Despite all my huffing/puffing about “not being sure about journalism anymore” and “how it all sucks,” truth is I’m still a total geek about it. Latest example: my reaction to the ultimate journalist’s aphrodisiac – natural disaster. I read about the Chile earthquake on the train last night (via Twitter, for added “social media” relevance), and pretty much spent the rest of the night following the story. I think I yelled at the New York Times website because they didn’t have much information about the 8.8 quake. Looks like news still get me passionate afterall, even if “passion” here means “yelling at a series of HTML codes.”

I went to bed before the Tsunami warning for Hawaii was issues, thus also missing out on the American media’s coverage (which, based on more Twitter scouring, seemed to be pretty crazy. If random people in the Twitter-verse can be trusted). Unfortunately, I woke up to the news Japan had declared a Tsunami warning for today.

Thankfully for me, I live up in the mountains and unless this reaches 2012-levels I’m extremely safe. So for me, this serves as a chance to see how the Japanese media responds to such breaking news. The only comparable situation I’ve been in was when a typhoon struck the area last year, but Japan deals with those annually. They expect those. This…a bit more unforseen. Do they Rick Sanchez out about it, or approach things more calmly?

I didn’t spring for the satellite TV package, so none of the seven channels I receive are 24-hour news networks looking to fill all those hours. Still, when I woke up and flipped on the television, all seven stations had a map of Japan plastered in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. The coastline flashed every other second, indicating what areas were under the greatest threat (Mie was listed under the “second degree” level). This graphic stayed on the screen at all times for most of the stations, though a few took it down when they went to commercial.

Most of the channels didn’t break away from regularly scheduled programming…so the flashing graphic (sometimes joined by a blue-bar with white text scrolling over it to give info) just sat over whatever variety show, Go strategy report or cooking program happened to be on. Only two stations broke away to cover the Tsunami threat. Though they did have the classic “reporter on the scene with umbrella and/or poncho getting soaked” shot, most of the coverage was in-studio and seemed to be focused on telling the people in effected areas when the Tsunami was expected to hit. They had a constantly updating box in the corner listing locations and estimated time of strike. Save for some old footage of Tsunami aftermaths of years before, it didn’t seem to sensationalized.

Hopefully nothing too serious comes out of all of this (and also, thoughts go out to Chile…8.8 geez). But until then, the Japanese coverage of this is really interesting.


A Day In Kashihara

February 27, 2010

Spring has more or less clubbed the winter away now, which means going outside can actually be an enjoyable activity again. The change in seasons means I no longer have an excuse for not visiting new places in Japan. Should probably put my camera to better use, as well.

On the hour-long train ride to Osaka, one place has always stood out from the seemingly endless forests and tiny towns to me. It’s an actual city, with waves of people getting off at the station during the day and a sea of blinking lights at night. I knew next to nothing about this place save for the fact the name of the stop was Yamato-Yagi. A little Google-fueled research revealed it to be Kashihara, the second largest city in Nara Prefecture. I decided that was enough of a start and would simply go there. Hopefully, I’d wander into something of note.

Kashihara does a good job bridging the gap between big city and rural town. The train station, full of zig-zagging platforms and a wide selection of sweet shops, impressed a country bumpkin like myself. Immediately outside of the station rest tall buildings, ranging from upscale apartment complexes to biggie-sized department stores. Still, Kashihara lacks the bustle of a major metropolitan area, the streets relatively empty and plenty of calm spots scattered about the urban area. I even came across a small shrine-thing next to a petite river and a row of bare cherry blossom trees.



The strangest find of the day was a vending machine selling only batteries. Though not a huge surprise considering you can get french fries out of a machine in Osaka, I hadn’t seen one dispensing batteries before. A new standard in strange vending machines has been set.

Good selection of batteries for ya

Good selection of batteries for ya

Just your typical "pick up after your dog" sign
Cute ad at 7-11

Cute ad at 7-11

Japanese dolls don't have great job prospects

Japanese dolls don't have great job prospects

Basically, I just walked around for a long time and took pictures of whatever seemed interesting at the time. Who needs words, just stare at the pretty pics.

