The old and new towers running together at Tokyo Marathon today among 36,000 runners. The red Tokyo Tower was built in 1958 and it’s now too short for broadcast antennas. The new, mega-tower Tokyo Sky Tree will be almost twice as high at 634 meters. Even before it opens in May, hordes of tourists have been visiting the tower’s foot and gawking.
Takahashi Naoko was giving an interesting talk at the Tokyo Marathon Expo at Tokyo Big Sight today. She gave marathon tips to a large crowd. Nicknamed “Q-chan,” she was the sensational Olympic gold medalist in the women’s marathon at Sydney in 2000. Although retired, we all remember her. She will be a commentator at the finish line at the marathon tomorrow.
This is a poster near a bank’s ATM near Yokosuka. It has Yokozuna Hakuho saying, “Do not transfer money” or “Furikomanaide” in reference to the so-called “furikome sagi” (振り込め詐欺) or bank transfer fraud which has been rampant for years.
A mother or grandmother receives a call from someone disguised as a son or other close relative saying that he was involved in an accident, etc., and needs a large amount of money right away. He gives his bank account info and the mom would rush to the bank and transfer the money.
Incredible how gullible people can be. But social scientists have identified the human psychological factors which the fraudsters successfully play on victims to send money.
Asashoryu has never been popular in Japan. He has never struck a chord with the Japanese, despite his many tournament victories. On numerous occasions, he has projected a “bad boy” image. A street fighter, a bathroom brawler. Watching him on and off the sumo ring really makes us yearn for the days of truly great yokozuna who had an undisputable aura, charisma, and dignity.
Chiyonofuji, Kitanoumi, Taiho, Futabayama.
We’ve had our share of mediocre yokozuna as well, and even one bad and bizarre one in Futahaguro who never got his yokozuna career off the ground.
Asashoryu was well on his way to being one of the winningest yokozuna in history. But one misjudgment too many has brought all that crashing down. And now it looks like he will have his own defiant way again, when he is permitted to take a leave of absence in his native Mongolia.
No doubt, he is undergoing unprecedented humiliation. No yokozuna has ever been punished this severely. It is doubtful that he can overcome this humiliation and attain his winning form again. This is no longer the realm of the tabloids. It is national news. The Japan Sumo Association’s message to him seemed to be “Don’t mess with us” and “We own you, and you do as you are told or you are out.” Hopefully, he will get the message this time. But If he decides to retire, he will not be sorely missed.
Wow, what an unexpected surprise the WBC turned out to be, especially for Japan. After Mexico beat the US to enable Japan to advance to the semi-finals against Korea, interest in the WBC surged in Japan.
The game against Korea on March 19 was pretty exciting, and extra sweet since Japan had lost to Korea twice before. But the final game against Cuba was even more exciting since Cuba was formidable. Japan did so well under pressure. Imagine if Cuba had won though. The little country beating the US at their own game on their own turf would have been a public relations coup for Fidel.
I admire Sadaharu Oh and Ichiro for being so positive about the whole thing from the start, even though there was some risk involved. They knew how important it was for baseball in Japan and the world for this very first true World Series to succeed. Despite major disagreement among players as to when the WBC should be held, and the non-participation of big-name players like Hideki Matsui, the WBC turned out to be successful. It certainly raised international awareness of how well Asian teams can play. This success has silenced the naysayers to the WBC. It also put the US major leaguers to shame. As one major leaguer said, you never know what will happen in baseball.
It’s great that people now see the WBC as a viable sports event. Next time, hopefully more top players (and team owners) will take the WBC seriously enough to participate. I think this is the start of a good thing, especially when baseball is no longer an Olympic sport.
I was lucky enough see the first game Team Japan played in the WBC. It was on March 3 at Tokyo Dome against China (Japan won). I was a little disappointed that the Dome was not full. There was a good crowd, but a lot of empty seats too. Maybe they should have lowered the prices. My ticket cost 16,000 yen which I thought was too much. (A friend gave me free tickets.) The main attraction was of course Ichiro. If it weren’t for him, the crowd would’ve been much less I’m sure.
