Saturday, September 18, 2010

JapanBall 2010 Wrap Up: Bullet Trains, Bento, and Baseball Friends

Ah, jet lag! You're an evil thing that has rendered me unproductive the last couple of days. My mind has been racing with story ideas and the urge to write, but my fingers have been heavy on the keyboard. Today is the day I fight back!

The reason I'm suffering from jet lag is we recently returned from our two-week vacation in Japan. The first week was spent galavanting across the country with twenty-one new friends to watch five baseball games.

Beef bento on Shinkansen to Sendai

We started the tour in Tokyo, but we didn't stay there very long. Our first game was in Sendai, the capital of Miyagi prefecture. We took a mini tour of the city before the game.

Rakuten ema at Osaki Hachimangu Shrine in Sendai

We were up early the next day to travel from Sendai to Yokohama.

Marty Kuehnert speaks to the JapanBallers in Sendai

Before we left, we had a brief audience with Marty Kuehnert, the first foreigner to be named general manager of a Japanese baseball team. Marty was fired not long into his job at the helm of the Rakuten Golden Eagles, but he's still with the team as a senior advisor. In addition, he teaches sports management, marketing, and media at Sendai University and Tohoku University. Straightforward with a keen sense of humor, Marty is an expert in all aspects of Japanese baseball and a great guy to know.

Omusubi (rice ball) bento representing Date Masamune

My husband and I have been to Yokohama to visit the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum (amazing place!), but this was our first overnight trip. I enjoyed walking around the waterfront and the area near our hotel, and I was surprised to see a lot of Western-style architecture. It makes sense considering Yokohama was a strategic port and was influenced by the Westerners who visited. We walked along the Yokohama Rinko Line Promenade, which reminded us of the High Line in New York. Then it was game time, where we were joined by Brandon Siefken, who provides stats and analysis about Japanese baseball to scouts and regular fans.

Brandon Siefken, number cruncher and a fan of spreadsheets, joins us in Yokohama

I was excited to see my favorite stadium, Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium, home of the Toyo Hiroshima Carp. On the way there, I had the omurice bento, but I knew okonomiyaki was waiting for me in Hiroshima.

Omurice bento. There's rice in there, not cheese!

Ellie and Shelley display their okonomiyaki

It was a high-scoring and exciting game at a delightful ballpark in Japan. You can't ask for anything more than that. Well, JapanBaller Shelley wanted a low-scoring pitcher's duel, and most people cheered for the home team to win, but you get the point.

Japan's gritty, industrial city doesn't receive the accolades that Tokyo or Kyoto do, but I enjoy Osaka. Before arriving in Japan's third largest city, I fortified myself with another delish bento.

Salmon bento

Once we were in the Kyocera Dome, we visited with Eric, a Montreal native who is in Japan with the JET programme. He's actually a fan of the Hanshin Tigers, the more popular team based in Osaka, and he enjoyed bonding with Paul, our JapanBaller from Toronto.

Eric is in denial of the Expos' change of address.

All day the JapanBallers predicted a blowout of the Orix Buffaloes at the hand of their opponent, the Chiba Lotte Marines. Baseball is a fickle sport, and the Buffaloes proved us wrong and gave us the best game of the tour.

On the train from Osaka to Tokyo, I enjoyed a lovely veggie bento as I watched the rain fall.

Vegetarian bento. Mostly.

Our last game of the tour was in Saitama prefecture, not far from Tokyo, for a contest between the Nippon Ham Fighters and the Seibu Lions. The weather from Typhoon #9 backlit the Seibu Dome in a spooky purple.

Seibu Dome in the rain

For the third time on the tour, we had the privilege of hanging out with Wayne Graczyk, Japan Times columnist, Yomiuri Giants translator, ticket obtainer, and JapanBall Media Guide publisher.

Wayne Graczyk (center) is upset he couldn't find pizza at the Seibu Dome.

Wayne and I scoured the stadium for pizza, Wayne's personal favorite, but to no avail. I settled for chili-and-cheese covered potatoes, which seemed like a great idea at the time. Wayne had Combos, which he carries around with him at all times. The game was great, another high-scoring affair (sorry, Shelley!) to end the JapanBall trip. Four brave (or crazy?) souls – Ellie, Shelley, Meg, and Jim – stayed on to see seven more games on the See-It-All option. My husband and I stayed in Tokyo and recovered.

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