Nepal cafe

Nepal cafe

A video game store

A video game store

The chef actually posed for this photo

The chef actually posed for this photo

I did know one thing about Kashihara going in – it was home to one of the biggest Aeon Shopping Malls in the area. Most JETs I know go there for the big movie theater, the nearest real movie theater to us in Nabari. With no movies out I really want to see (sorry Percy Jackson and the Olympians), I chose to wander around the three-story supercenter.

Some sort of mascot-heavy event

Some sort of mascot-heavy event

I'm a shoe

I'm a shoe

The hot new, paper-related dance?

The hot new, paper-related dance?

Oh Japan

Oh Japan

The best discovery, though, was Country Kitchen buffet. It was a Southern-themed (read: looked like a Cracker Barrel) all-you-can-eatery soundtracked with country music. They even had a toy train circling around the eating area…though it’s cargo was fruit and vegetables, two things not heavily represented on the menu. Like all buffet experiences, this one featured lots of unhealthy grub consumed in portions meant for a large zoo animal. And, like all trips to these sort of places, ended in a swirl of regret and bloating. Excellent way to end the day.

Godspeed Country Kitchen

Godspeed Country Kitchen

For some reason still unknown to me, one of my junior high schools threw an enkai (party) Wednesday night. It might have been the Vice Principal’s birthday…or he might be retiring. Or he might be promoted? Or I might just be making situations up. Regardless, I spent a good three hours in a small, cuckoo clock adorned restaurant with my co-workers. Here are some unconnected observations/anecdotes:

– It’s a testament to my Japanese skills that I’ve reached the point where I can pluck out certain words from a conversation and actually know what they mean. Unfortunately, it’s not very helpful when “water” is the only word I can make out in a long-ass sentence. It’s still terrifying to find myself caught amongst a Japanese conversation without having the slightest idea what’s going on (aside from the presence of H20). I sort of just sit there quietly, scooping more mashed potatoes onto my plate to look like I’m occupied with something. It’s kinda awkward.

– Even more awkward? Becoming the center of conversation. My co-workers deserve credit for being very accommodating – they try to speak in English when asking me questions (which range from “what’s your blood type” to “what’s the age range of girl’s you’ll date”). But it’s still weird having half a table…mostly of girls, just to kick it a little further…looking at you as you explain how many times you’ve been to Disneyland in your life. The worst, though, hits when conversation on the other side of the table suddenly vanishes and you are the only person talking. Like realizing you just stepped into quicksand…while discussing where in Japan you’ve visited.

– Fun food moment of the night: an employee brings out a tasty looking dish. It appears to be vegetables and noodles. I dig in, plopping a few onions and peppers onto my plate. Waiting beneath the veggies are a blanket of little fish. Little fish that look slightly slimy and still have their heads. In most situations, I would have simply fainted at the realization my dinner could stare back at me. I braved it though and ate one of the eye-ballin-me fish. I only consumed one.

– Restaurant owners assume since I’m foreign I can only eat with a fork, so they bring one out to me specially. I wish I could feign outrage at how, just because I’m from America, I can’t use chopsticks. Tragically, it probably saved me a lot of embarrassment using silverware. Even then I still came damn close to humiliating myself. This is why my Pop-Tarts and apple diet makes so much sense to me.

– Conversation in the car on the way to the restaurant:

Teacher 1: So what are the famous foods in America.

Me: Hmmmmm, that’s a good question (thinking how to say this…)

Teacher 1: Is it fast food?

Me: Yeah, that sounds right!

Teacher 2: Yes, hamburgers!

Me: Yes America has good burgers.

Teacher 1: When I went to American McDonald’s, the size of the food…so big. In Japan, I think the size is regular. But in America…everything was so big.

