Sunday, May 29, 2011

Hawks 7 Baystars 1

Ena and I saw our first Hawks game of the year yesterday.

They've been having an amazing season so far and are comfortably at the top of the Pacific League standings. Their lineup is a murderer's row full of stars, the guy batting 7th in the lineup, Matsuda, is currently leading the league in home runs and their big free agent acquisition in the off season, Uchikawa, is hitting close to .400.

We got our usual seats in the right field cheering section.
I had to go to the game from work in the morning so I didn't have my Hawks shirt.

It was an inter-league game against the Yokohama Baystars, who are currently last place in the Central League. The Hawks had won 7 in a row going into the game and were undefeated in all their interleague games. They extended both streaks by drubbing the Baystars 7-1, which was fun to see. Matsuda hit a bases loaded triple in the first inning, which was probably the highlight.

They changed the big flags that the Hawks' fan groups wave in the 7th inning stretch and after a victory this year:
Usually the flags feature stuff related to each fan group, but this year they all have messages of support for the prefectures devastated by the tsunami. The one in front of us said "Ganbarou Iwate" ("Do your best, Iwate!").

After the win we stuck around for the victory fireworks. I took a video of these at a game last year here. Always the highlight of a Hawks win, not so much for the fireworks themselves but more for the way the dome looks with the lights out.

After that we joined the masses spilling from the stadium into the edge of a typhoon that was passing to the south of Fukuoka.
And made our way to the subway station and home.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gothic Re-revival: The Fake Churches of Japan

If I had to chose my favorite thing about Japan, it would be the wedding churches. Hands down.

At some point - I don't know when - Western style weddings became popular here. It is easy to see how this trend would be faced with a bit of a bottle neck in a country where less than 1% of the population is Christian - not enough churches. Can't have a Western style wedding without a church.

There are some actual functioning churches here run by actual followers of the religion, but for the most part these are housed in some of the ugliest post-war architecture imaginable. What this country needed was more gorgeous stuff.

Enter the Japanese wedding hall industry, the world's leading provider of solutions to your 'not-gorgeous-enough' problems.
It would be an exaggeration to say that the country is now awash with mini Gothic and Baroque cathedrals, each built of sturdy concrete, plastic and steel and set in the lush surroundings of a sea of asphalt:
But only slightly so. Pretty much every city with a population large enough to support one has a steeple or two punctuating its skyline. Fukuoka has several, including all of the ones in the photos here.

I'm not a religious person, though I've heard mumblings of disapproval about this sort of thing from Christian acquaintances who are. Having gone to a Catholic school as a child, I do have some inkling that this is the type of stuff that their god does not generally have a sense of humor about. If memory serves, he (or she) is very jealous about the use of his (or her) trademarks for purposes other than acknowledging how great he (or she) is. Kind of like Disney.

Anyway, I take no position on the theological debate about these things (if such a debate exists). I just rather enjoy the fact that they are here. I attended a wedding at one once. All I can say is that I am pleased that my own wedding (organized by my fantastic family under the supervision of my wonderful Mom - thanks, mom!) was held in a more modest setting. This isn't so much a comment on the structures themselves, but more on the heavily choreographed nature of the ceremony and reception that the industry puts on. This, of course, is in no way limited to Japan but is a symptom of the wedding industry in most wealthy countries and is more a question of personal taste. Some like them, I don't.

But I'm getting off topic here.
As I said, these things are great as pieces of the urban landscape. In terms of outlandishness they are only rivaled by pachinko parlors.

I am constantly forced to wonder if these things aren't the result of some brilliant piece of absurdist performance art gone horribly wrong. I imagine that thirty years ago two young wedding planners with easy access to no-questions-asked financing and a wry sense of humor were getting drunk while watching Charles and Di's ceremony when one of them just blurted out "Eureka!" The rest is history.
Wonderful, silly things. Gotta love 'em.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Star Wars Action Figure Shopping with Sean and Ena

Ena and I were in town yesterday, it was a really great warm day with sunny skies. We biked into town and then parked to just walk around a bit. We don't do that often enough, when you are on a bike the city just whizzes past. Not as fast as if you are in a car, but still pretty fast. It is nice to wander around on foot at a slow pace sometimes.
We ended up at Canal City. This could very well be the only mall in the world that I will admit to liking. It is outdoor and an interesting place for a stroll. A lot of people hate it for the tacky pastel colors they did it in. Personally I think there is a time and place for tacky pastel colors and somehow Canal City manages to squeeze into that perfectly.

