Tokyo summer

Summer has arrived in full force in Tokyo, though the rainy season has been slow to make its presence known. (This will probably change this week, with a giant typhoon roaring through the archipelago.) It has been mostly warm and sunny, not bad but for the lack of green, open spaces where one can take advantage of the weather.

It has been a long time since I last wrote, but I will try to update you as best as I can. As some of you know, I had a whirlwind, jet-lag-inducing trip return to the United States in mid-May (nine days, meaning that by the time I adjusted to the time change I was headed back to Japan). Between the work I had to make up and the copious amounts of jet-lag-induced sleep, not much of note happened in May.

June has been more interesting. Earlier this month I went to the New York Bar, featured in “Lost In Translation.” It probably serves the most expensive drink in Tokyo (but with plenty of competition), but the view makes it all worthwhile. We went on the eve of the rainy season’s first storm, and had a great perch from which to watch the clouds saturate the skies over Tokyo. The following weekend I had my first capsule hotel experience. As many of you surely know, capsule hotels are designed for people who miss their last trains. They are named because the sleeping compartments are supposedly capsule-shaped; I expected plastic sleeping tubes. The name, however, is a misnomer. The hotel was more like a dorm. Each floor had a small number of beds, stacked in twos. The sleeping quarters were more like enclosed bunk beds than capsules, with a shade that could be drawn for privacy.

Last weekend I went down to Fukuoka, the largest city on Kyushu, for some R & R, having finally recovered from my return. The ostensible reason for going was to visit my seventh professional baseball stadium, the Fukuoka Dome, home of the defending champion Fukuoka Daiei Hawks. The dome is a retractable dome styled after the Toronto Skydome, but I think it looks more like a giant beetle that emerged from the Korea Strait and died on the shore. The Hawks fans, meanwhile, must be the best in the Pacific League, second only to Tigers fans in the Nippon Professional Baseball League. Unlike nearly all other teams’ fans, they cheer throughout the game, even when the Hawks are in the field. The game itself was rather lackluster, as the Hawks dominated the lowly Orix Blue Wave 12-3, this the second game of a series in which the Hawks won all three games, outscoring the Blue Wave by a total of 34-11.

Perhaps the best part of my trip, and quite possibly one of my favorite moments since I arrived in Japan, was last Saturday night in Fukuoka, after the game. My hotel was in Hakata, the city’s central district and after the game I ventured out to explore. A canal bisects the district. A row of food stands housed in tents and picnic tables lines the canal for more than a mile, and late Saturday evening every stand is full of boisterous folk drinking and eating freshly grilled delectables. I found a spot at the counter of one of the tents and ending up eating and drinking with a group of locals for almost two hours (and talking in Japanese, of course). The farther you get from Tokyo the more earthy the people get; the food stands of Hakata are worlds away from the department stores of Tokyo.

Speaking of which, I have been to several now, and they are unlike anything I have ever seen, especially on weekends. It suggests that the depiction of Japan as an anti-consumption society is not entirely accurate. Endless crowds flood into the department stores as soon as they have free time, spending untold amounts of money.

Since returning from Fukuoka, I went to a kabuki play last Wednesday. Kabuki cannot be compared to Western theater. The emphasis is on the performers, not what is being performed, so all of the action on-stage is heavily exaggerated. There is no expectation of the viewer to suspend disbelief. That said, the play I saw was the story of a supernatural Buddhist monk who, to spite the Imperial government, sealed away the dragons that controlled the rain, causing a drought. The court dispatches a princess to seduce the monk and get him inebriated, giving her clearance to free the dragons. The plan succeeds flawlessly, and, in an unexpected twist, the monk, enraged by the deception, transforms into a thunder god and vows to hunt the princess down. Needless to say, quite entertaining.

The only other happening to report is that I am hard at work on an article about Japanese baseball, which will hopefully appear in The New Republic. This article has led me to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, and, more recently, to an interview with the director of the MLB’s Japan office. It may also lead me to an interview with a certain American managing in Japan, but that remains to be finalized.

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