Me: *nodding head*

Teacher 1: In Japan, people share lots of food. But in America…*awkward laugh*

Me: *still nodding head*

Reminder that the fact McDonald’s is the apex of American cuisine goes unchallenged. Because…well…

– I sorta of zoned out of conversation at one point, when someone asked me a question. As I do for most inquiries I don’t actually understand, I simply said “hai.” Turns out I agreed to marry one of my co-workers. Whoops! I quickly talked my way out of this by saying I was “too young” and “too immature.” Just like a romantic comedy.

– Trying to be funny in the presence of Japanese-only speakers is no easy feat. Excluding the chuckles I get for the “help me I’m so lost right now” comments (which are actually cries for help), I can’t really make anyone laugh by doing what I do in America: bust out out-of-date Internet memes and Austin Powers quotes. Throw me a friggin’ bone here, Japan! (See that!). I did discover, however, the secret to being funny when no one understands you…make weird gestures. I could get some laughs and even some “kawaiis!” by simply emoting with my hands and face – picture The Daily Show playing an embarrassing clip from FOX News, followed by Jon Stewart making a funny face/noise. That’s what I do.

Sex And The City somehow became popular in Japan at one point. And it becomes really clear which people fell for its charms when you talk to them.

– The Japanese can eat so much food. And not all of it comes with eyes.

(Japanese Fun Fact #45: Many of my students and co-workers agree…sleeping counts as a hobby in Japan. Can’t say I argue with this.)

Earlier this week, while playing volleyball, one of my teammates commented on how I had “little fat.” Though this could be easily read as a compliment, the actual context of this statement painted as not particularly positive. She pretty much meant “while you don’t have to wash yourself with a rag on a stick, you still got some flub!” Seeing as I have the self body image of a 13-year-old girl training for the catwalk, this comment sent me into a downward spiral of eating only a carrot for dinner and trying to fit a trip to the gym whenever possible. A move that strangely enough only shot my self-esteem downward: the orange-shirted staff convinced me to a “health fitness challenge” which involved five tests meant to measure my in-shapeness. Save for the “how many sit-ups can you do in a minute” challenge (37!), I managed to be entirely lackluster. Not the most uplifting week.

So it seems like an entirely idiotic venture to eat the latest Big America burger available at the Hades of cuisine that is Japanese McDonald’s. But damn it, I’ve already eaten half of this absurd promotions offerings. Might as well tough it out and face the gastric consequences later. The Hawaii Burger actually comes with one of my least favorite foodstuffs prominently stuffed between two buns – an egg. One of those McDonald’s “eggs” which look vaguely like a Styrofoam disc at that. The world clearly wanted me to not eat this burger…but I carried on foolishly to the recently remodeled franchise near my town’s lone bowling alley.

I wouldn't blame you if you thought I weighed 500 pounds

I wouldn't blame you if you thought I weighed 500 pounds

I’m glad I did: the Hawaii Burger shines as the best Big America entry yet. Though the sauce slathered on the burger comes advertised as “a special gravy,” it tastes like a tangy barbecue sauce. A really good tangy barbecue sauce. The egg seems intimidating at first glance but keep in mind the great truth of McDonald’s “eggs:” they taste like absolutely nothing, and get absolutely lost when mixed with other flavors. Eating the egg by itself isn’t recommended, but within the confines of the Hawaii Burger it’s OK. More importantly, it serves a valuable function in the burger, something that was sunk the New York Burger. The egg works as a “third bun,” like the Texas Burger had, corralling the sauce into one place and reducing messiness. It’s great…for a McDonald’s burger. With an egg on it. That probably made the number of years before they lop off my legs a little bit smaller.

Nom Nom Nom

Nom Nom Nom

Post-script: I did go to the gym immediately after eating this. Please, gym equipment, help me atone.

