Monday, July 25, 2005

Sumo They Do and Sumo They Dont and Sumo its just as well

Friday 22July 2005
For 2 weeks each July Nagoya hosts one of the six big annual sumo tournaments.As usual, in the interests of cultural enlightment,a genuine Japanese experience and a memorable day out I dutifully attended.As I have each year.Its a celebration of color and calories.

This year I got along to the gym round 11am.The basho(tournament) runs for 15 days and daily from 9 am to 6pm.The cheaper seats had already sold out so I opted for a slightly more expensive seat in the nose-bleed section high above the ring and the closer more expensive seating..a single cushion near the ring can set you back about 32,000 yen.The good thing about arriving early is once you have secured your seat its possible to occupy one of the closer seats until you get evicted by its rightful tenant.I got thrown out about 5 times throughout the afternoon.I progressively worked my way back to my seat round 5pm as the stadium filled up.
The leading wrestlers in the higher ranks begin their bouts from 3.45pm each day.
Early on theres just a smattering of spectators the majority elderly Japanese with the odd loud obnoxious foreigner who gets worse as the effects of alcohol take hold.
In the last hours the place resembles a beehive with its murmuring drone and the fluttering paper fans beating rhythmically like so many wings.
As to the wrestling itself.The bouts themselves are very entertaining if somewhat brief.In fact the pre-fight rituals of stretching,bowing and glaring at ones opponent usually last longer than the actual confrontation.
After the intial face-off which resembles nothing more than a side of beef propelling itself towards another side of beef both wrestlers grapple and paw each other attempting to throw,shove,trip,bodily lift (or a combination of all these moves) out of the ring.
Before the start of the last 2 top ranks daily competition theres a kind of fashion parade as the wrestlers dressed in their finely embroidered silk uniforms circle the ring.Cameras flash and combat soon continues.
While watching these behemoths engage in these rituals the adoring hordes consume copious amounts of alcohol,sake and boxed lunches.I indulged my inner sumo by slurping down a bowl of chanko..a hearty chunky mixture of beef,fish,chicken and vegetables swimming in a thick greasy broth which forms the staple of a sumo wrestlers diet.
Theres been an increase in the number of foreign wrestlers participating and graduating to the higher ranks, notably from Mongolia and Bulgaria.Conversely theres been a decrease in the number of Japanese wrestlers prepared to commit to such an arduous lifestyle.
As a whole the sports losing popularity.Most spectators are elderly.Younger Japanese being more content to watch the more popular soccer and baseball leagues.
SuperSize Me
Speaking of grossly overweight obese humans I watched Morgan Spurlocks documentary SuperSize Me recently.I thought it was a well-rounded examination of American eating habits and the food industry as a whole.Because all of the publicity centered on his 30 day McDonalds binge I was unaware it also examined school lunches and other weighty issues.
I enjoyed watching the incredulous looks of disbelief of his 3 doctors as his health deteriorated and the glee with with his vegan girlfriend related his hampered performance.An informative amusing dvd.
I also caught Sideways about 2 friends odyessy through California's vineyards.A roadtrip.Before one of the friends gets married.One last chance for both of them.I cant say more otherwise I`d spoil it..but I do recommend it.A slightly maudlin ending it stars Paul Giamatti who's becoming one of my favorite actors with his weary hang dog look.
Last but certainly not least I watched the finale to season 2 of The Sopranos.Now Im eagerly waiting for my video store to get the remaining series.The last episode involved the execution of a principal character and several things were left in the air.Each dvd usually has some extra features.The most interesting are the commentaries by the various directors and producers involved in producing the series.They often provide a slant or insights which i wouldnt have noticed or thought important.Rivetting stuff...