We in Japan finally got something to get excited about at the Torino Winter Olympics. After a long medal drought, Japan finally won a gold medal.
Needless to say, it generated a huge sensation in Japan. Of course, any gold medal would create a sensation in Japan, but this one was triple special. It was for women’s figure skating, the crown jewel of the winter Olympics. Plus it was Japan’s first gold medal in that event as well as Japan’s first winter gold medal in eight years (since Nagano 1998).
Like many other people in Japan, I stayed up at around 3 am to 7:30 am to watch it live on TV. It was worth it. It was such a contrast to watch Japan’s three women competing in figure skating. Each of them were so different and each of them ended up in a totally different situation. I felt a very strong but different emotion for each one. All the while, it was very exciting to watch them.
First we saw Miki Ando who is the most attractive of the three and Japan’s media darling. The big question was whether she would do the quadruple jump. Although she is the only one who has done it successfully at competition, it has never been done successfully at an Olympics.
Well, she tried it and almost succeeded, but fell. That pretty much set the tone for the rest of her performance as she fell or lost her balance a few more times. It was painful to watch her fall so many times. But I thought it was great that she at least tried the quadruple jump. Like, atta girl, be brave and go for it! It’s better to try and fail than to not try at all. We really admired her for that. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Apparently, she was unable to practice as much as she should due to a broken toe in Dec. But she’s young yet (still in high school), and there’s Vancouver in 2010.
Then in the final and best group of skaters, Shizuka Arakawa was so calm and collected. She gave a near-perfect performance and got a standing ovation and a point tally that seemed to be untouchable by the others. What a moment it was, right after the points were calculated for the last skater. Wow, a gold medal in women’s figure skating no less. It was awesome.
Right after Arakawa came Fumie Suguri. She also gave a near-perfect performance, and it was heartbreaking to learn that she came in 4th and just missed the bronze. Many of us in Japan thought she skated better than the Russian bronze medalist who fell once. When Suguri was interviewed on TV soon after the competition ended, she looked like she had been crying. Just heartbreaking.
These three skaters from Japan were in such different situations and I felt so differently for each. A promising, young skater who tried but failed, but will try again next time. A gold medalist who broke Japan’s medal drought with an awe-inspiring performance. She had gone through many trials and hard times and her talent did not come overnight. But it paid off big time. And a skater who worked hard, did her best, and did it very well, but was not justly rewarded.
My final question is, what if Michele Kwan and 15-year-old Mao Asada (disqualified due to her age) were also competing? Boy, that would have been something.
We are now seeing an ice-skating boom in Japan. Skating rinks are full of people. I tried ice skating a few times, but never got good at it.
Japan is having a dry spell at Turin. No medals as of this writing.
So far, the most media attention in Japan seems to be focusing on someone who is not even Japanese: Rena Inoue, a naturalized US citizen. She competed in pair figure skating with her partner John Baldwin. Rena did not win a medal, but she did very well and impressed all of us.
Perhaps more amazing is that she had competed for Japan at the 1992 and 1994 winter Olympics as a figure skater. She was preparing for Nagano in 1998, but her dad died of lung cancer and she did not appear. She also contracted lung cancer, but recovered. She went to the US to train and found her figure skating partner (also her real-life partner). She obtained US citizenship last year and now she is on the US Olympic team. Incredible, after 12 years, another Olympics. She is Japan’s first Olympic athlete to have represented two countries, Japan and the US.
Many past Japanese Winter Olympic stars are in Turin. Speed skater Hiroyasu Shimizu, female moguls Tae Satoya (who emerged from a well-publicized, drunken and sex-related nightclub brawl), speed skater Tomomi Okazaki, and ski jumper Harada. These are household names in Japan ever since their ultimate glory in Nagano 1998. However, they are not doing so well in Turin. It’s likely that this is the last time we will be seeing them in an Olympics.
Japan really needs new stars at Torino. We need something to look forward to in Vancouver. It’s a stark contrast to Japan’s “medal rush” at Athens 2 years ago.