The Winter Olympics In Japan

I see lots of people think NBC have completely botched the 2010 Winter Olympics. The large problem, based on what I’ve read, seems to be the network has resorted to showing recorded events and showing a low variety of sports despite having a bucket-ful of channels to broadcast them from. Or maybe people are still just angry about Conan. Anyway, maybe NBC could learn a lesson from Japan’s coverage. Instead of spreading things across a wide selection of channels (though I don’t have a satellite so maybe they do), the station showing the games (NHK) just uses one channel. They show events their audience cares about (read: something with a Japanese athlete in it) live and then show a replay of said events again in the afternoon when the games finish for the day. Though this leads to a lack of variety in events (no hockey, way too much figure skating), it allows all the events most important to the viewers be seen live. Not perfect, but at least they don’t screw up despite having all the resources necessary to be good.

Predictably, Japan’s all about the Olympics right now. The news features the latest from Vancouver, with figure skating being the biggest draw. The Japanese skater won the bronze, which guarantees he’ll be pretty ever-present for the next three months or so. People here seem to be into the games as well – at the local gym, they have several TVs devoted to showing only the Olympics. They come with kinda-cute signs stating their purpose.

They so happy

They so happy

One model house in Nabari has especially gotten into the Olympic spirit by displaying a Canadian flag (along with a multitude of other country’s flags) outside. Here’s a terrible picture of it!

Spotted from outside the McDonalds

Spotted from outside the McDonalds

A Lesson Learned On The Train

February 14, 2010

Scene: A train whizzing towards downtown Osaka.

The Players: Me, three friends, random Japanese lady

The four of us notice random Japanese lady near us. She is wearing a very bright, very orange jacket. We’re talking poppy-bright orange, a shade strong enough to make a University of Illinois fan salute.

Friend One: Look at that jacket. What do you think about it?

Friend Two: I don’t like it at all. It’s way too bright, and orange doesn’t look good at all.

Me: Well, I don’t know about the coat itself, but orange is the best color so I think it looks awesome. [note: orange is the best color, no argument].

Friend One: Yeah, I think it looks nice.

Friend Two: Nah, it looks really ugly if you ask me.

Friend One: It’s not ugly, it looks nice!

Random Japanese Woman Who Can Actually Understand And Speak Nearly Flawless English: Thank you very much!

Us: silence

Moral: Don’t talk about people’s clothes when they are right behind you, because they might possibly understand your language.

(Japanese Fun Fact #43: The Winter Olympics are in full swing, and Japan loves ’em! Ads for the games can be found all over the place, though the TV coverage for the games isn’t nearly as insane as it is in America. Instead of devoting ten channels to the games and sticking the biathlon on Bravo, Japan only has one channel showing the games. They broadcast live events midday and then replay them in prime time. No complicated graphics, no phony fireplaces. Just coverage of the events with a few minutes of people in a studio mixed in.)

(Japanese Fun Fact #44: At this very moment I’m watching some sort of TV show where the prime minister is making a special gust appearance. It’s like Meet The Press got mixed with a variety show. It’s really weird. It’s like if Obama went on Deal Or No Deal.

How did that cowboy get on the "n"?

Clearly the people behind Japanese Pringles have completely given up on trying to connect their potato chips to geographical locations in any sort of logical manner. On the list of things the Grand Canyon is famous for, I think its french fries ranks pretty far down. Yet here we have the Grand Canyon French Fry chip flavor, more nonsensical than all before it. And I still bought the can.

Labeling these chips as “french fry” flavored (besides being, ya know, already potatoes) is highly misleading. The actual taste front-and-center here is ketchup. Much like last round’s mayo-flavored snack, this condiment-inspired gets points for doing a great job of recreating the taste. And unlike mayonnaise, I don’t want to vomit thinking about it! The chips taste OK, though they went a little overboard on the ketchup-dust coated on the food. It’s way too strong, and I could only eat a few at a time over a two-day span. Still a big improvement over the mayo chips, which are still sitting on my shelf.

(Japanese Fun Fact #42: Have 22 minutes? Watch this cool Al Jazeera program about Japan’s Ainu people!)

