Sunday, April 18, 2010

A New Uniform for Matsui and Other Cool Japanese Stories from the Week

A Ring for Hideki
The highlight of my week was by far Tuesday, Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. I'm not even a fan of the Yankees, but I was moved by the emotion of the pregame ceremony. Of course, my favorite part involved Hideki Matsui, who became the first Japanese-born player to be named World Series MVP after he batted .615, with 3 home runs and 8 RBI (with a record-tying 6 RBI in Game 6) for the Yankees in the Fall Classic.

Matsui was present at Yankee Stadium on this year's Opening Day to receive his World Series ring, but this time he wasn't wearing pinstripes. He was in the Bronx as a member of his new team, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Matsui waited in the visiting team's dugout as each Yankee from the 2009 World Championship team was called onto the field to receive his World Series ring. Matsui was the last player to be called, and he was warmly welcome by appreciative Yankees fans. They recognize that Matsui's play during the season and postseason – despite hobbling on two bad knees that limited his playing time – contributed to the Yankees' 27th World Series Championship.

His former teammates recognize that as well. After Yankees manager Joe Girardi presented Matsui with a box containing his World Series ring, all of the Yankees on the field shared a group hug with him. Jon Lane, who writes about the Yankees for, wrote this account of Matsui's return to the Bronx.

As part of my Japanese studies, my teacher, Emi Kikuchi, has me keep a journal in which I write a couple of brief sentences each day using Japanese vocabulary, grammar, and kanji. My entry for Tuesday, April 13, 2010, consisted of a couple of basic sentences that said I worked at the game and that Hideki Matsui was there with his new team. During class I complained to Kikuchi Sensei about my desire to express the emotion of the ceremony in a more eloquent manner.

Kikuchi Sensei is the Japanese version of an English grammarian. Proper usage is important to her. After I described the scene at the Stadium, she thought for a minute and scribbled out a narrative that imparted my feelings but added a distinctly Japanese nuance.


This bundle of text says essentially what I wrote in the second paragraph of this blog entry, but the Japaneseness of it is beautiful. Kikuchi Sensei describes Matsui as wearing a "new uniform." To us here in the States, that simply means he's on a new team. But to the Japanese, a new uniform is symbolic of stages of achievement. The Japanese feel a special sense of pride when they put on a new uniform after advancing to the next level of school or to a new job, especially the first job out of college. So to describe Matsui as wearing a new team uniform, Kikuchi Sensei is emphasizing the pride the baseball player must feel in the new stage of his career and in his life.

Former Carp Is Now a Ranger
After Matsui and his Angels left New York, the Texas Rangers came to town. This baseball nugget is about an American who played in MLB, then in Japan, and is back in MLB again. The back-and-forth, up-and-down career of pitcher Colby Lewis hasn't drawn worldwide attention, but I'm mentioning him here because I saw him pitch in Japan last September. As a member of the Hiroshima Carp, Lewis pitched a gem against the Yakult Swallows at Meiji Jingu Stadium. The Bakersfield native tossed a 5-hit shutout and hit a home run to win 9-0. Now he's with Texas again, the organization he was part of from 1999 until 2004. He's having a good season so far; he's 2-0 with a 2.19 ERA. Too bad he didn't pitch in this weekend's series against the Yankees because I think it would've been an interesting story for Michael Kay and John Flaherty to discuss on air. (They probably wouldn't; I realize that I'm the only one on the YES television crew who cares about Japanese baseball.)

I'll Give You a Consommé Punch
Kikuchi Sensei had a busy week with me. In addition to her mini-essay about Matsui, she decoded another crazy Japanese commercial. In my first installment of my Weekly Roundup of Cool Japanese Stories, I posted a commercial my friend Tammy sent me. 

The product in the commercial is called Consommé Punch, potato chips flavored with a stock- or bouillon-based soup known as consommé. I thought the "punch" referred to juice such as Hawaiian Punch or other fruity drink. However, Kikuchi Sensei informed me that in this instance, "punch" isn't a flavor, but a kick of flavor. The chips have a "punch" of consommé flavor that gives you a sense of "Wow!" from the first bite.

I think it's universally understood that the dog is trying to cheer up his brokenhearted friend, but you need to understand a little Japanese pop culture to grasp the meaning behind the dog's methods. What's the deal with the large ear? The dog is performing a routine by a popular Japanese magician/comedian named Maggy Shinji (マギー審司). He's actually not much of a magician, but his schtick is to pop out a big spongy ear while saying "It's getting bigger!"

Magi Shinji and his big ear

Finally, the little dance the dog does is not a kabuki dance a geisha would perform. It's an imitation of a time-honored ritual of men at an enkai, or drinking party. At these enkai one particularly inebriated reveler invariably decides he wants to dance. Without any clothes. While in his birthday suit, the guy uses two obon, or serving trays, to cover his manhood.

The dog's antics seemed to do the trick as the boy talked to his sweetheart again. Or is it a new girl?

Animals and Food: Always a Winning Combination
I'll wrap up this week's roundup with two videos I found on Japan Probe. First, here's a cat who loves the smell of curry.

So cute! The phrase カレーでメロメロのネコ (kare de meromero no neko) means that the cat (neko) is madly in love (meromero) with curry. My favorite part about this video is that the cat doesn't eat the curry, but he gets it all along his jawline. I wonder if the owner actually eats this dish, or does she have a fur-free plate waiting in the kitchen?

You've probably heard that the Japanese sell practically anything from a vending machine. Cup Noodles, neckties, batteries. What about raw fish? Check out this interesting feature about a Japanese zoo.

That's right, for about one dollar you can buy bait from a vending machine and feed it to an akisha (an eared seal such as the California sea lion) at the Tobe Zoological Park of Ehime Prefecture. I would love to try this, although I do admit I'd be a little nervous. A ravenous sea lion might come close to removing a finger or two. But the concept is wonderful and very Japanese.

Just a few more reasons why I think Japan is cool. 


Daniel said...

I've seen zoos in Florida that allow patrons to buy food from vending machines and feed birds, but I can't remember which zoo.

shrinecastle said...

But do the vending machines dispense raw fish?

Daniel said...

You may have me beat there, haha.