Monday, August 23, 2010

The Greatest Catches This Baseball Season

Two outfielders for the Hiroshima Carp arguably made the best catches this season, not only in NPB, but in all of baseball.

First, Masato Akamatsu made this Spider-Man catch on August 4.

Sunday it was Soichiro Amaya's turn.

I especially love the reaction of the pitcher, Yuuki Saitoh. You can tell the game was in Japan because the fans actually stepped back and let Amaya catch the ball instead of reaching over him to try to catch it themselves.

There are a couple of crazy things going on with these two catches:

  1. The same pitcher was on the mound.
  2. The catches were made against the same team, the Yokohama BayStars.
Too bad it wasn't the same batter. That really would've been freaky.

Thanks to NPB Tracker for tweeting about Amaya's catch. Perhaps Twitter is useful after all.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Konan the Koshien Destroyers

Congratulations to Konan High School of Okinawa on winning Japan's national summer high school baseball tournament. Familiarly known as Koshien, the name of the fabled Osaka-area stadium where the event is held, the tournament is the dream of every Japanese high school baseball player and a national obsession for every Japanese baseball fan.

With a 13-1 win over Tokaidai Sagami High School of Kanagawa, Konan, of Okinawa's capital of Naha, become only the sixth team in Koshien history – dating back to 1915 – and the first since Daisuke Matsuzaka's 1998 Yokohama High School team to win both the spring and the summer tournaments. Konan's championships are the first ever by a school from Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture.

Yosuke Shimabukuro, Konan's left-handed ace, won the tournament in March, going 12 innings and throwing 198 pitches to defeat a team from Tokyo. This summer, he threw a complete game in the championship, scattering 9 hits and striking out 4.

Yosuke Shimabukuro, the workhorse of Okinawa's Konan High School, pitches against Tokaidai Sagami in the championship of Koshien, Japan's national summer high school baseball tournament.
Shimabukuro started all five of Konan's tournament games, pitching a total of 42 innings with 2.36 ERA and striking out 41 batters. During the tournament, Shimabukuro also recorded his 100th career strikeout at Koshien, during the 2nd inning against Sendai Ikuei.

Koshien is the place where legends are born; Hideki Matsui and Daisuke Matsuzaka performed heroics here during their high school days. After Yosuke Shimabukuro's performance at this year's Koshien, perhaps he'll go on to superstardom in Nippon Professional Baseball.

In other Japanese baseball news, Edogawa Minami, Japan's Little League representative, won its first game against Mexico, 4-1, on Friday night. Down 1-0 with two out in the top of the 6th inning, 5'1" Ginga Maruoka powered the first pitch he saw from Ricardo Puga over the wall for a 3-run home run. This is the only video on YouTube that I could find. A camera is shooting a TV tuned into the game, but at least you can see it. Maruoka is so cute!

Kaname Shinozaki (22) and Takeshi Saito (5) celebrate Ginga Maruoka's 3-run home run in the Little League World Series as catcher Eduardo Mata of Mexico looks on.
Japan plays Puerto Rico, which routed Germany 11-0, on Sunday at 6:00 p.m. 日本頑張れ!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Japanese Comfort Food, North Carolina-Style

A visit to my mom's in North Carolina always means the consumption of massive quantities of food. My mom is an excellent cook who blends her native Okinawan traditions with dishes she's picked up after living in North Carolina for more than thirty years. The result is a unique amalgam of flavors and textures that put a smile on my face and extra inches on my waistline.

Mom's Specialty: Egg Rolls

Like practically everything from the written language to fireworks, egg rolls originated in China. Like practically everything that originated in China and introduced to Japan, egg rolls have been adapted to suit the Japanese palate.

My mom's process for making these things is arduous. She spends hours chopping up the guts of the egg rolls (right). Last week, on the suggestion of my sister, my mom bought bags (seven) of cole slaw instead of chopping a few heads of cabbage and countless carrots. Tiny chunks of chopped pork tenderloin are also in the mix.

