Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Yo-yo Genius



This kid is good.


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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Coin-operated


On our way home from a bit of shopping, we happened upon this thing.

At first I thought it was a coin-operated rice dispenser or something sitting in the middle of a parking lot.

But on closer inspection we figured out that it is a coin-operated rice mill sitting in the middle of a parking lot.

See, when you buy rice at the supermarket, it's generally already polished so that you can just lightly rinse it and then throw it in the pot (or rice cooker if you have one).

But when you buy it from some other places, such as directly from the farm where it was produced, it's possible that the rice is still unpolished.

Hence the need (?) for this kiosk sitting in the middle of a residential area (without a rice farm for miles).

Interesting.


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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Not for Those with Dandruff

Went to this today.

Kel and I were pretty much the only ones at the show not wearing a black t-shirt.

The show started off with Forbidden, followed by Voivod, and was headlined by Testament.

All three bands were amazing. And Testament is definitely worth watching again.


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Friday, September 19, 2008

Your Caption Here


On my way to a game this week I happened upon this scene in a convenience store.

Any ideas for a caption?


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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Baseball

Haven't posted on this topic in a while, but Dave Watkins just did a very thorough analysis of what is going on with the Tokyo Swallows at this point in the season.

It's well worth a read if you're interested in the plight of an overlooked and under-appreciated sports team.


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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Shaky Face Photos


I've been sitting on these photos for a while, and I have a couple minutes, so I thought I'd get them out there for others to enjoy.

These are from a night on the town back in August with a bunch of the good people from the greater Burlington area.

This was Matt's idea. The rules are simple. Relax the skin and muscles that hold your face in place, and when the camera is ready, shake your head back and forth very quickly like you just got out of the shower and you're trying to get the excess water out of your hair. Snap photo.

Shaky face!

Believe it or not, Matt and Travis's significant others (Kate and Devon, respectively) were present for this. Ryan's missus was smart and stayed home with their adorable daughter.

The above pic was not the best example of shaky face that we saw that night. It is, without a doubt, difficult to get three guys to contort their facial matter in the same hilarious way when the shutter clicks.

There's also the fact that shaking one's face fast enough to induce a slapping sound when your cheek hits your ear can hurt a little bit. A minor detail, really. Two or three minutes and half a pint are recommended between shakes.

Rest assured, this all makes a lot more sense when you've reached your third drinking establishment of the evening.

But the individual efforts were impressive. This one of Kate's brother, Ben, is an eye-opener.



And not to be outdone, Ryan got one wobbling for the crowd.

I've been telling people that this was taken just after I smacked him for a comment he made about the Chicago Bears, but alas that is not the case.

Ryan did this to himself.

Anyway, go ahead and give shaky face a try. It helps if you have a digital camera with relatively high specs, say six megs or more. The camera used for these shots is a 10 meg unit.


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Monday, August 04, 2008

TV Commercials (except the ones I'm in) are Evil

Back in the day, commercial advertising in the states was limited to either A-list celebs, or nobodies like me.

But recently things in the US have become more Japanese. A lot of the lines that were never crossed before, such as the stars of a TV drama leading an ad that airs in the middle of said drama, are miles behind us now.

I've never been a fan of TV commercials (although they sometimes help pay the bills), but Corey Levitan puts it more eloquently than I normally do:

Just as advertisers weaseled themselves onto pay cable and into DVDs, they've figured out how to prevent me from skipping over their irrelevant and annoying messages on television as well.

And it's you weasels who let them do it.


If you're a TV commercial hater, then give the rest of this a read.



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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bobby Valentine and I


Yeah, I don't want to brag, and yes I've touched on it here before, but I interviewed Bobby Valentine a couple weeks ago.

Here's a semi-quick write-up of the whole thing.


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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Pricey Watermelon

This a picture of a Densuke watermelon at the Inageya supermarket near here.

I recently read that the first of these black watermelons was auctioned off for 650,000 yen (roughly $6,000) at the beginning of this season.

In that same article I read that supermarkets were selling them for between twenty and thirty thousand yen (200 to 300 dollars), but the ones in Hanakoganei are going for the bargain price of 5,800 yen (about $54).

About 10,000 of these melons were grown on the northern island of Hokkaido this year, so a very limited number are available at any one store.

It looks like a bowling ball...


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Friday, July 25, 2008

Myojo Ippei-chan TV Commercial

I haven't seen it yet, but my good friend sent me another photo of her television as soon as she saw this TV commercial hit the small screen. Here's one that she sent me last year.

This one is for Myojo's "Ippei-chan" cup ramen and it's apparently on air all the time.

I'm not wearing glasses in this one, so I'm having a harder time flying below the radar. I've resorted to telling my students at the university that I have a twin brother, named Scott, that is the one appearing on TV.

And some of them actually believe me when I tell them that.

Anyway, for a short version of this TV commercial, you can go to this website.

Quick synopsis: I play a non-Japanese, ramen-obsessed nerd that is desperately seeking something that is called "koku-uma". The business man that I try to get to help me doesn't know what I'm talking about, and a little word-play comedy ensues (he shows up with the wrong thing three times).

After some more searching, we happen upon a koku-uma ramen shop and everyone (especially me!) is happy.


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Thursday, July 24, 2008

T-shirt


Stating the obvious.


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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Chiba Lotte Marines Beijing Olympics Press Conference

This picture is from a press conference that we attended at Chiba Marine Stadium on Thursday. It was the day that the team announced who Hoshino, the national team's head coach, had chosen to represent Japan at the Beijing Olympics next month.

Seated at the table, from left to right are, Nishioka (ss), Satozaki (c) and Naruse (p). They were asked some boring questions by the lady from NHK, and then they did some posing in front of the hinomaru flag. Chiba will sorely miss those three in August, but every team is taking a hit during the olympics.


