Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Pictures: Saito (3rd from left) with his Waseda teammates; Tanaka (at the right, wearing a cap) with his teammates, listening to their coach.

Well, I wanted to say what happened to the Komadai High School baseball team in the end. Last I mentioned, they were going into the semi-finals. They won their semi-final, and were up for the final, for the 3rd year in a row!

The summer Koushien tournament starts with 49 teams -- one from each prefecture of Japan, except for Hokkaido and Tokyo, which are split into two sections and field 2 teams each. It is a single elimination tournament. Each prefecture has its own tournament earlier in the summer, in order to choose the team that will represent the prefecture. It is a very big deal just to make it to the main national tournament, which is held in the Koushien Stadium near Osaka. A friend of mine has fond memories of her high school team getting into the main tournament, in her Senior year. I think they lost in the first round, though.

Each year, of course, two teams from Hokkaido go to the main tournament, but historically they have not done very well. It was well known that Hokkaido is weak in Koushien. No-one expected a Hokkaido team to be able to win, until Komadai came along. Two years ago they went down to Osaka and won the whole tournament. The people of Hokkaido were overjoyed... Hokkaido's time has come!!

Last year, they won the whole thing again. This is a pretty rare occurrence. Wow... go Hokkaido. Up against the strongest high school baseball teams from Osaka, Tokyo, and all over the country.

There were those who could not stand to see Komadai having all this success. Parents of one of the 2nd string players complained that their son had been hit on the head several times by a coach, with a slipper. For a couple of days we all waited as the High School Baseball Federation determined whether they would be allowed to keep their second trophy. They were allowed the win, but celebrations in Hokkaido afterwards were muted. It was a real shame that that parents had to choose the moment of their glory to make the problem known. People all over Hokkaido were robbed of the chance to celebrate Komadai's second consecutive win. According to this Wikipedia article on High School Baseball in Japan (which has a section on Komadai's wins), it was the first time since 1947-8 that a team had won two years in a row.

Komadai then withdrew from this spring's Koushien (a separate tournament), after busy-bodies reported that they had seen former team members drinking and smoking underage in a pub. It was hard being the top team in the country for two years in a row.

Against this background, they made it (with some come-from-behind victories) into the final, for the 3rd consecutive year, in this month's summer tournament. Their opponent in the final: the team from Waseda University's attached high school. This is the top private university in the country, Japan's equivalent to Harvard. Their ace pitcher, Yuki Saito, looks very refined and well-brought-up, and wipes his brow neatly with a handkerchief, to the delight of moms around the country. Apparently his handkerchief has been featured on daytime TV, with people oohing and aahing over how it is folded, etc. His top pitching speed is not far off the top professional pitchers in Japan. In fact, in just 7 more months he will probably become a professional pitcher -- many of the top players are recruited straight out of high school. I still remember seeing the press conferences for high school star Hideki Matsui when he joined the Japanese league, still wearing his black button-down military style high school uniform, looking a bit awkward, quite thin, his face covered in zits. He has sure grown up. Godzilla!

Back to Saito. The final proved to be a battle between two great pitchers. Yes, we have our own ace, too. Masahiro Tanaka -- so calm, but the TV announcer said he looks like he has fire beneath the calm. He led Komadai to their championship last year. He is not from Hokkaido, and who knows why he chose to come here for his high school pitching career. He will also most likely be turning pro in 7 months.

The final was on a Sunday, starting at 1:00, and the pitchers held the score to 0-0 through the first 7 innings. In the 8th inning, each team scored one run, and they went into the 9th. Around 3:00, I got off work downtown, and walked to the main intersection, which was blocked off so that people could watch the game on a big screen. There was a brass band of some kind, and maybe a couple of hundred people were watching the game. Komadai batted at the top of the 9th inning, and we scored no runs. This left open the possibility of a Sayonara run by Waseda in the bottom of the 9th. I left and headed for home, knowing that the game would go into extra innings if Komadai held Waseda.

The streets were pretty deserted, as everyone was home watching the game. I heard a shout go up from an apartment building as I walked past... maybe another run?? No -- I got home and it was still 0-0. The two aces pitched inning after inning, with no more runs scored, until the 15th inning began. I heard the announcers saying that this would be the last inning, and wondered if the two teams would share the championship. It seemed highly unusual, though.

The 15th inning ended, with the score still 1-1; "The game is finished with a tie of 1-1, and there will be a rematch tomorrow!"

