Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Pimp my Konbini

Konbini (pronounced cone-bee-knee), or convenience stores, are everywhere in Japan. To illustrate what is meant by "everywhere", there are two within a 90-second walk from here (and I live out in the middle of nowhere). They carry everything from undies to hangover elixirs to fried chicken. Inside most konbini one can find an ATM, photocopier, dropoff point for mail, clerks who will process your monthly bills for you (you can pay your water bill at the convenience store, yeehaw!), and clean toilets.

But there are a lot of them. All the competition makes for an ever-evolving market that attempts to predict what people will need next. Some of the bigger chains are beginning to look into more upscale versions of their business model for the posher parts of town. One such chain is Lawson. They have come up with Natural Lawson and they are popping up all over town.

The one pictured above is near Gaienmae station on the Ginza line in downtown Tokyo. It's pretty...how do you say...swish? It boasts patio seating, a bakery, and a selection of wine that makes it up into the 14,000 yen range (about 120 dollars for one bottle). You can get all the normal stuff but of a slightly fancier species. Instead of normal dish soap and cleaning detergent, they have Ecover. Rather than having a juice that costs 150 yen, you can opt for one from the UK that costs about 500 (they carry both). They even carry fresh produce at the Natural Lawson in Gaienmae.

It's worth popping in and grabbing a danish and some mineral water just to sit out on the deck and do a little people-watching.

Considering the fact that rent in that area is about fifteen hundred dollars per month for a cramped studio apartment, I guess it makes sense that convenience stores have started to morph into cafes. Shouldn't be long before they start selling dog and cat garments...


Tokyo Swallows Ride Tremors to Win

Come-from-behind victory over tied-for-first in the Central Chunichi. Five run rally in the top of the ninth at Nagoya Dome.

And for those of you who are wondering, there was a whole mess of earthquakes today.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hara's Dumb Coaching Move of the Weekend

Several games were cancelled due to the typhoon this weekend, but the Hiroshima - Yomiuri series went uninterrupted due to the cover on that monstrosity they call "Tokyo Dome".

I caught some of the game on TV before the station switched to other programming (what's the point of showing a baseball game if you're only going to show part of it?), and Yomiuri's manager, Hara, made himself look stupid in the bottom of the 7th when his team was up to bat.

Hiroshima had just leveled the game at two all in the top of the 7th, and Yomiuri answered with a single by leadoff hitter, Tani. He was then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Suzuki, and then Hiroshima opted to get to Abe by intentionally walking Ogasawara. It seemed like the idea of walking a player in order to get to Abe rattled rookie Hiroshima right-hander, Miyazaki, because he proceeded to walk Abe as well on four straight pitches (to give him credit, his first two pitches were close).

Perhaps Hara was influenced by Hiroshima skipper Marty Brown's bold decision to leave his rookie middle-reliever in the game at this point. Abe hits exceptionally well against right-handed pitchers, so some coaches may have opted for a lefty in the matchup with Abe. Either way, you had to like the position Hara's guys were in: bases loaded, one out, veteran Nioka up to bat next, and an obviously rattled pitcher being left on the mound to clean up the mess that he was largely responsible for.

And that is when Hara made his own bold (read: moronic) move. With Nioka already making his way over to the batter's box, Hara emerged from the dugout and made a hitting change. In a situation that looked quite embarrassing for Nioka, Ozeki was brought in to pinch-hit. Ozeki is a decent hitter to be sure, but for some strange reason Hara thought that this pressure-packed situation would be the perfect opportunity for him to have his first at-bat of the season.


Ozeki fouled off the first pitch, but Miyazaki was apparently able to calm down during the brief delay caused by the Yomiuri personnel change. Ozeki ended up striking out rather feebly on a check-swing third strike.

Hollins then grounded out to the pitcher to end the inning with the bases juiced.