One of the things I like about the place is that if you go on a weekend they will probably have some sort of free entertainment going on in the amphitheatre. Yesterday they had some acrobats putting on a show, which we spent about half an hour watching:
We had lunch there and then wandered around downtown a bit, strolling through Tenjin. We came to my favorite store in all of the world, Mandarake:
Mandarake is kind of a nerd paradise. Its a big store that sells comics, video games, toys and other nerd-related paraphernalia. They just moved to this new location last month. Most of the stuff is of no interest to me, but what I really like (mostly just to look at) is the old toys that they have. They remind me a lot of stuff I had when I was a kid, most of which is now considered "vintage" and most of which I threw out or sold back in the late 80s.

Since Ena got a dog she's been letting me make some guilt-free purchases of the sort of useless stuff that pleases me to no end just to have. So I convinced her to let me pop in for a look for any such items that might catch my eye.

As we were wandering the aisles I spotted this in a glass case:
I then suffered an event that medical researchers call "Nerd Breakdown" right there in the store. My conversation with Ena went something like:

Me: "Oh my god! Empire Strikes Back!! Look Ena! Its an Empire Strikes Back action figure! Oh my god oh my god oh my god! Yes! This is awesome! Look, Ena! Look!"

Ena: "Uh-huh."
Me: "Yay! I want it I want it I want it! Gimme gimme! Ooooooh look! It says "Revenge of the Jedi" on it! Oh my god! That is like, what the original title for Return of the Jedi was going to be but then they changed it cuz they, like, thought the word Revenge wasn't appropriate for the Jedi. Anyway, long story, not important. Oh my god oh my god, look at it, Ena, look!"

Ena: (flashing embarrassed smile at passersby) "Mmmmh, yeah."

Me: "OK! Yay! I want it I want it I want it I want it. Yes. YES!"

Ena: (looking at watch) "Fine."

This went on for a few minutes until I calmed down and came out of it.

I think the world of North American males born in the early to mid 70s can generally be divided into two broad categories. Those who still have their childhood Star Wars action figures and those who lost them decades ago. I'm pretty sure that covers everybody as I've never met a guy my age who didn't have Star Wars action figures as a kid. I fall into the latter category.

For us, life since the 80s has largely been spent reminiscing about our lost childhood possessions and thinking about how awesome it would be to have them again. Its something the kids who still have their childhood Star Wars action figures just can't understand because they've never been there.

I think this explains my nerd breakdown at Mandarake. And the fact that this thing really is cool. I had him when I was a kid. He is a robot bounty hunter who appears briefly in the Empire Strikes Back for about 2 seconds in the background and has no spoken lines. Due to the peculiar logic of the collective Star Wars nerd mind, this means that he is deserving of about 745 different toys, comics, video games, full length novels and an Off-Broadway production devoted just to him.

I like the back of the box. It has a picture of the other Star Wars action figures out there:
I remember looking at this exact same picture about 28 or 29 years ago and picking out the ones I wanted (I consistently concluded that I wanted all of them). Somebody had cut out the proof of purchase on this one, which you could send in 6 of to get an Admiral Ackbhar figure. I remember doing this as a kid with my Dad too. We accumulated enough of them to order three figures in total (4-Lom, the Emperor and Niem Numbh - I can't remember my own phone number but somehow my brain has seen fit to store this useless fact for almost 3 decades).
I'm not sure why this thing still exists in its box. It really should have been played with by someone back in the day rather than just sitting there for all these years.

Anyway, I went a bit overboard and bought more than just the one:
I may be developing a problem here.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Kashii Kaikan's Mos Burger Closed!

It is not often that I will admit to feeling bad about the closure of a fast food outlet, but I kind of do about this one.

There used to be a Mos Burger in the first floor of the above building. It is right next to the Kaikan where we lived for our first year in Fukuoka. We used to go there a lot for lunch or dinner, usually on our way to or back from a cycling trip in Eastern Fukuoka.

Mos Burger is by no means the best fast food franchise out there. But I liked this one. Across the street from the building is the Kashihama beach and Island City beyond that. The windows had a great view of this and it was a nice place to just sit.

Anyway, probably most people who have lived in the Kaikan remember this place as it was the closest source of fast food. I'm sorry to say it is no more!

Monday, May 2, 2011


His name is Doogle and he is a very naughty boy.