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Dessert Pizza


This photo isn't very clear, but it's a snapshot of a slice of pizza that I didn't eat the other day.

If you look closely, there's marshmallow and chocolate syrup on there.

I didn't go anywhere near it. Dave ate it.

This was one of the offerings on the lunch buffet at Shakey's in Takadanobaba.


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Friday, July 18, 2008

J-League Game

Stephen took me to the national stadium in Tokyo to see my first J-League game last night. It was actually quite good, to be honest with you.

He said that the crowd was a bit odd because the game wasn't being played at their home stadium (Ajinomoto Stadium), but I was impressed with how rambunctious they were.

Even though the defense was a bit shocking, the footy was mostly alright.

I would definitely be happy to go and see another game.

FC Tokyo and Gamba Osaka drew 1-1. FC Tokyo's goal came by way of Waseda University alum, Tokunaga, and was one of the best goals I've ever seen live.


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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Waseda (Tutorial) Summer Party 2008

Kelly's band of teachers at Waseda University got absorbed by my band of teachers which means that she was able to cop an invite to the annual summer piss-up that is held at/near the end of the spring Tutorial English/Chinese semester.

This is a photo of her floating towards the after-party at the Cantina near Takadanobaba station.

That's Okuma Hall in the background.


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Friday, July 11, 2008

New Shinjuku Burger King

I don't normally get all excited about hamburgers, but I'm so tired of McDonald's and Lotteria that little things like this make me happy.

A new Burger King outlet recently opened near Seibu-Shinjuku station. That's two in Shinjuku (by my count--I'm probably wrong though), and this new outlet, despite marking the border between the train station and the seediest part of the ward (Kabuki-cho), is 100% non-smoking. Well, except for those two tables out front of course.

This place used to be a Lotteria--located only about a hundred meters from the south exit of Seibu-Shinjuku station (go down the stairs, cross over to McDonald's and turn left).

I haven't been in there yet, but I will venture inside soon.

McDonald's still gets my 100 yen every morning when I buy coffee though.


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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Erwin and Pellegrini (Tokyo Edition)

Emily Erwin and I (Hye-young in the background) in Tokyo. Welcome to the sauna, Emmy!


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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Japanese Suicide Rate Remains Steady

2007 was the 10th year in a row in which the number of people who committed suicide broke the 30,000 mark.

The National Police Agency reported 33,093 suicides last year
.

Most reports cite unspecified social pressures driving people to take their own lives. Very little seems to be discussed in terms of what can be done to help relieve said pressures. For years, the economy has been blamed for these unfortunate deaths. However, now that the economy is relatively stable (compared to the late 90's), it's obvious that the economy doesn't deserve the bulk of the blame.

Akita prefecture has been training its health professionals to recognize the signs of depression (isn't that a course in med school anyway?) since 2001. However, that northern prefecture of Japan has consistently had one of the highest suicide rates in the country.

Last year Akita had the second highest rate (suicides per 100,000 population) at 37.2 while Yamanashi, a prefecture nestled between Mt. Fuji and Western Tokyo, had a suicide rate of 39.

While the extra awareness on the part of doctors and nurses doesn't seem to be doing much, maybe the best way to reach people suffering from depression is to actually grab them.

Emergency technicians in the southern city of Fukuoka managed to stop a 38-year-old woman from jumping off the 12th floor of an office building in Hata-ku.

Their plan of attack was simple. They talked calmly to her until she took her eyes off them and then they lunged and grabbed her by the belt. Daring and crazy up on that ledge? Yes. Effective? You bet.

Now let's just hope she gets the help she really needs lest she climb back out there and try the same thing again.

[photo courtesy of Mainichi Newspaper]


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Monday, June 30, 2008

Vermonters in Tokyo

My good, good friend from Bristol is coming to Tokyo for a month to study Japanese!

Emily Erwin (not the one from the Dixie Chicks) is going to be here for the month of July! She lives in Kanazawa where she teaches at a university, but she's on summer break now.

Last buddy from home that came to visit was Dan Eling (2004?).


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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Japanese Colonization of Korea Not a 'Fact'


This one hasn't really been played up very much by the English media yet, but the head of the education board of Shimonoseki city in Yamaguchi Prefecture told the head of a Korean school that Japan's pre-WWII colonization of the Korean peninsula "contradicts a historical fact".

There isn't a whole lot in the way of context being bandied about yet, but it appears, at this early juncture at least, that the 44-year-old head of the city education board, Tsuyoshi Shimakura, is replaceable.

Click here for a Japanese article.


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Whale Slaughter: Elementary School Field Trip

Wada, Japan, one of the last legal bastions of whaling in this country, brings the youngsters out to watch the slaughter.

Japanese children as young as ten are watching whales being slaughtered to teach them the "cultural importance" of Japan's controversial commercial whaling industry.

The picture to the right is an AP photo snapped by David Guttenfelder of local schoolkids in Wada, Japan reaching out to touch the severed head of a Beard's Beaked whale.

Please read the rest of the article on your own.


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Tokyo Pitcher Daniel Rios Steroid Scandal

Daniel Rios, Tokyo's only off-season acquisition that involved a foreign player, was recently given his marching orders.

Apparently only horses can get away with using that steroid.


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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Royal Parks First Floor Gets Some Love


The deceased AMPM shop space has been dormant for quite a while, but it looks like someone has decided to take the plunge.

I have a feeling that it's going to be yet another clinic as those have been popping up at a feverish pace in Hanakoganei lately.

It's definitely not large enough to be a gym, but oh well...

The deck space out front means that it's likely to be a service industry company that gambles on the location.