The players looked pretty happy after the game (no crying, as there usually is after Koushien games, from both the losing and winning teams). The pitchers looked tense, though ... they would have to play the following game, too. They had pitched 165 balls for Tanaka, and 178 balls for Saito. See article here. There were no "backup pitchers" who could take over the next day. For Saito, the rematch would mean pitching (whole games or nearly whole games) 4 days in a row, and for Tanaka, 3. About 50,000 fans watched the game at Koushien Stadium.

I heard that most of the rest of the country, including the TV announcers, seemed to be rooting for Waseda. They must have tired of always hearing about Komadai, Komadai, from way up there in Hokkaido, and Saito was a fresh face (clean from his handkerchief).

The next day, Monday, the game again started at 1 pm. A lot of the ladies in my office were watching the game online, or listening to it on the radio. Komadai tried hard to come back in the last inning, but they lost 4-3. See article here. In a fitting ending, the very last player to come up to bat was Tanaka, standing in the batter's box facing his rival, Saito.

I am so impressed with Komadai, just for making it to the final, and forcing a replay (the first one in summer Koushien since 1969 -- and at that time, the teams had to play 18 innings before a replay would be declared!). Only one team in history has ever won the summer Koushien tournament 3 times in a row, and that was in 1931-33.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Jiji words age 2 and 1/4

A sheet I typed up for a babysitter one evening, in England. Jiji was 2 yrs. and 3 mos., and Dio was about 6 and 1/2. Nini and Dudu are real baby words for sleeping and milk in Punjabi, not made up! Jp-jp is the sound of the light sabers, of course.

Here are some words [Jiji] says that may be hard to understand (28/9/01)

“Shishi” or “Jiji” = [Jiji] (he will shout this if someone takes a toy away, or if he wants to do something too, etc)

“Dio” = [Dio]

“too” = me too, I want to go too, etc …

“bed” or “nini” = bed, sleeping, etc.

“dudu” = milk

“bikit” = biscuit

“birim birim” = sweets and snacks

“poo” = he says this after he’s done poo, or sometimes for no reason

“rehreh” = duckies, raisins, or Tweenies (these 3 all sound the same). He’s not allowed too many raisins, though.

“deddy, deddy, do!” = ready, steady, go!

He says a lot of things like “baby happy”, “hello Dio”, “blue car”, “Jiji too!”, “Jiji no bed”, “no nini”, etc. He also says “yes”, “no”, “ta”, “sorry”, etc, quite a lot.

Some of his favourite videos are: “E.T.”, “Jp-Jp” (=Star Wars), “Woody, Buzz” (=Toy Story), “Tory” (=The Neverending Story), and “Asah” (=Arthur). [Dio] can usually find all these videos. Feel free to watch your own T.V. shows too! Put away all the videos then, or he will just sit there trying to put them in. He might whinge for a bit, but he has to learn he can’t watch his own shows all the time.

He likes to do his ABC puzzle, and knows a lot of the letters. Also he likes books, his blocks and choo-choo sets, etc.

He normally has about some milk before bed. This is in his yellow cup, about ½ full with full-fat milk. He doesn’t always finish it, though.

Don’t worry about his potty – he can’t use it yet. If he wants to sit on it he can just sit on it with his clothes on. He should need just 1 more nappy, before bedtime.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Garden record

Picture: Edamame, corn, and a neighbor's house.

We live in Hokkaido, in the north where there is snow on the ground about 4 months of the year. People really get excited for spring and summer here! In the spring, everybody gets busy cleaning up and planting flowers. Summer activities include camping and going to a beach packed with beach bars decorated to look like somewhere in Hawaii or Jamaica, I guess.... pineapples, large signs for Jamaican rum, surfboards, and so on... it looks cool, not dorky, because it has all been homemade by bonafide alternative types, with dark tans, cutoffs, piercings and so on!

Well, my main summer activity now is gardening. We're renting a house, since last year, and when we moved in last year I was too busy with moving and then it became too hot, so the garden got really overgrown. As I fought my way through the plants later, I little by little discovered cherry tomatoes, pumpkins, big purple grapes, parsley, and lots and lots of shiso (a herb used with sushi and other cooking). There was a veritable shiso field in the lower garden. I don't really use shiso, so I gave a lot away and then in the fall pulled out all the plants. They come back up in the spring, anyway, so no harm done. The kids loved the grapes, I made a couple of pumpkin pies, and we ate fresh cherry tomatoes all summer. I didn't use any store-bought tomatoes for 3 months, which was great since tomatoes are about 4-5 medium ones for $3 here. These things had all been planted by our landlords before they left the place in the spring. They are an elderly couple, and moved to a condominium somewhere - we have never met them. I called the real estate agent one day to suggest that we send them some of their produce, but he said we didn't need to, and I didn't want to complicate our relationship, since they seemed to prefer to go exclusively through the agent.