Once the filling (which I affectionately refer to as "goo") is prepared, my mom spoons it onto the egg roll (won ton) wrappers.

Won ton wrappers filled with goo and ready to be fried
This is where the "egg" in egg rolls come. My mom uses egg whites to moisten and seal the sides of the wrappers. That's it. I'm not sure why the food is called "egg rolls" when there aren't really any eggs in them. Oh well, that's not important.

Anyone who's ever tried one of my mom's egg rolls wants fifteen more. These aren't your run-of-the-mill egg rolls from a typical Chinese restaurant. They're just different. Perhaps the best way to describe them is "flat-out amazing."

Mom's Oden

Oden is typically a winter dish, but it's enjoyable even on  95-degree days. Using ingredients from Youn's Oriental Food Store, Mom cooked up a tasty and nutritious hot pot. Firm tofu, daikon, konyaku, and kombu swam together in Mom's own pork bone broth. Oden broth from mainland Japan is dashi, which is fish-based, but Okinawans love pork and incorporate the other white meat into almost every dish.

Mom served her oden with edamame, the quintessential Japanese appetizer. These beans are packed with protein and make an easy and healthy snack. Just don't put too much salt on them.

Mom's Rice

As in any typical Japanese home, Mom always has rice. I never actually see her make it; the steamy, fluffy, white rice is continuously in her Japanese rice cooker, magically replenishing itself. Rice is the main staple of the Japanese diet and is firmly ensconced in its food culture. The Japanese word for meal, gohan, also means "cooked rice." My mom considers herself lucky for having access to Japanese rice at Youn's and at the commissary in Fort Bragg because she feels Japanese rice is superior in texture and flavor. "I like all American food," my mom explains, "except their rice."

For the Love of Berkley

When our vet, West Chelsea Veterinary, started a Facebook page, I became a fan. In addition to posting tips for taking better care of our pets, West Chelsea also has a feature called "Pet of the Week." Fans send in pictures of their furry friends in the hopes that one day their pets will be chosen for the honor.

Of course, I sent in a picture of my cat, Berkley. For weeks I checked West Chelsea's Facebook page looking for Berkley's picture, but I saw a string of other people's pets instead. While I felt happy for the cute and deserving cats and dogs, I was slightly jealous that Berkley wasn't on the page. Until now. Today Berkley was named West Chelsea's Pet of the Week!

From the Facebook fan page of West Chelsea Veterinary:

Meet Berkley Hamaker! She's our "Pet of the Week." Her parents, Marc and Susan tell us the 15-year-old calico was rescued from a shelter in Richmond, VA. For more than 10 years, Berkley has been seeing the vets at West Chelsea, where she has a bit of a reputation. When they see her name on the schedule, the staff braces themselves and anticipate bad behavior. The gloves come out, and they wrap Berkley in a towel so she won't attack during her exam. She growls, she hisses, and she's even been known to bite. 

But look at that face! Marc and Susan say at home she's as sweet as can be. She cuddles in bed, curls up in the path of a sunbeam, and enjoys playing with ribbon. She brings great joy to her parents! Congrats Berkley!

The even put her on the marquee:

Berkley hasn't let this accolade go to her head. She's the same cat she's always been. As a reward, I gave her extra food this morning. Congratulations, Berkley Elizabeth McCormac Hamaker!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Examining Japanese Culture in New York

In October 2009 I wrote a little blurb about the Japan Society's exhibit featuring a textile artist and submitted it to, a website that allows writers to write about whatever they want. I created the title of New York Japanese Culture Examiner, answered a few questions about why I was the best person for the job, and waited. Within days, I was approved.

I started writing about whatever Japanese-related events were happening in New York. At first I felt as if I couldn't write about an event unless I attended it, but I quickly realized that with my travel schedule for my "real" job, that would be logistically impossible. Then I started making things work by asking for press releases and finding resources to help me write my articles. With examiner, I don't have assignments, or deadlines, or even editors. I decide what to write, when to write it, and how to write it.