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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tokyo Yakult Swallows Blog

Our new blogging project, 燕軍: Tokyo Yakult Swallows, is doing quite well! There appears to be a large body of baseball fans, both in and outside Japan, that is interested in NPB, and the number of visitors to the site each day has continued to climb.

There's already a lot of content on the site (well, considering that it's only been up for a few weeks), so please pop on over and have a look.


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Template Tweaking

I just added a blogroll to the sidebar that is more dynamic than the last one. The site that updated most recently will appear on top. Kind of a cool idea.

There's also the option of including a snippet from the post pulled off the top of each site's feed, but I wasn't sure if that would balloon the thing out too much. Maybe I'll turn that thing on in the future.

I may also reorganize my "More Links" section. There are a lot of sites in there that update regularly that are mixed in with more businessy sites. Sites dealing with Asia in particular, which happen to be mostly blogs, probably deserve their own blogroll similar to the one at the top of the page.


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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Blue Hawaii by PEPSI

The new Pepsi product, Blue Hawaii, caught my attention when I walked into a convenience store recently.

It's a bit too small to read, but the words under the giant "Blue Hawaii" on the bottle are "pineapple and lemon".

Reminds me of this.


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Friday, June 06, 2008

New Blog

Dave, Garrett and I have a new blogging project that is dedicated to the sap on our time, money and prospects for the future that is the Tokyo Swallows. The site, aptly named Tokyo Yakult Swallows, is up and running as of last night and will hopefully house some decent content within a week.

Much of my boring drivel about baseball will probably migrate over there. Or at least the marginally higher-quality stuff anyway. Some of the junk will likely show up here every once in a while.


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Sunday, June 01, 2008

"The Sleeping King" (眠り王) by The Exile Company TARA


Bearing a slight resemblance to "The Neverending Story", playwright and director Hiroshi Harada's latest original work with The Exile Company TARA is the story of a young boy who finds himself moving back and forth between the pages of a book and the reality of his hospital bedroom. "The Sleeping King" (眠り王) displays Mr. Harada's delightful storytelling skills, and the current production includes several impressive acting talents (including Harada himself!) from Tokyo's independent theater circuit.

We saw the Saturday night performance of the show amidst a packed house at Woody Theater near Naka-Meguro station. The main theme of the play is facing one's fears as illustrated by the main character, a boy who is battling a life-threatening illness. The part of the young boy was played convincingly by actress Aiko Hashimoto (藍子 橋本). Also putting in a memorable performance was the villain of the play, Hiroshi Okazaki (瑶治 岡崎), with whom I acted in an educational video last year. A strong ensemble, as well as swift changes of scene and setting, help keep this show moving.


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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Black Stripe Theater's Production of Pinter's "The Homecoming"

Black Stripe Theater has announced that it will stage Harold Pinter's classic play, The Homecoming, at Atelier Fontaine theater (near Azabu-juban station) July 4th-6th.

Check the BST website for news on the upcoming show.


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Saturday, May 24, 2008

TPR News

It's been a while since we posted a TPR News over at Trans-Pacific Radio, but here's the latest one that was just published five minutes ago.


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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Office Manners



I'm probably a little late with this, but this is my kind of humor.

Apologies if you've seen it before, but I'm sure you won't mind seeing it again.


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Yokohama Baseball Stadium

View from the left field bleachers of Yokohama stadium. This was from a game in early April that we lost (9-6) because Rios was pitching. Three weeks later, actually, he's still in a bit of a slump. He often flirts with the 100-pitch mark by the beginning of the sixth inning, and he seems to have lost that knack for getting guys out that propelled him to the top of the Korean Baseball Organization last season.

Here's hoping that he finds it.

But this post is not meant to be a swipe at Rios. Adjustments take time. He'll find his groove again. The negative tone of my typing, however, is going to endure. For I found that I'm no longer as crazy about Yokohama stadium as I used to be.

On the plus-side, it's a short walk from either Kannai station (JR Negishi/Keihin Tohoku line or Yokohama Subway line) or Nihon Odori station (Minato Mirai subway line). If you're sitting in the outfield, though, there won't be many more pluses.

Yokohama has no control over the weather, so no blame can be assigned for the bitterly frigid wind that was sweeping around the inside of the bowl-shaped stadium. But very little was done to make us feel at home.

Ah! Open seating. There's another plus! Yokohama resembles Jingu in that regard. You can get your ticket and then wander around until you find something that you like. But don't sit too close to the center field scoreboard as the public address speakers are pointed directly at the fans. It's a lot like being crammed in a tiny bar that just got new floor-to-ceiling speakers and the owner insists on taking advantage of their potential. Deafening. Accordingly, sitting in left-center (or right-center, I would imagine) only allows you the privilege of viewing the scoreboard above home plate. It's a great view if your interest in the game starts and ends with ball/strike count.

Another oversight at Yokohama stadium, at least in left field, is the food. I had long ago dismissed all hopes of getting something decent to eat at Jingu stadium (although, admittedly, the selection did improve this year), but somehow I had tricked myself into believing that Yokohama stadium has more or less a similar selection of fare available for ticket-holders. It doesn't. Yokohama stadium makes Jingu look like the food section at Costco.

Alright, it's time to stop pissing and moaning about the stadium. At least the home fans there are friendly, the seating in left field is unassigned for most games, and the stadium has retained its intimacy.

I'll just have to keep packing my own picnic and sit a little further from the center field scoreboard from now on I guess. Or that would be the sensible thing to do anyway--not that I'm particularly prone to doing the sensible thing.

Tokyo plays Yokohama away on May 6th through the 8th.


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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Not Work Safe, But Good

I watched this clip over at The Marmot's Hole this morning.

Don't watch it at work, or if you have an intense aversion to the f-word, but director Uwe Boll has something to say, and you should listen.