Well, this spring I planted:

2 cherry tomato plants
daikon seeds
carrot seeds
pumpkin seeds
corn kernels
edamame (beans)
some new flowers, like cosmos and morning glory (there are already tons of bulbs, flowering bushes, and other flowers that come up anyway)
cilantro (fresh coriander) -- 3 small plants and some seeds
basil seeds
spinach seeds
a small field of potatoes (may queen and danshaku) in place of the shiso field
my friend bought a raspberry plant which will live here, and we will share the raspberries.

Here are the results so far:

Tomatos -- one plant died, the other got shaded over by fast growing plants and I had to move it. It gave us today its biggest harvest so far: about 7-8 small cherry tomatos, nothing special in terms of flavor, either! Last year I would go out every three days and come back with a large mixing bowl 2/3 full of delicious cherry tomatos - this was from plants that had no care whatsoever, and were just lying all over the ground. Will try again next year, with more plants from a different supplier.

Daikon -- nice looking, and I pulled out two of the biggest ones yesterday to give to the neighbors. About 2 inches thick and 8 inches long.

Carrots -- I didn't thin them properly, and there are too many small carrots growing in one place, so none of them seem to grow. I have yet to see one even as long as an inch. They smell like carrots, though!

Pumpkins -- I left just the healthiest two sprouts standing, and for some reason they are not growing taller/longer than 6 inches. There have been a couple of flowers.

Corn -- some sturdy looking corn stalks with nice waving leaves. Some flowery things are coming out of a few of them, and pollen comes off them when the stalks are shaken. Hopeful here!

Edamame -- coming along nicely, with plenty of beans. The beans are still too skinny to harvest.

New flowers -- Nothing so far... but there are plenty of other flowers, anyway.

Cilantro -- the 3 plants grew very big, but I should have harvested the leaves earlier, and frozen them. I waited too late and they changed shape. Then I harvested some, and the taste was wrong and seemed bitter. Now I'm letting them go to seed, in the hope that we'll see something next year... The seeds I planted have grown into small, feeble-looking plants that will hardly come to anything.

Basil -- this was in a container, and I didn't do the drainage part right, so the whole thing had to be scrapped.

Spinach -- these were used and added to salads as babies, and then the plants got strangely tall and scraggly. I harvested some more the put them in the freezer. Will try a different type next year.

Potatoes -- great! We have just started eating the new potatoes, and gave 1/2 a shoebox full to the neighbors on either side, along with a daikon. They look just like storebought potatoes, but in all different sizes, and they taste extra yummy! I have dug up about 1/5 of the patch.

Raspberry -- looks so-so, and about 30 raspberries grew. I suggested to my friend that there were too few to use, and we should let them fall and hopefully more plants would appear next year. The ground is so fertile here, and we have an amazing variety of plants, many of which seem to have sprung up from last year's fallen seeds, for example there are plenty of shiso plants and also sunflowers this year!

Also found and used this year (I didn't plant these):

Very vigorous parsley -- several feet of snow were no problem to the parsley plants, which defrosted nicely and started growing and growing!

Grapes -- some are growing, but they are not ready to harvest

Asparagus!! -- I didn't notice it at all last year, so was shocked one morning this spring to look out the window and see asparagus coming up. There is quite a bit in the freezer now. I've let two of them grow big and go to seed. When they grow big, all those little things at the top turn into little branches, and grow out away from the main stalk.

Some kind of nira thing -- nira is a green plant related to chives or garlic. We used it for a while, but then I got nervous about whether it was really an edible nira plant or just some inedible nira-lookalike.

My friends and neighbors have taken some shiso -- I am making sure there is a lot less than last year, by pulling up the larger plants. It smells nice to walk through a shiso field, but it is a pain because in the fall the plants all go dry and crackly, and then you have to pull them up and dispose of them somehow.

All the flowers are lovely! We saw the early-mid spring flowers for the first time this year, and the summer flowers are much more visible too, since the place is not so overgrown. I've heard that the owner really looked after this garden, but after they moved out last year, no-one did much with it until September and it was hard to see what was what! In the late fall, all the wilted or dry plants need to be cut down and thrown away, or they turn into a big mess under the snow. Plants which stay through the winter need to be supported with bamboo poles and little net dresses, so they are not damaged by the weight of the snow.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Jiji best quotes

Here are some best quotes from my son #2, Jiji (this is not his real name, but what he called himself when he was two). He is 7 now. The other day, he said to his Daddy,

Age 7: "Maybe we are not real after all, but just toys in some big giant's game."

