Monday, October 29, 2007

Craziest Last-Second-Play Ever

I think I counted 15 laterals in there.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Giving to Education

You probably already noticed, but there is a big thermometer planted in the upper-righthand corner of this site. It's a link to the Donors Choose site where people can donate to a wide array of teacher-initiated projects.

The concept is simple and brilliant. Teachers write up proposals for projects that they would like to do in their classrooms and then post them on Donors Choose. Some teachers want to buy projectors to help make their classes more interactive, while other teachers are just looking for better calculators for their math classes. There are also plenty of schools looking for outside funding for their libraries. Then people like you can peruse the proposals and donate specifically to the project(s) that you think deserve support.

It is possible to search for projects that come from schools in very high poverty areas; one could also elect to send their money to hurricane battered school districts. The choice is yours.

I have assembled a short list (also known as a challenge on Donors Choose) of some of the projects that I think are worth supporting, and the list can be accessed by clicking on the thermometer at the top of the page or by clicking here.

Many school districts are woefully underfunded, and this is one way to reach the teachers who are truly trying to do more for their students.


NOVA Closes Shop

NOVA appears to have gone belly up. The company has filed for government protection under Japan's Corporate Rehabilitation Law.

The official line is that NOVA is in the red to the tune of about 44 billion yen, but Japan Economy News' Ken Worsley estimates that the company's debt is even more astronomical (perhaps as high as 55 billion yen).

This picture was taken at the Takadanobaba branch at about 5 p.m. today. The customers in the picture were somewhat taken aback that the end had finally come. I heard several comments about how many "points" and how much money (thousands of dollars) had been lost.

"So is the money gone?" they asked somewhat rhetorically. At least the questions seemed rhetorical.

I wish that I had had information about a class action lawsuit that was underway to give them.

Is there one?


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Shigeru Takada to Manage Swallows

Former Nippon Ham Fighters general manager, Shigeru Takada (62), appears set to accept the head coach position in Tokyo.

He replaces outgoing player-manager, Atsuya Furuta.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tipness Oddballs: Part 2

The last time I wrote about exercising at Tipness, I concluded the post with a story about a man who was treating the locker room like it was his private bathroom.

Here's another one.

Maybe people are just tired after their workout, and their brains sort of shut off once they reach the locker room. That's where I most often witness extreme cluelessness when I'm at Tipness.

Today was no exception.

Between the lockers and the showers are the sinks. Six of them. Some guys like to plop down on a stool in front of the the mirrors and start their regimen of grooming after getting out of the showers. Q-tips, tissues, hairdryers and soap are provided, so it's not uncommon for four of the sinks to have a half-naked guy perched in front of the them at any one time.

The hairdryers get a pretty good workout themselves. Some guys like to use the hairdryers to dry off more than just their hair. Chest, back, and pits are all fair game. This was happening so often, apparently, that Tipness felt it necessary to post a sign saying that hairdryers are not supposed to be used to dry one's chest, back, or underarms no matter how hairy said body parts might be.

The gentleman at the sink closest to me when I was getting ready to take a shower was technically following the rules. He didn't have much hair up on top, so I was a bit puzzled to see him pick up the hairdryer. But he didn't use it to dry his wet torso. No, he went a bit further south and stuck the dryer directly between his legs.

The sign on the wall doesn't say anything about that body part.

For the first Tipness Oddballs story, click here.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

NPB Central League Overview

DeOrio and I just posted another podcast dealing with Japanese baseball over at TPR .

This podcast deals with the Central League (the league that our beloved Tokyo Swallows play in).

I encourage you to read the article and listen to the podcast. The content differs quite a bit between the two...which is probably due to the fact that we were drinking when we recorded it.


Monday, October 22, 2007

B side Restaurant (9th floor of Big Box Takadanobaba)

I've been talking about food a lot lately, so I might as well stick with the theme.