Of course, Hara would have been a hero had Ozeki done so little as to fly out to deep right field. However, it almost seemed as though he regretted the decision immediately after he made it. With Nioka sporting a very stern and disgruntled face in the dugout, the ramifications of his decision started to dawn on Hara. Even before Ozeki pulled the first pitch foul, Hara was showing the camera that he had not taken all of the factors into consideration (you have to love those long, drawn-out close-ups that the outfield cameras are able to grab). You could almost hear his mind saying, "Wait, has Ozeki even played yet this season?" or, "Was it Nioka I just yanked from the game or some bit player like Odajima?" or, "If Ozeki strikes out, how many outs are there?"

Hiroshima ended up winning the game with a pair of runs in the 9th.

This loss, coupled with the Chunichi win over Hanshin, has now dropped Yomiuri to second place in the Central league (based on winning percentage).

Central League
Chunichi: 43 wins; 34 losses; 2 ties; 0 game behind
Yomiuri: 46 wins; 37 losses; 0 ties; 0 games behind
Yokohama: 39 wins; 35 losses; 1 tie; 2.5 games behind
Hanshin: 36 wins; 40 losses; 2 ties; 6.5 games behind
Tokyo: 34 wins; 42 losses; 0 ties; 8.5 games behind
Hiroshima: 30 wins; 48 losses; 1 tie; 13.5 games behind

Pacific League
Nippon Ham: 48 wins; 32 losses; 4 ties; 0 games behind
Lotte: 41 wins; 34 losses; 6 ties; 4.5 games behind
Softbank: 43 wins; 37 losses; 3 ties; 5 games behind
Seibu: 40 wins; 40 losses; 2 ties; 8 games behind
Rakuten: 35 wins; 44 losses; 2 ties; 12.5 games behind
Orix: 35 wins; 47 losses; 3 ties; 14 games behind


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Kate Pellegrini

My sister is everywhere.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

The King is Back

Burger King has returned to Tokyo, and it can be found in the B1 dining (patio) area at iLand Tower in the skyscraper district of Shinjuku.
Below is a photo of the patio dining area that is about a five minute walk from Shinjuku Station west exit.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The "Big One" Must Be About to Hit...

The top five hitters in our order hit a combined .560 in the game tonight. They accounted for 14 of Tokyo's 16 hits and sent eight pitches into the bleachers. Yup, eight home runs.

Aoki hit his 14th. Tanaka hit his first two of the season. Ramirez drilled his 12th and 13th, and Guiel came through with numbers 17 and 18. Miyade also pitched in with his 5th.

That's now seven games in a row. I have no idea what's going on.

Please make sure that you have bottled water stashed in every room; blankets and flashlights are also wise additions to any emergency preparedness kit.


Happy Birthday, Scott!

I don't think he even checks this blog, but a big Happy Birthday to my brother, Scott, who turns 27 today!


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Fumio Kyuma Resigns

Great piece over at Trans-Pacific Radio dealing with Fumio Kyuma's remarks about the A-bombs and their 'inevitability'.


Monday, July 09, 2007

The Awakening of a Crap Ballclub

The string of losses that inaugurated this season is still fresh in many folks' minds (including mine). It was embarrassing. I started drinking a lot more when I went to watch the games. The beer vendors (mostly 'bi-ru ooji', or 'beer prince') were delighted, but I was pretty sure that the misery wasn't about to end anytime soon.

I was kind of right. That was April, and now it's July. It took a while, but the patience appears to have paid off.

The names remain the same. We still shuffle through a makeshift bullpen of catchers, starters, middle relievers and closers. We still have only one solid starting pitcher (we love you, Greisinger!). We still are without our best relief pitchers (add Takatsu to that list because he just broke his toe getting out of the bath. No, I'm not kidding). We still are in the first half of a rebuilding year in which our young 3rd baseman played right field last year, and our equally young 2nd baseman was wielding little more than a cotton swab when he took to the plate. We still had a player-manager who almost never played (he has since retired from the half of his job that involved actually throwing, catching, and swinging at a baseball. Apparently you can actually do that if you have the right job and the right connections. I would love to retire from the part of my job that involves marking essays until four in the morning. Maybe all I need to do is ask).