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Season Opener vs. Yomiuri at Meiji Jingu Stadium


It was kind of a wet weekend, that Friday, Saturday and Sunday when the 2008 season began for the teams of NPB's central league. The Tokyo derby was hosted at Jingu stadium and we were there for all three games.

The rain was particularly bad for the Sunday game after Tokyo had already beat Yomiuri easily in the first two games of the series. I had publicly stated before the series that Yomiuri was the team to beat this season, but they sure didn't look like it during that first series. Tokyo won all three games: 6-2 (Fri); 6-3 (Sat); 10-2 (Sun) leading to a central league table that looked very different from last year's.

Luke and Sally were back in town that weekend, so they were able to make it to the game on Sunday when the clouds emptied. Stephen, Miyoko and Reina were there as well (Stephen and Miyoko only like to come to games when it's raining), and we were able to have a bit of fun once it became obvious that the game was out of reach and the mighty Giants had all but given up.

The Swallows pitching is still a little shaky, but the upshot is that there are a lot of young arms in the rotation, so that can only mean good things for the future. Additionally, it looks like we may finally have a reliable closer in the bullpen. Chang-yong Im (last name sometimes romanized as Lim) throws really hard (94-95 mph) for a sidearm pitcher, and he has been fantastic thus far. I'm guardedly optimistic about him at this point. It's still early, so we'll see what happens when opposing teams have seen him a few times.


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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Translator Needed

I don't know where he snapped this shot, but my good friend, Scott Lawson, sent this one to me.

The kanji on the right can be approximately translated as "don't use", but apparently that wasn't the nuance they were going for.


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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Baseball Season and a Revamped Jingu Stadium


I can't believe that we're more than three weeks into April already and I haven't mentioned baseball yet. Well, I did, but not here.

I've been to seven games so far this season, which is kind of a weak tally for me. There have been a few rained out games so far, and I had planned to be at Jingu stadium for two of them, so mother nature is partly responsible for my slack attendance thus far.

Jingu stadium has been slightly revamped. There's new turf and new hi-tech scoreboards in both center-field and on top of the stands behind home plate. The turf looks gorgeous, but the scoreboards, which are the largest ones in use in Japan at this point, are still not being used to their full potential. The scorers sacrificed two columns of real estate on the left and right sides of the center-field scoreboard to advertising, so it is no longer possible to view the players' batting averages unless they're batting. That needs to change. Another problem with the scoreboards, or the people operating them really, is the fact that they still don't show replays of nice defensive plays. Much like during the former scoreboard's tenure, the only pieces of action worth replaying are home runs.

The corners of the outfield were moved out 10 meters at the foul poles as well. This means that it's now 101 meters to the left and right field poles which is about three feet further than the average professional ballpark in Japan. Straight-away center-field still sits 120 meters from home plate. Several rows of 1,900 yen seats were sacrificed for the expansion of the field, but the home team's pitching staff has breathed a collective sigh of relief that a few extra longballs will stay in the park this season.

As mentioned earlier, the new turf is beautiful, and it seems to absorb the momentum of the baseball a lot like natural grass does. The only thing that the players will have to be wary of is the fact that those artificial blades of grass are pretty slick when it rains. I've seen position players, and umpires, hit the deck on several occasions when making otherwise routine runs on the new surface.

Other than that, most stuff at the park are the same. The food's the same, the fans are the same, the team...is actually quite different, but I'll save that for another post.

Oh! One thing that is different is that there's a new t-shirt stand outside the stadium near where members of the fan club pick up their tickets. Grand Slam Sports Enterprises has begun producing a revolving line of unique t-shirts that are more in line with the thought patterns of the diehard Tokyo Swallows fan than what was previously available through the team's official catalog. I was fortunate enough to be able to chat with one of the main guys at Grand Slam before the game on Sunday, and he seems to have a lot of good ideas about promoting the team through a variety of well-designed and wearable t-shirts.

The t-shirt pictured here is a typical example of what they have to offer, and it cost me 2,500 yen. If it's not obvious, the "We are Tokyo" message is alluding to the fact that there are two teams located within the borders of the metropolis, but the claim to being Tokyo's team has been decided.

It sounds like Grand Slam is going to bring out some new designs every couple of weeks, so be sure to check back every so often and see if they have your favorite player's tee out there. It sounds like they will be offering a lot of limited edition t-shirts this season.

I'm hoping that they make an Iihara t-shirt soon because the team has been so slow to make shirts for some of their young stars (unless they're pitchers). Grand Slam Sports Enterprises is being billed as one of the official t-shirt outlets for the Tokyo Swallows fan club this year.


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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Fingerprinting and Photographing: Japanese Immigration


Just for fun, I thought I'd throw this pic in here.

This is from our return leg to Japan (from Korea). As most people know, the new fingerprinting regime has long since been in place, and unlike other nations with similar systems in place for documenting foreign tourists, Japan likes to book all foreigners every time they enter/re-enter the country (even if they already pay taxes here).

Anyway, we were given this piece of paper after we were told to stand in the wrong line. It's intended to help them figure out how long people are standing in line. The immigration officials that are in charge or shepherding the hundreds of people coming off the planes every half hour stay on the move and try not to stand in one place for very long. It's mostly an act of self-defense as they know that everyone is angry and they are trying not to become a target for verbal abuse. One annoying side effect, at least in our case, is that they tend not to listen very well when they are walking around, so we wasted about 15 minutes in the mile-long line for tourists.

Apparently they have set up another line for people with re-entry permits (people who live and work/study in Japan) in their passports in order to expedite the process, but it was quite a challenge for us to figure out where that line was located. The immigration officials spent a lot of time escorting VIP's through gaps in the line to avoid fingerprinting/mug shot taking. Quick question: everyone knows that politicians are criminals, so shouldn't they be prime suspects for post-landing booking?

