Friday, June 27, 2008

Day 9 (Friday, June 6)

I lived in Japan for four years and, while there, I watched a lot of Japanese baseball. Three years after leaving, I went to Japan for a week on business. When I returned home, my wife asked, “What’s the first thing you noticed when you got there?” I thought briefly and uttered, “O’Malley was traded from the Hanshin Tigers to the Yakult Swallows.” When I arrived this time, the first thing I noticed was that Japanese baseball has adopted interleague play.

It’s no surprise then that my boys love baseball, too. We’ve been to a number of Braves game since moving to Atlanta and saw minor league games when we lived in Portland. In Japan, we watched a few games on TV. Therefore, when we planned our day in Tokyo, we included a trip to a Japanese baseball stadium, as several of the teams play in Tokyo or one of the neighboring prefectures.

Our tour guide for Friday was my friend, Dave. Dave, 18 years in Japan, had spent his last 10 years in Chiba Prefecture, the longest he’s ever lived anywhere. Chiba lies just east of Tokyo and Dave knows it well. He suggested visiting Chiba Lotte Stadium, home of the Chiba Lotte Marines, and then Chiba Castle.

Before leaving, however, Dave and I walked with the boys to a nearby shrine in order to check it out. We told Christopher the shrine would be a good place to find ninja ghosts and he met us at the door. The place we were going wasn’t a large shrine, visible blocks away like most we had seen. Instead, it was small and, like many shrines in Japan, set within the neighborhood and known only to locals.

This main part of the shrine appeared to be as big as a one-room house.

There was also a group of mini-shrines to the left.

When we arrived, we saw an old man offering prayers. He taught us the proper way to pay respects at a shrine: donate a coin, ring the bell to call the spirits, bow twice, clap twice, bow again and make a wish. The boys went through the motions at the large shrine, and then turned to look at the smaller ones.

The last of the smaller shrines proved to have a story behind it. Next to it was a ceramic snake, apparently representing the spirit of one of the wives of Takeda Shingen, a famous warrior from Japanese history.

We tried to learn more, but neither Dave’s Japanese nor mine was up to it. It left us with a mystery that I’m still researching. Takeda Shingen had no connection to the Tokyo area, so finding something like this was akin to going to Massachusetts and finding a statue of Robert E. Lee.

Upon our return to my friend’s place, we headed to Chiba Lotte Stadium. We figured we could see whatever museum the stadium offered and buy some team items in the gift shop. However, upon arrival, we were surprised to find the place closed, with only a few employees walking around. We stopped one to see what was up, as well as to find a possible open bathroom.

It turned out that we stopped a high-level executive, Mr. Toshio Tatematsu. Dave talked with him briefly, telling him that my family and I had come from the U.S. to see the stadium. We got a personal tour, visiting the press box, the press area, the umpire’s room, the bullpen, and the visitor’s locker room. The biggest thing, though, was that we got to go out on the field. The bases were covered, as the field was undergoing maintenance. However, Andrew and Christopher got to do what no kid in Japan has ever done, run the bases at Chiba Lotte Stadium.

Yoshi and Naomi asked if Boon could run the bases as well, but were politely refused. The Marines allow only one dog on the field, the one that brings the balls to the umpire. Below is a picture of Mr. Tatematsu.
We got to sit in the visitor's dugout as well.

After the tour was over, Mr. Tatematsu gave each of my boys a team hat and flag. Christopher rarely let go of his flag after that. Andrew wore his team hat everywhere. We owe Mr. Tatematsu a thank-you gift for his kindness and need to send one soon. We will always be grateful for what he did for us that morning.

From there, we headed to Chiba Castle, one of the many castles that dot the Japanese landscape. Like most castles in Japan, the original was destroyed through fires, feuding, or bombing, and the current was one was rebuilt as a local museum. Chiba Castle was rebuilt in the 1960s. Five years ago, workers dug under the castles and put in rails to make the castle earthquake proof.

Near the castle is a jazz bar called Musician Paradise Jam. Its owner, Masakazu Noguchi, is a well-known Japanese musician. After the great earthquake in the mid-90s that wrecked the Kobe area, Mr. Noguchi organized a series on concerts to raise money to help. The bar is a favorite hangout of Dave’s and his pictures (Dave’s also an artist) hang here when not on exhibit.
Eventually, it was time to go. We said our goodbyes, went to Tokyo station, bought some boxed meals for dinner, and caught a bullet train back to Osaka. Sitting in front of us on the way back were three Americans, exchange students from Gainesville State College. Like my boys, they were having a great time in Japan and had their heads buried in their video games once on the train. While eating dinner, Mo spilled soy sauce on her pants and Christopher spilled orange juice on his shirt. I had to laugh. Earlier that day, at lunch, I spilled honey mustard on my shirt. Andrew followed, spilling ketchup on his shirt. At that time, Mo made a snide comment about not being able to take us anywhere.

Yes, I reminded her of it.
Yoshi's wife, Naomi, also blogged about the day. Please check it out here.


Boon said...

It reminded me the fun day in Chiba. Marines' cap was a good souvenir for kids. I laughed that not only you and Andrew, but also Mo spilled soy source on her pants. (*^m^*)

Walt M said...


Glad you and you parents had a great time. We enjoyed seeing you.