Lets start at the end. On my way back to the train station after seeing a concert in Osaka, I passed by a McDonald’s. Nothing out of the ordinary, save for one detail. When I had first walked by this narrow fast food store five hours earlier, a big sign advertising the New York Burger, the latest installment of the “Big America” special series, sat posted out front. The ad still stood on my return, but with one slight addition: a red-and-white sticker covered in complicated kanji. I’d seen this seal before, though, and knew it meant “item no longer available.” In a few short hours, this location had completely run out of New York Burger.

The Japanese have gone loony over the Big America burger line. The initial entry, the Texas Burger, shattered McDonald’s records in the land of the rising sun. And if my afternoon out in Osaka can be trusted, the New York Burger isn’t any artery-clogging slouch. Aside from an entire restaurant running out of them (did I mention it first debuted this Friday?), nearly everyone around me at a different location ordered the sandwich. I heard a chorus of “New York Burger” while waiting to say the exact same words. I don’t know what it is about these things, but they are real winners.

It’s surprising, because the New York Burger doesn’t appear all that exotic at first glance. The Texas Burger at least had a bunch of ingredients not commonly found over here, not to mention the novelty of a spare bun in the middle. The New York Burger includes lettuce, tomato, bacon, Monterey Jack cheese and mustard sauce on a “special bun.” Nothing all that crazy (and nothing very New York either, but I’ll ignore that topic in today’s discussion of fast food). Could this combination really be a taste sensation? I put on my “journalist” bib to find out.

The New York Burger, once unwrapped, actually looks a lot bigger than the Texas Burger. It also looks a lot more messy, the vegetables and sauce slathered on in that special McDonald’s style that guarantees half of these topping will end up someplace other than your mouth. Foolishly, I forgot to get napkins. But looks aren’t everything, right? RIGHT? How’s it taste?

My passion: taking iPhone pictures of burgers

My passion: taking iPhone pictures of burgers

Bite into this beast and one taste overpowers everything else: that of the mustard sauce. This might be OK if the sauce didn’t taste like varnish, or if the the varnish-sauce only popped up periodically. Alas, this stinging condiment coats every inch of this burger, eradicating any good flavors under a wave of semi-disturbing colored glop. And as predicted, the things flies all over, meat and lettuce and tomato and that horrible sauce shooting off in every direction with each new bite. I mocked the Texas Burger’s middle bun, but now I see that such a move is actually brilliant as it does hold everything in place. It saves your fingers the embarrassment of changing colors.

Looks like it’s up to the California Burger to save the day and prove which is the best coast after all…

I finally joined the local gym in town, the Sports Club Axtos, this week after putting it off for, oh, five months. I blame The Wire, which I’ve been watching like the cliche I am. I haven’t been to this gym much yet, but the two times I went have convinced me Japanese gym aren’t drastically different than their American counterparts. But there are a few differences worth blogging about!

– The application process could drive even the strongest willed to insanity. Assuming the strongest willed knew no Japanese. It took me and my friend Jonathan (who has some Japanese knowledge) two hours to complete the process, filling out mystery form after form. At one point we had to check a bunch of boxes, but we had no idea what they were saying. I may very well have signed up for duty as a human test subject in the near future. Stay tuned. I originally wrote 700 words (!) about the entire process, but decided it was trash. Here are the bullet points:
* I initially signed up for a membership that didn’t actually exist.
* Had to redo the forms because the concept of a middle name rattles the Japanese gym application system to its very core.
* Had one of the worst photos of me ever taken for the membership card. I look like I’m about to bite someone.
* Did I mention this took two hours?
* In an effort to sell us even further on the gym, the lady guiding us pointed out the “Japanese girls” working there. She either knows her Western stereotypes well, or knows how to sell a business.

– This gym includes a feature called the “e-book.” It’s a passport sized book where you keep track of your fitness progress. There is a cluster of computers in the main workout area where you can go to update the book. It’s very hi-tech, which is why I don’t do it.