That reminds me of this one. I don't remember the exact wording, but:

Age 6, when shopping with Mommy in a home center: "Is all our life just a dream? Maybe we are just sleeping somewhere in space, and we are dreaming everything." (and no, he has not seen The Matrix!)

Best quote from age 5: "What about Pluto?"

My husband had been reading a novel set in Ireland about 150 years ago, or something like that... in that novel, a way of remembering the planets was described: "Mary's violet eyes make John stay up nights." My husband liked this and told the children about it (big brother Dio was about 9 then, and I was in the room listening, too) -- "You can use it to remember the planets! Mary is for Mercury, Violet is Venus, Eyes is Earth, and so on. So the next time you need to know the order of the planets, just remember that sentence! Me: "Wow, that's really useful, kids!" Dio: "Oh!"
Jiji: "What about Pluto?" Um, oops, none of the rest of us had noticed that Pluto was missing.

Best quote from age 4: "Aktrakjers was a keeper of farm animals. He was born there."

This was on our trip to Barcelona, 3 summers ago. He was pointing to some modern sculpture thing up on a hill. He had mentioned his made-up hero Aktrakjers (pronounced "Actractus" as in some sort of Roman name) before that, but only for a couple of months I think, since just before he turned 4. Aktrakjers is a sort of mythical hero. A lot of the stories remind me of Hercules and the Greek myths, etc... When we moved to Japan (soon after our trip to Barcelona) and started hearing people speaking Japanese a lot around us, he suddenly came up with Bubblippo language and then Bubblippo planet. It's a planet where a lot of things happen differently from here on earth. Except that some of the things are actually found here on earth, too (or have been in the past), but Jiji doesn't know that. For example, "On Bubblippo planet, you can be married to 10 people at the same time!" or "On Bubblippo planet, if somebody does something bad, they will be killed." He made up a whole bunch of other characters and monsters that live there, too. For example, a Finafone is a giant creature that balances on the planet with the tip of one very sharp toenail. The toenail is so sharp, and the giant is so large, that people on the planet can't see him. The size of the planet to him is like the size of a piece of sand to us -- like balancing on a piece of sand with one toenail. Zyn (pronounced "Zene") is the king of the baddies on Bubblippo planet, and he is a heart killer. A heart killer is someone who can make a good person turn into a baddy.

The playcocos are the heroes of Bubblippo planet, and each one has a person power. For example, Aktrakjers's person power is metal. Aktrakjers can do all sorts of incredible things, like climb a mountain that is as tall as the moon, and then ski down it (all in one day), and so on. Aktrakjers is 14 years old, and got his powers when he was 4. He has a little brother Moltred who is about 10 now (I think), and another littler brother, and a couple of big brothers, one being Spike Horn. His daddy's name is Uniclown. All of them have the surname Horn, actually. Uniclown Horn, and so on. His mommy was killed by a Tombodesawatta (a monster like a giant dragonfly), a long time ago. Actually there were no women or girls in the story for a long time, but recently one appeared -- the daughter of Ko Nor, and she will maybe be marrying Aktrakjers in the future.

Aktrakjers used to live on Earth, and he made Bubblippo planet (somehow making it in his chest and then spitting it out), and then he got a rocket and took a lot of Australians to live on it. Sometimes Jiji just goes on and on about Aktrakjers and the other characters and happenings. Often they relate to something happening around us. For example, on a very windy night in a mall parking lot, he said, "There is bad news from Bubblippo Planet. There's a big storm, and a little boy was blown away to Fly Planet, and there are almost only baddies on Fly Planet, and only 8 goodies." etc... There is also Gorilla Planet. Fly Planet and Gorilla Planet are just outlying planets, and not so important in the story... just used whenever another planet is needed. But they do have baseball teams, which play in a league with the teams from Bubblippo Planet. Recently Aktrakjers was injured in a baseball game between his team, the Rhinos, and another team. He was batting, and he hit the ball so hard that the bat shredded into a million tiny pieces, and then he started to run and fell down and broke his leg, or something. Nothing to do with the pieces of shredded bat...

One time last summer we were walking along and he was talking and talking, and I stopped listening for awhile, but then when I tuned back in, he was saying something like, "And then Aktrakjers made a sign in ant language, that said Please do not eat this cheese, and then .... " Later at the park, Jiji did write something scribbly (in ant language) on a bit of paper, made it into a sign, and put it up in the sand box for the ants. A couple of hours later he went to the sand box and couldn't see his sign. He was upset and came to tell me. I said, "Well, don't worry -- ants can't read, anyway!" and he seemed surprised and angry - "What?!".

Best quote from age 3: When his daddy stood him up on top of a barstool in our kitchen -- "This is not a safe place to put me."