Tonight we went to a new restaurant in Takadanobaba called "B side". Big Box, the concrete behemoth that stands guard over Takadanobaba train station, received a makeover this summer and reopened on October 19th, 2007. Those of us who had been there will recall that the place was dingy and had very little going for it. I used to use the toilet there on occasion, but that was about it (the toilet paper was clean).

Well now Seibu has smacked fresh wallpaper over all the dinginess, so everything should appear clean for a year or two. The elevator even apologized to us by flashing the message, "Sorry, this elevator is crowded." Too true.

Up to the 9th floor we went to have a look at the new tenants. They now have a couple of izakaya's up there which is an intelligent switch from the large, 70's era conference rooms that probably got very little attention. Takadanobaba is a town chock-full of students, and cheap eats are the way to go. Big Box finally figured that out.

We opted for the non-izakaya place that is up there. As mentioned before, it goes by the name of B side and it occupies the south side of the building, so you can see lots of apartment buildings and the JR line tracks from the seats near the windows.

Other positives? Let's see...they have Gargery Stout on tap! Gargery is a Japanese microbrew (?) that isn't half bad although I prefer their Estella (yes, the glasses are really shaped like that. If you need to take a leak while drinking a Gargery, just put the glass in your shirt's breast pocket).

B side is striving to be one of the pricier options in town. The Gargery was reasonably priced at 700 yen per glass (it's near 1,000 yen at my local watering hole), but nothing else was. There were so many things wrong about the place that I don't know where to start...

This was my dinner, beef stew. It set me back 1,800 yen. Wouldn't mind the price so much if it came with something. It didn't. A la carte doncha know. Had to pay extra for bread. And just to give you an idea of the portion I was afforded, I positioned my bread on the edge of the plate. Yeah, I found the bottom of the bowl pretty quickly...

Wouldn't mind the price so much if it tasted better than instant stew. It didn't.

The presentation was nice, but I was shocked by the flavor. The beef stew at Jonathan's family restaurant chain is twice as good (and half the price).

And Yong-nam's pork was about as good as I usually make it. Which begs the question, "Why should we come to your restaurant if you cook about as well as I do?" (The answer should be obvious to those of you who have sampled my cuisine.)

What gets me is that this restaurant obviously hopes to be a fancy alternative for the business people of the area. They got the jazz music right, and everyone is dressed up really nicely, but they serve soft drinks with straws and the expensive cutlery is teamed with paper napkins (much like at our place). And the cherry-colored wood ceiling near the windows? Nope, it's just wallpaper. I could go on, but I already sound foolish enough...

So all together, we spent more than 6,000 yen on McDonald's-level food and two glasses of beer. I recommend giving them some time to sort things out; maybe they'll figure out how to cook in a year or so.

Even then, I'd highly recommend taking your wallet and your stomach to Shakey's Pizza which is just up the street.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Japan Series 2007: Repeat of 2006

The same two teams will battle it out in the Japan Series this year.

The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters from the Pacific League will take on the Chunichi Dragons of the Central League later this month.

The Fighters (not the Ham Fighters) won the series last year, and are favored by this observer to repeat in 2007. Fighters manager, Trey Hillman, recently accepted top job with the Kansas City Royals in the MLB, so this will be his last bit of baseball in Japan for a while.

However, Chunichi is a force to be reckoned with. They moved through the CL playoffs without dropping a game. They swept the Hanshin Tigers and the Yomiuri Giants in 3 and 5 game series, respectively.

The Fighters won the stronger Pacific League berth by winning a five-game series versus an impressive Chiba Lotte Marines team that won the title in 2005.



The Pizza Hut guy showed up with this pie earlier this evening.

It's the "Gourmet Pizza" outfitted with a "Cheezy Roll" crust. The doughy rolls around the perimeter of the pizza are filled with, you guessed it, cheese.

It was good. I don't really remember what was on top of the pizza except that there was no seafood. I requested that explicitly.

All I recall from dinner is the fact that every slice was followed by a couple of cheezy rolls.