Being an examiner has been a great confidence booster. People give me press passes and grant me interviews. I still have a long way to go, but I'm learning how to ask questions, and I'm becoming more comfortable with approaching complete strangers at places such as crowded after parties for movie premieres. When I meet people, I give them my business card and think of how I can write stories about them. I've created a Facebook page to garner more exposure for my writing.

This summer I've been privileged enough to attend many Japanese-related events and talk to people who share my interest in Japanese culture. Here are a few highlights:

Opening Night of JAPAN CUTS - Japan Society
Attending premieres is one of my favorite activities as a writer for The Japan Society is where I usually attend these types of events. Actually, it's where I attend the majority of New York's Japanese-related events. Anyway, the kickoff to JAPAN CUTS, the Japan Society's two-week film festival, was especially pleasing because of the two movies that were shown: "Sawako Decides" and "Confessions."

Sushi Typhoon Party - Japan Society
Oh, this party was so much fun! As part of the aforementioned film festival, the Japan Society and the New York Asian Film Festival screened two slasher movies, "Alien vs. Ninja" and "Mutant Girls Squad," then hosted a raucous party afterward. Crazy, shocking, brash, crude. And I'm talking about the directors.

Me with Masanori Mimoto of "Alien vs. Ninja"

Me with Cay Izumi of "Mutant Girls Squad"

Press Conference for "Musashi" - Lincoln Center
On this day, I felt like a journalist. I was invited by Eileen McMahon of the Lincoln Center to attend a press conference for the play "Musashi," written by Hisashi Inoue. The actors performed a scene for us, then we were granted an audience with director Yukio Ninagawa and lead actors Tatsuya Fujiwara and Ryo Katsuji. I was one of only two or three non-Japanese (or half Japanese in my case) members of the media to attend. That was cool, until I realized the interview was being conducted entirely in Japanese. My questions and Fujiwara's subsequent answers were translated.

Ryo Katsuji (left) and Tatsuya Fujiwara in "Musashi"

Crucial fight scene in "Musashi"

From left: "Musashi" director Yukio Ninagawa, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Ryo Katsuji

The Japanese media at the "Musashi" press conference

My "Otaku" Education Continues with
In my attempt to learn about all aspects of Japanese culture - even the parts I find a little confusing - I once again met with Reni Mimura, who dresses up as a maid and sings.

Reni (left) with maids at PJ Mini Pop in Harlem

Cool Japan Festival - East Village
Street fairs have been a fixture of New York summers for who knows how long, but this year, there have been several with a Japanese theme. I was able to attend one in the East Village, and it was nice to see so many people interested in - or at least curious about - Japanese culture. The street fair had great food and beautiful Japanese products and crafts, and it also gave me ideas for future stories.

Ruri Kippenbrock of Wuhao NY shows me vintage tenugui.

More otaku culture

"Katsu Curry Dog" from Go!Go!Curry!

In the few months that I've been the New York Japanese Culture Examiner, I've learned a great deal about the culture and how it's presented in New York. There will be more learning and writing to come.

Oh, one note: This post may look a bit wonky because I'm writing on my iPad using the Blog Writer app. It comes in handy when I don't have a wireless network, but I can't insert hyperlinks or change fonts to italics or bold. Or at least I haven't figured out how to do that yet.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Japanese Manner Posters

Japan is filled with incredibly polite people, but sometimes even the Japanese need to be reminded of proper manners. Apparently, these reminders are especially necessary on trains. I took the above picture last year while waiting for the ferry to Miyajima during the JapanBall baseball tour. Individual posters, with directives such as "Do it in the gym," were all over the trains.

Here's another one, which is posted over each priority seat:

This is simple common sense and not a flashy marketing campaign, but the message of politeness is clear.

The best posters yet were done from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. Tokyo Mango re-tweeted this from Pink Tentacle's website. These posters are amazing, creative, and hilarious.

I'm especially fond of the use of monsters as stand-ins for rude people. Forgetting umbrellas seemed to be a big problem during that era.

I wonder what manner posters await me when I return to Japan in a few weeks.