November 29, 2009


Shichi-Go-San,which means “seven, five and three” in Japanese, is a traditional rite of passage in Japan for three and seven year-old girls and three and five year-old boys. It is held annually on November 15 (or observed on the closest weekend) and marked by families visiting Buddhist shrines to pray for the healthy growth of their children. Boys wear hakama jackets and traditional rigid pants, while girls dress up in beautiful kimono. Many kids apparently wear Western clothes, too. The shrine visit is intended to drive out evil spirits and pray for a long and healthy life. Many, many photos are taken. Here are two of ours.

One of Naomi’s relatives gave us this gorgeous kimono for Elena, who is fast approaching her third birthday.

Naomi and her Mom got the Rising Daughter all dressed up in her “Sunday best” and they went to our favorite local shrine. I really like this photo of her strolling under the torii gates. On another note...
Another holiday went by last week--Japan’s Labor Thanksgiving Day (November 23). So this public holiday fell around the same as American Thanksgiving. It got me to thinking: why hasn’t US-style Thanksgiving taken root in Japan? Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day have become popular as secular events here. Why not Thanksgiving? The official Japanese version of the holiday marks an ancient rice harvest festival, so the basic idea is the same, i.e. giving thanks for a successful harvest and expressions of gratitude. But this national holiday seems to have been put no real contemporary use beyond taking a day off work. Hmm.

Then, the reason hit me: kitchen ovens. Most Japanese kitchens do not have enough space for an oven large enough to cook turkeys. And no such cooking tradition came about because there are no native fowl that Japanese people like to eat.

I would welcome this nation embracing Thanksgiving, with all the gustatory trimmings, if only to postpone Christmas decorations going up in malls in early November. And picture this:
“More gravy for your sushi?”
“Please pass the wasabi for my mashed potatoes.”

I really enjoy this whole cross-cultural fusion thing we’ve got going over here!

November 8, 2009

World Series Chumps

Damn Yankees
My apologies in advance for this post. I simply cannot contain my rage and, in the face of an oncoming tidal wave of New York Yankees propaganda that I’ll have to endure until spring training next March, I must vent. Stop reading now if you aren’t a part of the baseball Borg.
"The Yankees won. The world is right again," team president Randy Levine said after the Yankees clinched their 27th World Series victory over the Phillies a couple of days ago. What a boatload of dung. There are countless reasons to hate the Yankees, and that quote encapsulates why so many baseball fans have a natural enmity for pinstripes. There’s plenty more to be found in the fawning praise from the New York Times here. The world has been just fine since 2000, the last time the Evil Empire won.

The Yankees: Storied history and home team to celebrated players….blah blah blah—it’s all crap. The Yankees polarize baseball fans because they attempt to buy the #1 spot every year through obscene player salaries and smothering marketing. Unfortunately, they tend to succeed using that strategy. Most people can respect their healthy desire to be the best team, but there is an ingrained sense of entitlement wafting around that team that just repels me. Something stinks in the Bronx, even with a shiny new $1.5 billion stadium.

The problem is I cannot escape the Yankees mindshare onslaught even here in Japan. Hideki Matsui, who left the Japanese pro league to play for the Yanks in 2003, was the 2009 World Series MVP, with an admirable performance of six RBIs and many clutch hits. His public persona is that of a pleasant guy, ever polite and humble, attributes which resonate well with the Japanese character. He made his homeland proud with his tremendous play during the 2009 World Series and by becoming the first Japanese player to win the MVP.
But you know what? He’s still a bum because he wears pinstripes.

Damn Giants
The Yomiuri Giants are just as heinous as the Yankees. They are owned by a large media conglomerate; are ubiquitous throughout the country; use the same questionable business tactics to try and stay on top; and invoke the same binary love/hate gut reaction in baseball fans. The Giants are regarded as the natural cousins to the Yankees due to their dominance of Japanese baseball over the years, and even have been dubbed “Japan’s Team.” They may have won 21 Japan pro baseball championships (the last one in 2002), but they make me want to barf just as much as their Bronx-based elitist cousins.

And they just made my disagreeable situation —the Yankees as world champs— intolerable because they won the 2009 Japan series, winning in six games over the Nippon Ham Fighters.

What’s the link here? Matsui! First a Yomiuri Giant, then a NY Yankee, and both teams become league champions the same year, within days of each other. Coincidence, I think not.
A billboard featuring Matsui, shilling for canned coffee: “Strong body.”

I have no choice but to blame Hideki Matsui, one of the more talented and agreeable players in pro ball and a national hero, for this awful state of affairs. And now I have to endure the long, cold winter until spring training, when there will be renewed hope for more likable champions—on both sides of the Pacific.