Big Y's Cafe

A bunch of us went to a good bar down between Motomachi-Chuukagai and Ishikawacho stations (not far from Yokohama and right next to Chinatown) last night.

I partook in the devouring of one of those chickens that are roasted in the rotisserie out front. It was good! Several other items on the menu are delicious as well, but I will definitely go back for the chicken.

Guinness on tap and a dartboard in the corner, so I was happy.

If you have a chance to stop by, I highly recommend it!

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Sweet Snack Lady

This larger-than-life lady beckons customers inside a souvenier shop in Nikko. Her head is on a hinge, and she bows non-stop all day long.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

NPB Climax Series

The playoffs are underway in Japan! This is the first year that both divisions are going with a two-stage tournament to decide who heads to the Japan Series.

First, the third and second place teams in each division play a best-of-three series to decide who will play the regular season champion.

Both leagues have already made it through the first stage of the playoffs.

In the Central League, the Chunichi Dragons swept past third place Hanshin. The big difference between the two teams in that series was pitching. Hanshin has been weak offensively all season, but what they lacked in hitting they usually made up for in solid pitching.

That did not happen in this series.

Chunichi will face regular season champion Yomiuri in a best-of-five series.

In the Pacific League, the Chiba Lotte Marines were pushed to three games by the Softbank Hawks before finally booking their ticket to Hokkaido. Good pitching all around in that series.

The Pacific League Championship Series is already level at one game apiece. Defending Japan Series champions Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters took the first game with a complete game from Yu Darvish. Lotte came roaring back in the second game this afternoon with a ridiculous amount of offense.

Game 3 of the PLCS is slated for 6pm tomorrow night (Monday at Sapporo Dome).


Trip to Enoshima

We had already taken a day trip out to Kamakura with our friends, Arata and Junko. This is a picture of the Buddha statue that Kamakura is famous for.

We headed out that way again a couple of weeks ago to commemorate our second anniversary. Yong-nam grew up near the ocean, so she really wanted to go somewhere with water for once (we always head for the hills when we have time to get away).

Enoshima is an island that is basically a tourist trap. It is connected to the mainland by a bridge that carries bike, car, and foot traffic. We didn't really spend any time on the mainland beach because it looked like this:

Unfortunately, this is the first thing we saw when we arrived on Enoshima:

Enoshima is basically a rocky mountain out in the water that is dotted with soba shops, souvenir shops, a big garden (that you have to pay to look at), a few escalators (that you have to pay to ride), and about 9 million cats.

I'm kidding about the cats, but the deal with the escalators is true.

There are a lot of cats though. A lot of cats! Apparently Enoshima has a very progressive immigration policy regarding stray felines. Every time you turn a corner in Enoshima, you are bound to see at least one cat.

Here are a few that we stumbled across:

I don't really remember a whole lot about our short tour around Enoshima, but I'm proud of the fact that the only thing we spent money on was ice cream.

For the record, Kamakura is definitely worth the trip, but I would advise finding a different beach. I don't think it's possible for all of them to be that dirty. I would only recommend going to Enoshima if you've already seen almost everything else in the Kanto region of Japan.


Saturday, October 13, 2007


In a recent press release, US president George Bush urged congress to pass several pending FTA's.

One of the agreements that is still in limbo, of course, is the KORUS FTA (Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement).

Negotiations were fast-tracked the last time around, but now both sides are balking at the thought of making the FTA official. Politicians on the US side seem particularly antsy. There has been a lot of talk about renegotiating.

The press release naturally paints a rosy pitcture when describing the benefits for the American people.

It was pointed out that South Korea is the 11th largest economy in the world, and a report released by Yonhap news agency shows that South Korea is America's 7th biggest trading partner right now.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Rumors and Rumblings from the Bird Cage

The season is over and change is the force du jour in Swallows-land.

Here's a quick recap:

Furuta's replacement as manager looks to be Shigeru Takada.