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Orwell,Don Quixote,Baseball and Toads

Friday 15 July 2005
Retreated to the relative coolness of the ice rink that occupies the first 3 floors of my apartment building.Exceedingly hot and humid today..even my eyeballs are sweating.
32degrees outside humidity 99.9% air conditioning factor high.
Despite the apparent lack of activity on this site i've been reasonably busy,what with books ,dvds and other trifles to distract me from the opressive mid rainy season weather.
Well, i laboured through Orwells essays.To be honest i skipped a few of them.His stated wish was to 'make political writing into an art.' He did have some interesting thoughts on Don Quixote and Sancho describing them as 'a dualism of body and soul in fiction form' ....'the two principles noble folly and base wisdom that exist side by side in nearly every human being.'
Again i think hes an author better sampled or picked at rather than consumed in one sitting.
Don Quixote
Seems you cant read much of anything these days without a mention of Don Quixote.A CNN sports writer Bill Syken lists it as his favorite novel.
Claims that William Faulkner read it once a year.The Venezeulan government is giving away 1 million copies to celebrate its 400th anniversary.By way of honoring the book Syken listed 11 Quixotic tasks or quests doomed to failure though an example he gave Leyton Hewitts quest to beat Roger Federer..currently Federers beaten him 7 times in a row.
More interestingly for me given that ive just finished reading MoneyBall by Michael Lewis was the 11th quest.The 11th quest is for lowpay moneyball teams to win a baseball World Series.Oakland couldnt do it and this year Syken contends the Twins and the Nationals will also fall short.
Ok lets backtrack and fill in the gaps...Moneyball is a novel about a low budget MLB team the Oakland A's.The 2 principal characters are Billy Beane the A's general manager and Bill James , a baseball writer who elevated the use of baseball statistics into an art or science called 'sabermetrics'.In a nutshell Beane uses sabermetrics to build a team and trade players to remain competitive.Given the disparity between MLB budgets (Beanes budget was at one time $40 million against the New York Yankees $120 million) Beane wanted to adopt a more objective system rather than the traditional subjective scout based approach.
The book claims using such a system the A's have remained competitive.It traverses the evolution and adoption of sabermetrics.It has been questioned by many.This week in the local paper Bobby Valentine manager of Lotte thought it was an unworkable system.In 'Faithful' Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King also expressed doubts based on 'the standpoint of strategy and business morality'.The fact that the Twins had managed to 'put together a better, steadier team with even less money' was also stated.
Now i thought a book about baseball statistics would be boring but in fact it was the reverse as Stephen King wrote 'the book was jaw-dropping'.Bring on the second half of the baseball season..
In between these books i also re-read 'The Wind in the Willows' a childhood favorite.I think Orwell would see Rat and Mole as the Don and Sancho paradigm.Toad represents the moneyed,priviledged,corrupt classes while the weasels and stoats are the disaffected masses.
Im currently reading 'Fermalts Last Theorem' another numbers book like Moneyball but this time with Pythagoras,triangles and the world of mathmatics.Only read 39 pages but am intrigued already.
Cool Reception
Went to a wedding party last Sunday afternoon.Very Japanese.Very organised.Ran like clockwork.Started as stated at 1pm on the dot.Finished at precisely 3pm.One was mailed an invitation with the directions and the cost..yes one pays over here to attend such celebrations...apparently i got off lightly at 6,500 yen.
Glad i caught a taxi it took the driver 3 circumnavigations of the same block before even he found the building.
The seating comprised separate tables for the locals and one for the gaijin i.e anyone else.Dead on 1pm a staff member armed with an unnecessary mircophone given the small size ofthe room began proceedings.After the happy couple paraded in their traditional European style suit and white wedding dress complete with veil and train there followed speeches in Japanese and English.Some drinks and food arrived and several games including Bingo were also played.Finally a piece of sponge wedding cake brought proceedings to an end.Very pleasant company and surroundings...tho my senior area manager reminded me of some photos taken 5 years my defence i plead mitigating was hot,it was summer..the bar's air conditioning was broken and finally your honor it was a case of mistaken identity...

Thursday, July 07, 2005

John Wayne Miller..R.I.P

July 7th 2005
The Japan Times newspaper I daily pick up from my local Lawson convenience store has recently been filled with news stories of Iraq.The elections,suicide bombings,the mounting toll of American troops and civilians..opps collateral damage.
Its hard to get ones head round all those numbers.Hard to identify.Hard to empathize.
Till May 27ths edition.A page length article from THe Washington Post.All about the death of one soldier.John Wayne Miller.21 years old.Just another death.Killed by a sniper.Played video games.Loved pranks.Worked for Walmart.Night-shifts.Joined the Iowa National Guard.
All those figures.Humans.Flesh and Blood.Raised and loved.Grieved over.
All that lost potential....mottonai