– Most of the machines in the main gym room are pretty standard pieces of workout equipment. The one exception – three mini-bullriding machines. I don’t see the physical benefit from sitting on a mechanized bronco, but it looks kind of fun.

– Each machine comes equipped with a towel, so you can wipe the seat down when you are done. The Japanese, they love their cleanliness.

– Men are much more willing to use the traditionally “girly” machines, chiefly the leg ones where you spread your legs apart. I always felt there was a stigma about using those if you were a dude in America, but here nobody cares.

– Everyone resets the weights to the lowest level when they finish using them. This unfortunately means you can’t fake being really strong by switching the total weight to some stupid high number and hope the next person thinks you are Hercules reincarnate.

(Japanese Fun Fact #41: Today in class I played Jeopardy with the third year students. They though America’s birthday was September 11th, and that Michael Jackson was the president prior to Obama. To their credit, they spelled “Barack” like I used to (that is to say, wrong), so I can’t make fun of them to much.)

(Note: This is stupid long. And all about baseball. Turn back now if that doesn’t get you off.)

It’s officially February, which means it’s the start of the worst month to be a sports fan. Save for a last hurrah with the Super Bowl, February features nearly nothing of athletic noteworthiness. Football season ends, the NBA is smack-dab in the doldrums (unless the prospect of Shannon Brown in the Slam Dunk contest gets you jazzed), and the NHL…no. Excluding checking English soccer scores/pretending to be globally aware, nothing interesting happens until March Madness. For once I’m OK having absolutely no access to American sports.

To fill the “people playing with balls” void in my life, I’ve begun immersing myself in baseball. That means it’s time to blindly declare fandom to a Japanese baseball team to make the upcoming season of Nippon Professional Baseball much more exciting. As noted numerous times, the Japanese love baseball. Entire stores devoted to Ichiro exist. My students practice baseball during typhoon-like weather. Half my conversations with elementary school principals have involved a question like “do you like the Dodgers or Angels more.” I watched as many NPB games I could last fall, but wasn’t really following any one team in particular. Just watching the one thing on TV I could actually understand. Now, however, I want to root for some team. But which one?

I’ve decided to rank the 12 teams making up professional baseball in Japan using a set of criteria that remains a mystery even to me. I didn’t factor in geographical closeness (though, that would have actually made the most sense. Lists work in mysterious ways). Also, nearly every team in this country has corporate sponsorship right in it’s name…I’m not going to a Hawks game, I”m going to a SoftBank Hawks game…so that has to be taken into consideration. OK, onto the pointlessness.

12. Yomiuri Giants
Description – The New York Yankees of Japan.
Based In – Tokyo
Stadium – Tokyo Dome
UniformsOh hey wonder what that’s ripping off.
Cuteness of MascotPretty cute, though species is seriously in question.
Notable MLB Flameout – Tie between Alex Ramirez and Dicky Gonzales. Can’t choose between them.
Pros – Winners of the 2009 championship, the Giants also have the most titles in the history of Japanese professional baseball. This is because…
Cons – …they are the New York Yankees of Japanese baseball.
Fun Fact – The team’s most famous player of all-time, Sadaharu Oh, was once mentioned in a Beastie Boy’s song.
Verdict – You know those strange folks who are Yankee, Cowboys and Laker fans? They’d root for the Giants.

11. Saitama Seibu Lions
Description – The team Ichiro played for.
Based In – Tokorozawa
Stadium – Seibu Dome (look at the original stadium names we got going so far!)
Uniforms – Looks like the NHL tricked the team into buying outfits.
Cuteness of MascotCute, but based off the anime Kimba the White Lion. Why didn’t they just put a Gundam in a baseball cap, that would have been cooler.
Notable MLB Flameout – Alex Graman, former Yankees relief pitcher. Noted for giving up five runs in his first professional start.
Pro – Good team, logo of a lion’s paw wrapped around a baseball, were once called the Clippers.
Con – Where the hell is this team located? Also, the franchise only recently decided having the place they represent in the name was a good idea. That, coupled with a bunch of name changes, doesn’t offer much in confidence.
Fun Fact – Leo Durocher once managed them. Huh.
Verdict – If I’m pulling for a team featuring an anime character mascot, it best be the Fighting Gokus.

10. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles
Description – Catch Charlotte Bobcat fever!
Based In – Sendai
Stadium – Kleenex Stadium Miyagi. Imagine the sportswriter jokes possible.
Uniforms – The opposite of interesting.
Cuteness of Mascot – Cute in a Baby GAP sort of way.
Notable MLB Flameout – Todd Linden.
Pro – Have only existed since 2004, so a very easy team history to memorize.
Con – Having only been in existence for five years, nothing about this team seems particularly exciting. No history, no tradition…feels exactly like a young expansion team should.
Fun Fact – Many J-Pop groups record songs for baseball teams. Par for the course in Japan. The Eagles first team J-Pop song came courtesy of noted gaggle of androids Morning Musume. It was called “Manpower.”
Verdict – Boooooooooooooooooooooring.

9. Yokohama BayStars
Description – Hooray another team near Tokyo!
Based In – Yokohama
Stadium – Yokohama Stadium. Sorry, they couldn’t all be named after tissue products.
Uniforms – Ehhhhh, can’t complain. Lookin good Jose!
Cuteness of MascotNot very. Fuzzy animals wearing uniforms trumps celestial bodies wearing uniforms every day.
Notable MLB Flameout – Sammy Sosa almost signed with this team, so I’m going with him.
Pro – No corporation in the team name.
Con – Five Japanese clubs are located stupid close to Tokyo, including the BayStars. Though Ken Burns dreams of it at night, that’s like putting five teams in the New York area. Insufferable. Also, “BayStars” sounds like a Major League Soccer name.
Fun Fact – Once called the Yokohama Whales, but changes to whaling laws factored heavily in the team’s new name direction.
Verdict – Basically rooting for New Jersey. And if Jersey Shore has taught us anything….

8. Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
Description – MEAAAAAAAT.
Based In – Sapporo
Stadium – Sapporo Dome
Uniforms – Y’all forgot to make the sleeves match.
Cuteness of MascotFighty the deranged dinosaur. Well, actually it’s now a boring bear, but Fighty is a lot better.
Notable MLB Flameout – Terrmel Sledge, better known as “the first Washington National to hit a homerun.” And now he’s in the coldest part of Japan.
Pro – Prominent meat item featured in name of team.
Con – Not nearly enough references to meat after that.
Fun Fact – Once based in (where else) Tokyo, the team had the good thought to move away to the north at the start of last decade.
Verdict – I actually did root for them once already, during the championship series when they lost to the Giants. If bacon were still the hot Internet meme, maybe I could back them, but the Fighters missed their chance with me.

7. Chiba Lotte Marines
Description – Presented by the same people who make those koala cookies I like so much.
Based In – Chiba
UniformsGood googly moogly!
Cuteness of Mascot – Cute in a sorta pathetic way.
Notable MLB Flameout – Previously managed by Bobby Valentine.
Pro – Lotte makes a boatload of the unhealthy snack foods and drinks I consume here in Japan!
Con – You are the reason I need a gym, Lotte.
Fun Fact – Staring at the Marines uniforms for an extended period of time causes you to lose vision.
Verdict – Stick to the cookies.

6. Tokyo Yakult Swallows
Description – “Hey Beavis, he said Swallows, uh huh huh.”
Based In – Tokyo
Stadium – Meiji Jingu Stadium
UniformsNothing too exciting.
Cuteness of Mascot – Daw, look at the lil’ guy trying to swing the bat.
Notable MLB Flameout – Ahahaha, Aaron Guiel. Canada is so proud.
Pro – Favored team of Haruki Murakami, one of the best writers in the world.
Con – Liking a team because a famous author roots for them has already been done. Fever Pitch anyone? Geez, I already cheer for Arsenal…
Fun Fact – The weakest team in Tokyo!
Verdict – You tell someone you cheer for the Swallows.