The head pitching coach will be Daisuke Araki (a former Swallows player) who is being brought in from Seibu.

It appears that Alex Ramirez has played his last game in a Swallows uniform. The likely Central League MVP is now a free agent, and the boys at Yakult don't seem to care enough about winning to keep him around.

Dickey Gonzalez (who missed the entire season due to surgery), Adam Riggs, and Adam Guiel are slated to return.

Pitchers Greisinger and Sikorski would be logical hold-overs for the team (they're the only two pitchers on the team who consistently did their job well), but Yakult doesn't like people who demand market-value in contract negotiations. We'll have to wait and see on that one.

Career saves leader, Shingo Takatsu, has been told to find employment elsewhere. Takatsu experienced his worst season ever in Japan, and saw his era balloon to above six.

More to come...

Update 1: [10/13/07, 1:55pm]

Shigeru Takada, the man who has been offered the Tokyo manager's job, said that he cannot make a full commitment to the job until after his current team is done playing. Takada is now the GM of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. His team, as you know, is prepping to defend its Japan Series title.

Update 2: [10/22/07, 11:39pm]

My prediction that Alex Ramirez would win the CL MVP award was probably not the wisest thing I've typed this month. Ramirez, as I've bragged a million times before, plays for the Tokyo Swallows...the worst team in Japan this year. MVP's in Japan, at least so far, do NOT come from last place teams.

However, I will state once again that he had, without a doubt, the best numbers in the league this season.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Furuta's Last Home Game

Tokyo's player/manager Atsuya Furuta played his last home game last night against the Hiroshima Carp.

Hiroshima jumped out to an early lead with three runs in the first inning off of Tokyo starter Ishikawa.

Tokyo was never able to recover despite an rbi sacrifice fly by Riggs in the second, and solo home runs from Guiel in the 6th and 7th (the one in the 6th was an inside-the-park homer that resulted from a fielding collision in shallow left field).

Incidentally, Guiel is now one behind Yokohama's Murata for the central league home run title. As fate would have it, the final two games of the season are at hitter-friendly Yokohama stadium this afternoon. Look for Guiel to walk three or four times today and tomorrow as Yokohama tries to protect Murata's claim to the title.

To be fair, the game has no meaning in terms of the CL standings. Tokyo secured last place with it's shaky pitching last night, and Yokohama is in no danger of losing its title as the best crappy team in the central.

The only other things at stake are era's, Ramirez's chance to break Aoki's CL mark of 202 hits in a season and/or reach 30 round-trippers on the season, Aoki's ability to catch Ramirez for the batting title (batting average), and Guiel's proximity to the league title for most times being hit by a pitch in a season (he's been beaned 23 times so far).

Rewind: Dave and I arrived at the park at 2pm to get in line for tickets. The game was sold out, so we were cared for by Nakagawa-san and company and somehow ended up 35th in line for the right field bleachers. That meant that we were easily able to get our normal seats at the back of section D, and we were able to watch the stands fill up very quickly as gate after gate began hemorrhaging fans.

The wait was long enough that we had a pizza delivered to where we were standing in line. Pizza-la was able to find gate 17 despite the long walk, and the pizza was delivered with a smile.

The sell-out was due to Furuta's impending retirement from professional baseball. He started and played the entire game, and he received unbelievable support every time he came up to bat. Throughout the game, short videos were played on the giant monitor in center field that commemorated his role in turning Tokyo into a major force during the 90's and the first part of this century. Most fans held green placards with Furuta's number 27 on them every time he came to the plate.

The end of the game saw starter Ishii come on in relief and Takatsu (two guys that Furuta caught through several championship seasons) pitching in the ninth. Hiroshima's manager, Marty Brown, responded by sending in veterans Sasaoka and Maeda to help recreate some of the old days.