But then things started to ripen. We made it through the interleague portion of the season without too many reasons to hang our heads. Against the stronger Pacific league teams we mustered a nearly .500 record, and the bats started to come alive a bit.

And now we are in that short stretch (about one month) of league games that lead up to the All-Star series. The first couple of weeks have been quite nice.

We started off with a double versus second place Chunichi Dragons. Sweep.

Then it was off to Koshien for a three game series with the Hanshin Tigers. OK, so 2 out of 3 isn't bad (especially when you consider that they dominated us this season up until July).

This past weekend it was a home series versus first place Yomiuri. Sweep.

It was beautiful. I cried a little.

A little background: Yomiuri entered the series 16 games over .500, and they led the next best team in home runs by more than 30 dingers. Their lineup is stacked. The top half of their lineup reads something like this: Takahashi BA .330, HR 20; Tani .338, 8; Ogasawara .327, 19; Abe .311, 19. They're basically the shadow Pacific league All-Star team (that's where they poach most of their best players from), and the most annoying part is that their cadre of goofy-looking starters has finally starting living up to their salaries (after years of Comedy Central-quality pitching).

Lowly Tokyo somehow outscored Yomiuri 28-11 in the series. We hit 9 home runs, and we outhit them 46 - 22. Much of the credit goes to our starters. Greisinger, as expected, pitched a strong opening game. But the big story of the series was Tateyama who pitched eight innings of two hit, no run ball in the second game! Veteran Ishii came in and did fairly well in the third game.

Tokyo has been hitting .287 (pitchers included) as a team since the interleague season ended--that's much better than the .267 that they've compiled during the first half of the season (for the record, Yomiuri is hitting .284 for the season).

The remarkable thing is that everything is basically the same as before. We still have the same people doing the same things. They're just doing them slightly better. Riggs, Ishii (Hirotoshi, not Kazuhisa), Gonzalez, and Kawashima are still injured.
I would like to make it perfectly clear that Aoki, Ramirez, and Miyamoto are still golden (said like how Mr. Buonincontro says it). It's just that these other guys that are finally getting it done.

Iihara, the guy who moved in to cover the gaping hole left by Iwamura at third base (he now plays for Tampa Bay), is still committing a ridiculous number of errors, but his bat is now starting to make a difference. Tanaka (our second baseman) doesn't commit many errors, but you would have been excused for mistaking him for a pitcher when looking at his batting average earlier this season. His average is now up in the .260 neck of the woods, and it looks like it could keep heading north. The steady jump in his average means that he has been hitting well up in the .290's recently, and Ramirez is no doubt loving having the extra guy on base when he comes up to swing.

At least one of our catchers (and possibly two) has figured out how to hit. Fukukawa (who is unfortunately not the youngest of the bunch) has hit five home runs in the last six games he has started. Miyade has also been a solid contributor from first base. He seems less tentative at the plate this season, and he's had quite a few rbi's as of late. He's a little slow moving laterally in the dirt, but we'll give him the benefit of the doubt because he played outfield last year.

Back to the pitchers: Tateyama has been very strong recently, and Matsuoka (third season) pitched a solid game versus Hanshin on July 5th. Middle relievers Takai, Yoshikawa, and Endou are getting things done, and Kida seems to want the ball in the clutch.

So after winning 7 of our last 8 games, we now stand one game behind Hanshin and fourth place in the Central league. More importantly, we're only six games behind third place (and that coveted playoff berth) now.

I promise not to be too optimistic from here on out, but the Yomiuri sweep seemed to be a sign (hence this long post). After the culmination of the sweep in game three yesterday afternoon, I was actually waiting for a huge earthquake to hit. That didn't happen, so I felt that I would be safe posting about it here.


Friday, July 06, 2007

Ice Cucumber by PEPSI