camera for eight months.

Even though I know how the 2007 season ended - with the Marines just missing out on another trip to the Japan Series - the young filmmakers did a nice job of creating suspense during the Marines' Pacific League championship series with the Nippon Ham Fighters, managed by current Kansas City Royals manager Trey Hillman.

Overall, the flow of the documentary is decent. There is a good mix of Valentine's life outside of baseball, his job as a manager, and his efforts to improve the Japanese product. Valentine expresses his concern about the depletion of the Japanese professional league due to the mass exodus of the best Japanese players to Major League Baseball. Interspersed between Bobby V's press conferences announcing his efforts to create another minor league team are shots of MLB scouts with radar guns checking out Marines pitchers Masahide Kobayashi and Yasuhiko Yabuta (who now play for the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals, respectively) and an interview with a SoftBank Hawks executive who is surprisingly candid when he proclaims that the NPB has good players but bad management.

Despite all of that, the Japanese game still remains popular with the Chiba Lotte Marines fan club. The raucous fans in The Zen of Bobby V show their dedication to their team by hanging on every pitch, singing personalized songs for each player, travelling north to Hokkaido, and crying unashamedly when the Marines fail to make the Japan Series.

Could The Zen of Bobby V have been better? Of course. But for a quick look into how an American succeeded in possibly the most homogeneous country in the world, this is a good place to start.

Berkley Likes to Lounge

Countdown to the Japanese Baseball Tour: Practicing with iPhone Camera

I recently upgraded my iPhone to the 3G, which has video capabilities. I'm planning on using it to record quick videos while on my trip to Japan. It should come in handy when I encounter quirky things. (And in Japan, I'll encounter many quirky things.) I tried out this video feature last week.

Squirrel + Pistachio = New Friend

Last week this little guy approached us at the park. We'd been there for a while, but it wasn't until we broke out the pistachios that he decided he needed to introduce himself to us. I love the speed and efficiency with which he removes the shell.

Gray Kitty Cuteness

Here's the latest kitty up for adoption at West Chelsea Veterinary Hospital in New York. Isn't he adorable? There was no information posted near his cage, so I don't know his name. He was certainly playful the day I was there.

Look for more videos from me within the next couple of weeks while I'm in Japan!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Countdown to the Japanese Baseball Tour

Twelve days and counting until I arrive in Tokyo!

I'm looking forward to the games, stadiums and cities I'm going to see. Here's the itinerary:

September 4:
Yomiuri Giants vs Yakult Swallows at Tokyo Dome

September 5:
Orix Buffaloes vs Chiba Lotte Marines at Skymark Dome in Kobe

September 6:
Hiroshima Carp vs Hanshin Tigers at Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium in Hiroshima

September 7:
Baseball off day. Tour of Hiroshima, Iwakuni and Miyajima

September 8:
Seibu Lions (defending Japan Series champs) vs Nippon Ham Fighters at Seibu Dome in Saitama

September 9:
Yakult Swallows vs Hiroshima Carp at Meiji Jingu Stadium

September 10:
Disney Sea! (I've been to Tokyo Disneyland twice, so I'm looking forward to this.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Countdown to the Japanese Baseball Tour: One Week, Six Days!

I'm returning to Japan in less than two weeks to enjoy three of my favorite things: Japanese culture, Japanese food, and Japanese baseball. This year's trip promises to be every bit as exciting as last year's. The tour takes us to five games in five different stadiums, including the new Mazda Stadium in Hiroshima. I'll be blogging, guest blogging, writing for different media outlets, and inundating the Internet with my adventures. I've been planning for this trip for months, but now it's crunch time. I'm spending these last two weeks immersing myself in all things Japanese. Today it's baseball: I'm off to watch "The Zen of Bobby V."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ambassador of Cute

The Japanese actually have Ambassadors of Cute, whose function is to introduce the "cute" aspects of Japanese culture to the rest of the world.

Ambassador of cute › Japan Today: Japan News and Discussion

Posted using ShareThis

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Waking Up to a Sweet Kitty Moment

Normally my younger cat, Berkley, a feisty calico, sleeps on my neck or in the general area. She tries to take over my space in the bed. One morning last week, however, I awoke to find that Berkley was not in her usual spot. This made me sad. Why wasn't she sleeping near me? I sat up in our platform bed and saw her sleeping on the wood frame that encircles it.

Aww! She's so sweet! It melted my heart to see her sleeping like this. I took this picture right away and e-mailed it to my husband, who was on a business trip.

Aww! I could just eat her with a spoon! Berkley can be mean and demanding, but when she's like this, she's the cutest cat in the world. This is the reason why one of our vets says that she wants to "squish her and hug her."