Well, we finally got ourselves in the correct line, and after a computer failure and the requisite reshuffling of the lines of people, we made it through immigration at about 2:21 pm. That's 31 minutes after we started standing in line according to the sheet of paper pictured above left. I have no idea how their system of checking waiting time works, but our case probably skewed some of their results. We undoubtedly spent less time in line than the tourists did (by my estimates they were waiting for 45-60 minutes), so if they use our 31 minute wait as evidence that the system is getting faster, then this post is evidence that they need to double-check their methods.

Endnote: when the computer was restarted after it crashed, it was just hilarious/ironic to see the Windows OS screen appear on the monitor as it rebooted.

Check this website, Re-entry Japan, for more information on this topic.


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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Weird English at the Stationery Store

I make a point of visiting stationery stores when I go to Korea. It's a one stop shop for all of your study and souvenir needs.

It's also one of my favorite places to find wacky permutations of the English language, many of them worthy of admission at Engrish.com.

One such example is pictured to the right. This is a shopping/gift bag that was on sale at a shop in front of Busan National University.

Intending to spruce the text up with a little extra English, the designer of this bag unwisely opted for plagiarizing the first 22 words of an article in the JoongAng Daily English newspaper (which can be found here). The resulting creation is just plain weird.

On the plus side, at least this example is grammatically correct except for the fact that it's a sentence fragment.


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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Chicken and Beer


One of the staples of the Korean culinary landscape, at least if one heads out to eat, is chicken. And beer. There are shops everywhere that sell the two together. It's a wonderful thing.

The accompanying shot is of a shop near my brother-in-law's new apartment. Chicken in abundance. The place is called "Boor", but it should be spelled "bueo" when romanized. I'm being a bit nitpicky, but I think it's obvious why the proprietor chose the spelling that she did.

How else would they be able to borrow the Hooters logo that is the central part of the storefront advertising? Incidentally, Seoul got it's first Hooters last year.

Intellectual property rights aside, this type of advertising plagues the nation of Korea. It's no wonder that nobody seems to give a hoot about architecture because the building's facade is going to be plastered with these vinyl encased beds of fluorescent lights anyway.

Apparently there are moves afoot up in Seoul to cut down on this type of advertising. One can only hope that it catches on nationwide.

Until then, I'll try to get my brother-in-law to pop by this place and check what type of outfits the waitresses wear.


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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Mitsui Outlet Park Iruma

**Although it's no longer new, this post continues to draw a lot of interest. I have therefore updated it slightly to remove some of the information that is no longer relevant. Updated July 7th, 2011.

A new outlet shopping center, Mitsui Outlet Park Iruma (三井アウトレットパーク 入間) opened in Saitama this week, and we paid the place a visit yesterday afternoon. It's big.

We found some good "opening" sales, but not every shop was providing shocking discounts.

I counted no less than 204 outlets in my facilities map. Important details that I discovered during my wanderings through the enormous two-floor mall: expensive coffee can be purchased at a few different places including the Tully's coffee shop on the second floor near the bus terminal exit, cheap coffee can be found near the register at the Family Mart convenience store on the first floor; in terms of sportswear, Puma had the coolest shoes and Nike the best prices; there's a food court on the second floor called "Forest Kitchen" if you're in search of slightly cheaper fare--bento (boxed lunches) and onigiri (rice balls) can, of course, be found in the Family Mart; kids with just a little too much energy can be brought to Club Yu Kids on the second floor next to Family Mart.

Transportation

The closest train station is Iruma-shi on the Seibu-Ikebukuro line. But then it's a 20 minute bus ride from the station to the outlets (map in Japanese).

Or at least it would be on a normal weekend. As you can see from the picture to the right, there were lines to get into some of the shops, and the place was packed even though it was a weekday. The free shuttle bus from Musashino-fujisawa station was supposed to take only 15-20 minutes, but it ended up being about a one-hour-trip because of the traffic (shuttle bus service will cease after Golden Week 2008). Mitsui Outlet Park is equipped with six separate parking areas, so they're prepared for the onslaught, but the poor roads surrounding the place aren't. The shuttle bus approaches the outlets from a right turn lane on route 16 that doesn't have a protected green light, so a vehicle is able to squeeze through oncoming traffic about once every two to four minutes. It's ridiculous.

I recommend paying for a bus ticket from Iruma-shi station instead. It should cost between 190 and 300 yen per person (there are several buses that head toward Mitsui Outlet Park including the number 30 and 31), and the buses won't get as bogged down in traffic because they don't try to turn into the poorly governed entrance. Actually, I can't swear that the number 30 doesn't turn into the parking lot as it's a new line set up specifically for the shops and we didn't take it. We did, however, take the 31 back from the shops, and that took 20 minutes on the nose. That bus goes to Iruma-shi station as well. It cost 190 yen per person. The bus stop is across the street from the outlets to the left of the Eneos gas station.

Mitsui Outlet Park and Costco

This is Mitsui's fourth, and largest, outlet mall in the Kanto region. They also have shops in western Tokyo, Chiba and Kanagawa. While not the easiest to get to on busy days, the Iruma outlets carry the added bonus of sitting directly adjacent to a Costco wholesale market. For those who aren't familiar with the many wonders available at the giant wholesaler (membership required to shop there), you're missing out! Membership cards work at all 500+ Costco's worldwide, and the range of items sold there is shocking. Additionally, Costco's little dining area provides a cheap, albeit not very healthy, alternative to the pricier food in the restaurants in the outlet mall. Remember those huge slices of pizza and bottomless cups of cola? Yup, Costco in Japan is pretty much the same as back home. Membership for one person/family costs 4,200 yen (per year).

Anyway, the place is worth a visit, but I recommend waiting a week or two, or maybe until after Golden Week. There's something for everyone--from LEGO Clickbrick to Coach accessories, from Fred Perry to Bose, and from BCBGMAXAZRIA to Franc franc.