5. Hiroshima Toyo Carp
Description – Slightly better name than Swallows.
Based In – Hiroshima
Stadium – MAZDA Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima. They still doing the whole “zoom zoom” thing?
UniformsCincinnati Reds.
Cuteness of Mascot – Uhhhh, Phillie Phanatic?
Notable MLB Burnout – Andy Phillips.
Pro – Use a dog to bring balls out to the mound. Only in Japan.
Con – Seemingly have stolen every aspect of their identity from somewhere else.
Fun Fact – First Japanese team to establish a training academy in Latin America. It’s called Carp Academy. I want a degree from Carp Academy.
Verdict – The Zoom-Zoom thing buries the hatchet.

4. Hanshin Tigers
Description – The Boston Red Sox of Japan.
Based In – Hyogo Prefecture
Stadium – Koshien Stadium
UniformsPretty cool, I gotta say.
Cuteness of MascotThe opposite of fierce.
Notable MLB Burnout – Kenji Johjima. Take that Seattle.
ProThis cat.
Con – Read the Wiki page. They do sound like the Red Sox of Japan. And I can think of few worse things to be.
Fun Fact – Tigers fans believed in the Curse of the Colonel (must read here). Basically, some guy chucked a KFC Colonel Sanders statue into a river, and the fried chicken chain apparently cursed the team for 18 years. Just…Japan amazes me some times.
Verdict – Because it was so fun the first time a “cursed” team finally won something noteworthy and then the majority of their fanbase turned into the biggest idiots on the planet. They place this high because they threw Colonel Sanders into a river.

3. Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks
Description – Make my iPhone work, SoftBank, please.
Based In – Fukuoka.
Stadium – Fukuoka Yahoo! Japan Dome. The Japanese still love Yahoo! because it came to the country first and change terrifies them. Good I say, GMail is currently ruining my life.
Uniforms – “SoftBank” looks really stupid.
Cuteness of Mascot – The team has developed an immense family of kinda pudgy birds. Runaway winner.
Notable MLB Flameout – Bobby Thigpen once pitched for this team????
Pro – Cool location, large number of feathered mascots.
Con – SoftBank
Fun Fact – Ehhhh, not very fun.
Verdict – Currently, I can’t look at e-mail on my phone. It just says “loading” and never goes anywhere. It is really annoying. Fix this, SoftBank, then we will talk.

2. Orix Buffaloes
Description – Osaka!
Based In – Osaka! (and sometimes Kobe)
Stadium – Kyocera Dome Osaka
UniformKinda sharp.
Cuteness of MascotMore creepy than cute
Notable MLB Flameout – Tuffy Rhodes.
Pro – Osaka!
Con – Once named the Kintetsu Buffalo, I like Kintetsu a lot more.
Fun Fact – In 2004, the Kintetsu Buffalo and Orix Blue Wave merged into one team due to financial reasons.
Verdict – So close to the top…which goes to…

1. Chunichi Dragons
Description – Cool and close.
Based In – Nagoya
Stadium – Nagoya Dome
Uniforms – They changed the lettering, but this is still a pretty good Dodgers rip.
Cuteness of Mascot – Off the charts. It isn’t a dragon but…a koala. Look at that face!
Notable MLB Flameout – Tony Blanco in the house.
Pro – All in all, probably the team with the least going against it. They aren’t terribly far from where I live, and they represent “central Japan.” Which sounds pretty much like where I’m stationed.
Con – Dodger similarities
Fun Fact – Featured prominently in the film I never saw Mr. Baseball.
Verdict – Dragon games get broadcast all the time here, and they also have a weekly report show that I always find myself watching on Sunday afternoon. So…guess they are the home team. Works for me, go Dragons and Chunichi Corporation!

(Japanese Fun Fact #39 – More of an observation in class…today I told the class about my winter vacation in America. I gave them a worksheet to fill out. One student said I “flew to roast beef.”