After all was said and done, including speeches, lots of flowers, Furuta getting thrown into the air several times by his teammates, and a long tour around the grounds to throw balls into the stands, Aoki and Ramirez followed Furuta back toward the right field fence where they hoisted him up so that he could climb on top of it and thank the fans in the bleachers that have been watching him play for nearly two decades.

Even those of us who have not been impressed by his stint as manager were quick to thank him for all that he's meant to the team and Japanese baseball.

I hope that he doesn't stray far from the game.

Final score:

Tokyo 3 -- 6 Hiroshima

W: Hasegawa (5-5, 2.95 era)

L: Ishikawa (4-7, 4.38)
Update: [Tuesday October 9th, 2007; 1:12 am]
Ramirez was able to rewrite the CL record with his 203rd hit, and Aoki captured the batting crown with three hits and a season average of .346 (to Ramirez's .343). Guiel walked twice. Tokyo lost the game 5-4 and sealed their position as the worst team in Japan this year (despite having one of the most potent offenses).


Friday, October 05, 2007

Ramirez Gets 200th Hit!

Ramirez became on the third player in the history of Japanese professional baseball to record 200 hits in a single season.

In last night's 3 - 1 victory over the Yokohama Baystars, Ramirez reached base safely in his third at-bat. It was the 139th game of the year for him.

The two other players to reach the 200-hit milestone are Ichiro Suzuki (who now plays for the Seattle Mariners) and Ramirez's teammate on the Tokyo Swallows, Norichika Aoki.

Meanwhile, Ramirez just needs one more home run to reach 30 on the season.


Fingerprinting and Photographing

Japan is set to level the playing field by requiring that all foreign nationals submit to fingerprinting and photographing at the nation's points of entry. The new system will start on November 20th.

This is a trend that was made all the rage when the United States started it a few years ago, and similar programs are being operated in countries from Europe to South America.

Like other nations, Japan's government sees this as, "a bid to block the entry into Japan of individuals designated as terrorists by the justice minister." Apparently nobody bothered to tell them that all recent terrorist acts committed within the Japanese homeland have been carried out by Japanese nationals.

Another major difference between the United States and Japan is how "free" the person is after clearing immigration at the airport. A visitor to America is, for the most part, allowed to go and do as she pleases (so long as it coincides with the type of visa that the person has in her passport). No special card is issued. Japan, on the other hand, requires that foreign nationals report any change in residence or job to their local ward or city office. They are also issued cards that mark them as non-Japanese and must carry these with them at all times (not doing so is illegal).

Personally, I am not a big fan of all the fingerprinting and photographing, and I would like to see it done away with everywhere. That said, Japan is perfectly justified in embarking upon a little tit-for-tat because Japanese people are forced to deal with this type of humiliation when they enter countries in Europe and the Americas.

At the same time, Japan should do away with the "gaijin cards" (foreign registration ID cards) now that it has an effective way to keep undesireables out of the country. With both systems intact, non-Japanese are essentially "on parole" while living in Japan.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Dave's Dance

Dave and his swallow do a little dance while Scott and Sarah provide relief and song.

PS. Yes, the quality is still crappy. Feel free to buy me a new phone anytime.


Monday, October 01, 2007

A Reason to Celebrate

The men's toilet on the third floor at Nishi-Waseda has been remodeled!

If you've ever tried to use a squat-style toilet, then you probably understand my feeling of euphoria. I have never really enjoyed pooping in a hole whenever I go camping, so I don't see any reason to make it a habit when I'm at work.

Any male teacher at Waseda will be able to tell you that the only western-style toilets at the Nishi-Waseda campus were located on the first and third floors over in building number one. Those two bowls were getting so much attention that they became a little wobbly. Now they have backup.

And for those of you who are so inclined, and are in possession of a small behind, one of the new toilets is equipped with a "washlet".

Spray away!


Are You in a NOVA Apartment?

If so, you had better listen to this. TPR interviewed several people connected to NOVA, and a lot of useful information ended up in the podcast posted over at TPR in the form of a podcast titled Nova Employees: Their Voices, Their Stories.