Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Japanese All-Stars

The Japanese All-Star Series is this weekend, and to commemorate it, I made it the focus of my July essay for Baseball Reflections.

Key points of the essay:

  1. The Japanese play a 2-game All-Star Series instead of only one game.
  2. One of my Facebook friends told me that the All-Star Series used to be 3 games, and a Twitter friend told me NPB made the change to 2 games in 2001. That's an impressive use of social media, don't you think?
  3. Craig Brazell, a 5th round draft pick by the Mets in 2004, was named to the All-Star Series. I always enjoy blog posts that include the Mets because that gives me an excuse to mention Bobby V.
Craig Brazell - Hanshin Tigers 1B
photo from

So let's talk about Craig Brazell. Like many former MLBers who find themselves in Japan, Brazell's MLB career was nothing to write home about. But he's having a great season for the Hanshin Tigers, and he's reminding the fans of a former Tiger slugger named Randy Bass. My friend Wayne Graczyk, a columnist for the Japan Times, recently wrote about this.

But the real All-Star is everyone's favorite Japanese chimpanzee, Pan-kun.

Japan Probe posted this segment from the show Shimura Zoo Pan-kun plays catch with Ken Shimura.

Uploaded by vertonjamms. - See video of the biggest web video personalities.

It's a little long, but I love the flashback to when Pan-kun was little. He remembered how to hit a baseball!

So now you know almost everything you've ever needed to know about the Japanese All-Star Series and a chimpanzee who can play baseball.

Find my story on and digg it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Japanese Cats Tumble for Us

Thank you, Japan Probe, for finding the best Japanese cat videos. Here is Hana-chan, a beautiful cat from Aichi Prefecture, who likes to somersault. Try to endure the 30-second cheese commercial:

While Hana-chan's gymnastic exploits seem new to me, apparently somersaulting is favored by many cats in Japan.

Here are two cute one's that appeared on Japan Probe:

Feeling Blue for the Blue Samurai

The World Cup is finally over, and Spain emerged victorious.

I've mentioned that I'm not that into soccer, but being a Japanophile, I found myself rooting for the Japanese national team in the World Cup, especially after the US was ousted. I actually watched part of the contest between Japan and Paraguay, but there was too much vuvuzela for me to take.

The Blue Samurai hung with the favored South Americans, and the match was nil-nil at the end of regulation. (See, I said "match" and "nil-nil" to prove I'm down with the soccer lingo.) Then the game went into extra time - a cross between extra innings and overtime - and remained scoreless when that seemingly arbitrary time period ended. On to penalty kicks, which really had nothing to do with penalties, but that's just what they call it, I guess. So, it's like a shootout in hockey, right? At any rate, Paraguay made all five of its penalty kicks, while Yuichi Komano's hit the crossbar, allowing Paraguay to advance 5-3 in the penalty kick shootout.

From Japanese soccer fan collapses in Shibuya, disappointed by Japan's loss in the World Cup. This is my reaction every time Carolina loses in basketball.

Okay, so the entire nation of Japan is upset that the team lost. In a country where duty and honor are of utmost importance, that's a tough thing. My friend Dan sent me this link to a entry describing how the Japanese media interviewed Komano's mother after the game. She apologized for her son's miss. Some people may think that the network TBS was too harsh in putting Komano's mother in a tight spot, and I tend to agree. I love sports as much as the next person, and I'm emotional when my team loses. But I would never expect Larry Drew II's parents to apologize on national television – or even local TV – for their son's poor assist-to-turnover ratio.

Reuters: Yuichi Komano of the Japanese national team reacts to missing a penalty kick in Japan's World Cup match with Paraguay.

People may consider Japan a land of extremists for its kamikaze pilots, committers of hara kiri, and workaholics who put business before pleasure. The way TBS behaved may have continued to fuel that opinion. But Japan isn't the only country that lost during that sporting event, and it's not the only country that overreacted. The president of Nigeria suspended the national soccer team from international competition for two years as punishment for the team's poor showing in the World Cup. Umm, okay. The French press had a field day writing about the blunders of Les Bleus.

I was happy to read that Japan's team manager, Takeshi Okada, had no regrets and was impressed by his team's play. TBS is being vilified, not supported, for coaxing Komano's mother to appear on camera. Yoshinobu Nisaka, governor of Komano's home prefecture of Wakayama, announced he will present the soccer player with an award for "giving people such dreams and emotions."

It gives me hope that, while important for national pride and for pure entertainment value, the game is just that: A game. (Ask me how I feel about that statement the next time North Carolina plays Duke.)