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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Changwon Starbucks has Smoking Lounge


Changwon city, South Korea, is a rapidly growing city. It sits about 50 minutes west of Busan by bus, and it's one of the only properly planned cities in the country. Canberra, Australia, apparently, was used as a template for the city.

The population is still rather small, but it's attracting jobs and development like few other municipalities. What that happens, the chains come flocking.

This is a picture from the inside of the city's first Starbucks. It's massive. The one thing that I found to be different about this particular shop was the fact that it is the first Starbucks I've seen with my own eyes that has a smoking room in it. I have no idea why Starbucks felt compelled to do that as the Korean citizenry is quite amenable to the idea that smoking should be done outside.

Starbucks outlets in Japan, by all accounts a much more tobacco-friendly nation, have ashtray-equipped tables outside their outlets.


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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Busan Government Works to Improve Quality of Life by Giving Space Back to Citizens

The city of Busan did a nice job of cleaning up the filthy canal/river that stagnated under the elevated train tracks on line number one. The water now smells like, well, water, and much of the area was reclaimed for public use.

In many areas there are basketball courts and other public recreational facilities that now sit on the flat land beside the water. Additionally, a many-many-kilometers long rubberized-track path was laid so that people could get some exercise.

This picture was taken near the entrance to Jangjeon-dong train station (장전동 역) which is along an elevated portion of line one. The bridge spanning the gap sports a rather large sign informing people of how much exercise they need to do to burn off a certain number of calories.

In other train-related news, most of line number three has been completed and is open for public use. Line three (the red line in this map) connects Suyeong station, which is not far from the beach, with Daejeo station, which is a short cab ride from Gimhae International Airport. I'm pretty sure that train service should soon extend all the way to the airport, and my eyes confirmed as much when I saw all the construction there a few weeks ago, but this map doesn't have any information on that. Instead, it seems to indicate that line three will become a one line transfer station as it forks and intersects line one at Dongnae station and continues on until it reaches Bansong.

The official Busan Urban Transit Authority website, however, says that line three will terminate at Anpyeong which is a little bit further out than the Bansong region of Busan. Their map also has line three ending at Daejeo, so it seems that an outside company or authority is responsible for the line that will attach Gimhae airport to the rest of the city.

Anyway, it was nice to have extra commuting options when we were there last. I'm sure that the transportation system will have evolved even more the next time we visit.

Update 1 [April 9, 2008]:
The connection between Gimhae airport and downtown Busan will not be connected to line three. It seems that it will be a completely elevated line stretching from Sasang station on line two in western Busan, which also happens to be a large inter-city bus terminal, to the growing suburb of Gimhae city west of Busan. The line will travel through Gimhae International Airport on its way through.

All of the trains will be unmanned and the line is scheduled for completion in 2010. Capacity is projected at a maximum of 300,000 passengers per day.


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Monday, April 07, 2008

2005 APEC Summit Facilities in Busan, South Korea


They went all out in the preparations for the 2005 APEC Summit which was held in Busan, South Korea.

This meeting hall is part of the complex that was set up on the waterfront at Haeundae beach. This is where the heads of state sat during the second (?) round of meetings during the summit. The building, the surrounding paths and gardens are absolutely gorgeous. The facilities are completely open to the public, and if I lived in Busan then I would probably go jogging there every day (all the walkways and roads are rubberized track).

I highly recommend it for anyone who is staying in Busan.
Step one: Busan aquarium.
Step two: hit Papa John's for lunch (see post below).
Step three: long leisurely walk along the beach in the direction of the Westin Chosun hotel.
Step four: 2005 APEC Summit village (entrance located on the other side of the hotel).


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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Papa John's in South Korea!

Imagine my surprise and delight when we discovered a new Papa John's outlet in Haeundae when we were there a couple of weeks ago!

We quickly bundled ourselves up the stairs and sat down for some meat-covered pizza and a side of breadsticks.

Papa John's, my favorite pizza supplier when I was attending university in Ohio, is using former Korean national soccer team coach Guus Hiddink as the face of its movement into the Korean pizza market.

From what I can tell, South Korea has a far wider variety of sit-down pizza joints than Japan does. Most pizza places in Tokyo are delivery establishments led by big names such as Pizza Hut, Domino's and Pizza-La. Shakey's is the only major chain in Tokyo that I can think of that is primarily a pizza restaurant.

I think Papa John's could do well over here if they combine deliveries with a nice restaurant environment. Domino's just opened a shop near Hanakoganei train station that combines the two although I can't comment on how well or poorly the system is working for them.

Anyway, it was very nice to have a box of breadsticks again!


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2008 Japanese Professional Baseball (NPB) Season Preview

Garrett and I recently finished our 2008 Season Preview for the Japanese Professional Baseball League (NPB) over at TPR.

It includes a 30 minute podcast and lots of prognostications about what might be expected this season.


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Friday, April 04, 2008

Watering the Shrubs

Nothing special, just thought this was funny.

I took this photo while walking down the street in Busan. Whoever was in charge of watering the shrubs out in front of the building didn't feel like it was worth the effort to go outside and hose them down the way a custodian in Japan probably would.

Not that there's anything wrong with that; I applaud the creativity.


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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Artsy South Korean Electrical Appliances

This captured my interest while I was browsing in an electronics store.

This isn't a photo of a picture frame. Well, it is a picture frame, but it's also something else.

It's an air conditioner.

South Korean appliances are leaning towards the floral these days with lots of companies opting for similar designs--lots of red appliances too.

In addition to this picture frame air conditioner, they had others that looked like paintings. It's a nice way to disguise that ugly unit hanging on the wall--especially if you can change the display.


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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

New Seibu Line Trains (30,000 Series)


I risk being labeled a little bit of a nerd with this, but trains are how I get to and from everywhere around here, so I thought I'd share one of the new developments on the Seibu line where I live.

Seibu Railways (西武鉄道) will soon be introducing its 30,000 series of trains (pdf). I saw one pass through Kami-Shakujii station on a test run yesterday, and it looked comfy. It has double screens above the doors like the newer Yamanote and Chuo line trains, and the overall design looks much more modern.

The trains are probably also faster, but that won't become an issue unless more of the Seibu line is elevated. Hanakoganei station to Takadanobaba should still take 19 minutes.


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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

South Korean Beer


This has been going on for quite some time, but I always find it amusing when I go to the supermarket to buy some beer.

My first reaction when I look in the cooler is that beer is much cheaper in Korea than it is in Japan. It has always driven me crazy that I have to pay about 200 yen (two dollars) for a beer brewed in Japan that is only marginally better than a Miller Lite. And it always comes in a can!

In Korea you can generally expect to pay a dollar (1,000 won) for a glass bottle of comparable low-quality beer. Imports, naturally, cost more.

And one way that they keep costs down is the packaging they use in South Korea: plastic bottles.

This is primarily the case if one is looking to buy a 1.6 liter bottle of cheap summer brew, but smaller sizes are also available. So if you’re just visiting Korea, and browsing the aisles of the local grocery store in search of some soft drinks, just remember that you can’t feed everything that comes in a plastic bottle to the kids.


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Monday, March 31, 2008

Bon Juk (본죽) Rice Porridge Restaurant

Another trend in South Korea, this one of a culinary nature, is the recent proliferation of "juk" restaurants. Juk is rice porridge and is considered to be very healthy.

Since the last time we were in Busan, a company called "Bon Juk" has set up camp at a large number of locations around the city.

When we visited a Bon Juk shop across the street from the DMV in Busan, we had a seafood juk and a beef juk. The picture here is of the seafood juk.

While not flashy, it was quite good (and very filling!).

I wonder if there are any juk shops in Shin-Okubo yet. If not, I imagine that this would go over quite well in Japan. I'd be willing to bet that one pops up somewhere in that part of Shinjuku ward before too long.


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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Trip to Busan (South Korea)

Just got back from a week in Busan, South Korea to spend time with family and friends.

It was great to see everyone and catch up--we hadn't made the trip since 2006.

As always, Korea changed a lot since the last time we were there. There are gadgets everywhere now; money, signatures and other personal information are often transmitted wirelessly in places as diverse as convenience stores and the DMV.

Other innovations/trends abounded as well, and one of them was the newest (?) type of vending machine that has popped up everywhere--a book vendor.

The one in this photo was at the DMV, but the most common place to find them is in train stations. Books (paperback) usually sell for 2,000 won each which is pretty cheap. 2,000 won is roughly the equivalent of 200 yen or two US dollars.


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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

T-up Mascot


This bird is stationed out in front of some big new mall not far from Okurayama train station in Kanagawa prefecture.


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Hawker Family Visits Tokyo

Lindsay Ann Hawker, who was murdered a year ago by a suspect who still remains at large, has a family that refuses to rest until the murderer is found.

Lindsay's family helped the Chiba Prefectural Police pass out flyers with Tatsuya Ichihashi's photo printed on them while asking passers-by for help and information that might lead to his arrest.

Lindsay Hawker's parents, William and Julia, and sisters, Louise and Lisa, return to the UK today.


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Bank of Japan Still Without a Governor

Ken Worsley executes a fine dissection of a Yomiuri newspaper article on the BOJ woes over at Japan Economy News. Definitely worth a read.

Why was that article allowed to be translated into English in the first place?


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Sunday, March 16, 2008

White Day: Blue Man Group in Tokyo

We've managed to get in a lot of theater so far this year!

Glengarry Glen Ross, Cirque du Soleil, and now Blue Man Group.

On the occasion of White Day 2008, I managed to snag four tickets to the evening Blue Man Group performance at Invoice Theater in Roppongi (click here and here for ticket info).

As expected, it was an excellent performance! I saw them once back in the 90's in America, and I think that the Tokyo show includes a bit more variety and audience participation. It was also in a much bigger theater, and the three blue men made it a point to wander all over the place during the show.

I would highly recommend it to anyone who's looking for some good entertainment in Tokyo! If at all possible, get a poncho seat!

Word of advice: they sell draft beer in the lobby, but they don't let you take it in during the show. Food either. I recommend buying some cans beforehand, stuffing them in your pockets and smuggling them into the theater.

Don't drink too much though. There's no intermission, and having to take a monster leak will only distract you from the stuff happening on stage (yes, I'm speaking from experience). The show is a little over an hour and a half long.

After the show we went to a nice place called Bar del Sole (click here for Japanese) which is right up the road from Invoice Theater. It's a nice Italian bar with a decent selection of food and drink (and gelato!).


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Friday, March 14, 2008

Police Issue Poster of Disguised Hawker Murder Suspect


The Chiba Prefectural Police have come up with some hypothetical images of what Tatsuya Ichihashi might look like if he were to venture out in public in disguise.

This still taken from a news program last night shows what Ichihashi might look like if he were to grow his hair long and dress like a woman, and the picture on the right is just the murder suspect with dyed hair and glasses.

Perhaps they should have included one of him in a surgical mask. Half of Tokyo is walking around with them on these days due to the kickoff of hay fever season, so he would have no problem blending in.

It was reported by Kyodo (click here) that the Chiba police force have printed 4,000 posters and at least 30,000 fliers featuring the disguised Tatsuya Ichihashi to be distributed around Japan.


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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hospital Rejections of Emergency Patients Endemic

Update 1 [March12, 2008]: The Japan Times spent a little extra time crunching the survey numbers it seems. Apparently there were more than 24,000 instances where a patient seeking emergency medical care was denied admission by at least three hospitals. Of this number, a little more than 14,000 were classified as "seriously ill". 8,618 cases involved individuals aged 14 or younger, and 1,084 involved pregnant women.

Original Post:
I commented on this last year (click here), but now there's more information coming out about the practice of hospitals rejecting patients in Japan.

A recent survey revealed that more than 14,000 patients requiring emergency medical attention in 2007 were rejected by at least three hospitals, and a little over 1,000 were denied by at least 10.

I actually saw a late-night news program/documentary about this same topic on TV last week. They interviewed some health professionals who mentioned that they had been coached on the best ways to reject patients. They showed several clips of ambulance dispatchers calling hospital after hospital and the voice on the other line giving one excuse or another for why they couldn't accept the patient.

Several times it sounded like the person on the other end of the line just couldn't be bothered to deal with any extra excitement at that hour of the night. To be fair, however, I saw footage of an ER on the news this evening, and they were clearly understaffed. Obviously, some of the rejections are warranted.

In the article, it was reported that one woman was rejected by 49 hospitals before finally being admitted (her fate was not noted). The survey did not keep track of how many people died as a result of the hospital rejections, but such cases have been publicized recently.

In December, an 89-year-old woman died after an ambulance crew spent two hours trying 30 hospitals before finding one that would accept her for treatment.

The news program that I saw on TV mentioned that while being an ER doctor in the United States is a position that commands a decent amount of respect and pay, the same can not be said for the situation in Japan. Naturally, not that many med students plan to become ER doctors.

I would love to see comparable numbers for hospital rejections (patients being denied admission), specifically with regard to patients requiring emergency treatment, in the United States. I'm sure that it happens--I just want to know how often. And how often is insurance a factor in whether or not a patient is admitted to a hospital?

Anyone have any info on this?


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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Baseball (NPB) News at TPR


I posted again over at Trans-Pacific Radio on the upcoming baseball season.

This time the article is about player moves during the off-season. There were several sales and trades, and a bunch of good free agents headed for the majors.

Please have a look and leave a comment over there.

Click here to read NPB: Off-Season Player Moves.

Two guys who are mentioned in the article are former Tokyo Swallows players Alex Ramirez and Seth Greisinger. The were both allowed to leave after the club decided (incorrectly) that they were replaceable.

A huge hole in the outfield has been left by Ramirez, and the team is now looking for its new ace pitcher.


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Hanakoganei is Growing

I'm continually thinking about what should be done to make this area more convenient and livable for taxpayers (i.e. me!), and therefore an intense fascination and expectation starts cooking inside me every time a lot is cleared and the foundations of a new building are being built.

Naturally, I was quite concerned about the financial potential of the eki-mae (near/in front of the train station) neighborhood when the convenience store in my building closed. In retrospect, however, I think that their failure to put alcohol on the shelves might have been their undoing. And I don't know, maybe Daiwa House, the proprietor of the building, told them they couldn't sell chu-hi because the tenants upstairs would have to deal with drinkers, young and old, on all-night benders in the deck chairs below (yes, they had patio furniture out in front of this convenience store). Basically, the closure of that shop can probably be chalked up to a bad business decision (no alcohol equals no business).

Even though the shop is still empty, it now looks like there was nothing to worry about. Old businesses are being recycled all over the place. Even though one of Matsumoto Kiyoshi's (a massive chain of drug stores) branches closed at the end of last year (which also worried me), it turns out that they were just moving 150 meters up the street. They now have four times the floor space and a much better location.

The old building, which was a bit of a ghost hall for a while, now has a Docomo (cell phone provider) outlet on the first floor and an izakaya on the second floor. Not that either of those businesses are particularly convenient for me (I have an au phone, and we already have several izakaya near the station), but it's an obvious signal that there's enough potential business in the area for these companies to come in here.

I'm not saying that Hanakoganei is becoming the Kunitachi of the Seibu-Shinjuku line (although that would be nice), but it's getting nicer and nicer. My word of advice to the city planners at this point, if they're reading this (ha!), is not to forget about nature. We know there's a giant park on the south side of the station, but there are only about five or six trees in the entire eki-mae rotary on the north side.

Please dig up a few of those sidewalk bricks and plant some saplings.


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Friday, March 07, 2008

New Baseball League Being Put Together in Japan


A quick article from Kyodo today mentioned that a new baseball league is now in its infancy down in the Kansai region (near Osaka) of Japan.

One team, the Kishu Rangers, has already been set up, and another three clubs are slated to be started this spring. The four clubs will officially begin playing during the 2009 baseball season. The Rangers are based in Wakayama prefecture, while one new team will be established in Osaka prefecture and two others and Hyogo prefecture.

The four team league, known as the Kansai Independent League, hopes to have eight teams set up in the long-run. It is the third independent league currently running in Japan at this point, and it joins the Shikoku/Kyushu Island league and the Hokushinetsu Baseball Challenge League in offering alternatives to this baseball-loving nation. The Island League was established in 2005, and the BC League was inaugurated last season.

The Kansai Independent League plans to go with a 72-game season (half that of the pro league's season) and league-standard 1.8 million yen salary for all players. The league is being organized with the help of Hiromichi Ishige (pictured above), the former manager of the Orix Bluewave. Ishige will act as commissioner of the Kansai Independent League and was also partially responsible for the creation of the Island League back in 2005.

The four new teams should help Japan to find more sources of player development--a task that NPB doesn't take very seriously. Pro teams in Japan would do well to affiliate themselves with one of these new teams, or any of the previously established teams in the other two independent leagues, and start a multi-tiered player development system akin to that used in MLB.


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